Wednesday, December 23, 2009

    VIDEO: Retooning the Nativity!

    I nice little video that reminds us that the Hallmark card version of the nativity does not always match up with the biblical account.  Ultimately though, I'm much less interested in the actual historicity of the birth narrative as I am with what the writers of Luke and Matthew were trying to say theologically about Jesus and the world into which he was born. Why sheperds?  Why a star?  Why wisemen?  Why a virgin birth?  All great questions to ask as we are about to celebrate the coming of God's light once again into the world.  


    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Guess the Christmas Carol

    Here's a quick and easy game to test your teens' knowledge of well-known Christmas carols.  The list below, which has been anonymously circulating the internet, describes famous Christmas carols using over-inflated language.  See how many your group can guess! Give candy canes to the winning team...and to everyone else, too! Tis the season to be jolly!

    1.From dark 'til dawn, soundless and sanctimonious. (Silent Night, Holy Night)

    2. My sole desire for the Yuletide season is a receipt of a pair of central incisors. (All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth)

    3. Celestial messengers from splendid empires. (Angels from the Realms of Glory)

    4. The event occurred at one minute after 11:59 PM with visibility unlimited. (It Came Upon a  Midnight Clear)

    5. Ornament the enclosure with large sprigs of berry-bearing evergreen. (Deck the Halls)

    6. The antlered quadruped with the cerise proboscis.  (Rudolph)

    7. Personal hallucinations of an alabaster December 25th. (I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas)

    8.Pastoral woollies nocturnally observed in vigilance by herdsmen. (While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks by Night)

    9. Testimony of witness to maternal parent's affection for Kris Kringle. (I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus)

    10. Clappered inverted cups, amalgamated. (Silver Bells)

    11. Who's the mystery kid? (What Child is This?)

    12. Proclaim it from high altitude geographical formations. (Go Tell it on the Mountains)

    13. O miniature Nazarene village. (O Little Town of Bethlehem)

    14. The approach of the holiday commemorating the birth of Christ is becoming evident. (It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas)

    15. May Jehovah grant unto you hilarious males retirement.  (God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen)

    16. Multiple reigning monarchs of the Far East. (We Three Kings)

    17. Are you detecting the same aural sensations as I am?  (Do You Hear What I Hear?)

    18. The diminutive male of less than adult age who plays a percussion instrument. (Little Drummer Boy)

    19. Primary Yuletide. (The First Noel)

    20. Heavenly cherubs announcing in song - listen! (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    Advent '09 Ideas for Youth Ministry #6: More Links!

    With the last Sunday of Advent almost upon us, we offer up one more heaping helping of Advent links.  We hope these will be helpful in your ministry with youth or just in your own personal observance of this season of waiting.

    The ReJesus features a series of online meditations focused on different  characters that appear in an Eastern Christian nativity icon image. 

    Check out this gallery of images of a collection of creative Advent prayer centers.

    Here is a great step-by-step description of an intergenerational and interactive Advent worship experience developed by a youth worker in Tennessee.

    Need a rest yourself during this season of the year? Try this online series of devotions called "Following the Star."

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers this really cool interactive exploration of the nativity narrative in classical art.

    Looking for some free Christmas music to get you in the spirit?  Try any of the free (and legal) downloads from Feels Like Christmas. (I particularly like the version of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" by Jars of Clay found on this page of the site).


    VIDEO: Advent

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Advent '09 Ideas for Youth Ministry #5: Bible Study

    During a season in which we are inundated with cultural versions of the nativity story, this Bible study invites youth to look critically and thoughtfully at a the story of Christmas which we find in the Gospel of Luke.

    GETTING READY: Invite youth individually or in small groups to brainstorm on sticky pad notes the names/nicknames we give to Jesus that explain how we think about him (or how we’ve been taught to think about him. Ask them to stick the notes onto a flipchart or perhaps a large image of Jesus. Read the responses out loud..

    ASK: Where do you think our ideas about Jesus come from (e.g. Bible, parents, church, culture, experiences).  Where do people outside the church get their ideas about who Jesus was?

    DIGGING IN: Set out lots of Christmas cards showing images of the nativity.  Ask youth to name characters and elements of the nativity story that they can remember. Note the differences in the ways the various artists depict the story. Share that scripture provides multiple understandings of who Jesus was and just looking at the Christmas story can demonstrate this. In small groups, challenge youth to read together Luke 2: 1-19 and Matthew 1: 18 - 2: 18. Their goal is to uncover together which elements listed below of the traditional Christmas story appear in which gospel:

    • Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth.
    • Mary and Joseph are living in Bethlehem.
    • An angel appears to Joseph.Caesar orders a census.
    • Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem.
    • An angel appears to the shepherds.
    • Jesus is placed in a manger.
    • The wisemen visit Jesus.King Herod orders the babies killed.
    • A star apears over the place where Jesus is.

    (Note: No! I'm not going to give you the answers. You have to look them up for yourself!)

    ASK: How do you feel about the fact that these two stories are so different? What guesses do you have for why the people who compiled the Bible would include both stories even though they are different?

    REFLECTING: Now let's focus in on on just one of the stories: Luke’s. Share with youth that the writer of this story likely wrote it decades after Jesus’ death. S/he likely didn’t know Jesus personally and was not reporting history (at least in the way we understand history) so much as trying to share his/her community's understanding of who Jesus was and how they had experienced God in Jesus. So, what was that understanding?

    Invite youth again to work in small teams, reading again the above passage from Luke and responding together to the questions below

    • What could it mean that Jesus is first described as a tiny baby? Why not start the story when he is an adult like Mark and John's gospels do?
    • Why include these crazy angels as a way to announce the baby’s birth? Couldn't Mary have just sent out birth announcements?
    • Why share that dirty, smelly shepherds are the first ones to get the good news of the birth? Why not some king or religious leader?
    • How do the various characters react to the birth?   How would you react?
    WRAPPING UP: Come back together as a whole group and invite youth to share the various responses they had to the questions above. You might mention that much of Luke's way of telling the story connects with Luke's particular focus on Jesus' ministry to the outcast, the poor, the neglected, and the downtrodden. His birth story contains many elements that point to Jesus' own eventual ministry to the "least of these." The mere fact that each gospel writer talks about Jesus in a unique and distinct way is a reminder to us that the story of Jesus and his ministry are not as simple as the images we see on the front of a Christmas card.

    CLOSING: As a connection with the idea that the Church and our culture see Jesus in many different ways, share the song "Rebel Jesus" by Jackson Browne (available on this album). Have they ever thought of using the term "rebel" to describe Jesus? What in the Christmas story might hint at this way of thinking about Jesus? Where is there still a need in our lives and in the world today for a rebel Jesus? Close in prayer.

    -- Brian

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    VIDEO: Guitar Hero vs. Christmas Lights

    Tuesday, December 08, 2009

    Advent '09 Ideas for Youth Ministry #4: Links Galore

    Still trying to figure out how to engage your youth with the themes of Advent? Never fear!  You're sure to find something helpful in the links below:

    Here are a host of discussion starters on the yuletide season from veteran youthworker Grahame Knox.

    Check out this online Advent prayer/scripture retreat that could easily be adapted for an on-site mini retreat with your youth.

    This Advent Bible study series for youth offers lots of free ideas and resources.

    Here's an Advent Bible study I created last year called "Making Room for God."

    Challenge your students with a yuletide song and image that portray a radical Jesus.

    Don't miss this awesome online Advent calendar. Each day provides you with a bounty of ideas including related scripture, artwork, music, and hands-on activities.

    Check out the creative ideas for Advent offered up by British creative worship guy Jonny Baker.

    How could we pass up sharing with you a website with a cool name like "Rethinking Christmas?"  Lots of great ideas here for alternative gift giving.

    -- Brian

    "JOY TO THE WORLD" Claymation-Style

    This version of Joy to the World is all the more amazing when you realize it is all done with clay -- no CGI trickery here.  The real music video starts at about the 1:00 mark.  Enjoy.

    RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY: The Adventure Continues...

    Sharp-eyed readers of this site will note that we recently shifted our address to The name shift seemed a good enough reason to take a moment to remind our visitors, old and new, just what is behind this site and its challenging title.

    We began this blog several years ago to try to provide a voice for a different way of approaching youth ministry. We wanted to see what it would look like to shift youth ministry away from the programmatic, numbers-driven, entertainment-fueled model and toward something new. Over the years, we've advocated for some important shifts we'd like to see in youth ministry: from big to small, from competition to community, from loud and high-energy to quiet and contemplative, from segregation to integration within the whole church.

    We've also tried to show what youth ministry can look like from a mainline/progressive Christian perspective while dialoguing with and learning from our evangelical and conservative Christians brothers and sisters who are also serving in the trenches of youth ministry.

    Lastly, we've worked to be a regular resource to those who are looking for practical ways to live out this rethinking of youth ministry.  Our goal is to do our best to continue to provide you with practical ideas for helping youth to explore their faith through worship, the arts, prayer, spiritual practices, community building, study, and fellowship.  We welcome your thoughts and suggestions.  Feel free to comment, email us, or join us on Facebook or Twitter.

    Brian & Jacob

    Thursday, December 03, 2009

    Advent '09 Ideas for Youth Ministry #3: Silent Retreat

    Every year, the season of Advent seems to get just a little bit crazier. And at youth group, the kids seem even more anxious and restless than normal. The idea of Christmas break, and the insanity leading up to the break, is almost overwhelming. If we’re honest, at least where I am, it’s hard to get the youth to slow down and appreciate the sacredness and holiness of the season.

    Here’s a new idea. What if you had a one day mini Advent retreat (on a Saturday) at your church? Everyone could arrive around 8:00. The day would be spent in silence, including the meal at lunch. Throughout the day you could gather for intentional periods of scripture reading and reflection. Have on hand art supplies, journals, music, rooms set aside for prayer, and maybe candles lit in a room that is otherwise completely dark. Then, at dinner time, invite people to come out of silence and participate in prayer stations and worship. This is a very different approach to the shopping, stress, and holiday parties that so many of us will experience. But in my experience with youth, I’m pretty sure it will work well. If you try it out, let us know how it goes.


    Wednesday, December 02, 2009

    ADVENT '09 IDEAS for YOUTH MINISTRY #2: Prayer Stations

    Engage your youth in prayerful meditation on the themes of Advent with these interactive prayer station ideas.

    Advent, those four weeks preceding Christmas, has its origins separate from the yuletide season. In the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent was known as a six week preparation for the season of Epiphany, not Christmas. Like our modern observance of Lent today, Advent was observed as a time for new converts to prepare themselves for baptism, to learn the faith stories,  and to examine their hearts. Though the focus of Advent is different for us today, the idea of Advent as a time of introspection remains.  The prayer centers suggested below provide a way to open some space in the Advent season to allow your youth to be introspective, to reflect on the Christian story, and to consider their place within God's mission.

    You will want to set up each center as a separate space within the room and ask the group to limit 2 or 3 people per center at a time.  To help clear away distractions, perhaps play some quiet instrumental music for background, dim the lights, and fill the room with candlelight.  Encourage your participants to experience the prayer centers in silence with no talking. One final note: resist the urge to set up all of these prayer stations at once.  Too many centers can be overwhelming and will likely just encourage the youth to keep moving about the room from station to station with little focus.  Keep it simple.

    1) The Nativity - Set out a typical Nativity set with figurines from the Christmas narrative.  Provide written instructions inviting youth to think about which character in the story they identify with most at this point in their lives: the expectant mom, the worried father, the scruffy shepherds, the travelling magi, the angels coming to bring good news, the animals wondering at the spectacle happening in their stable?  Provide paper doll cutouts and encourage youth to draw their likeness or name on one of the dolls and place it in the nativity scene as a way of symbolically entering the mystery of this story for the rest of the Advent season. 

    Naming Distractions - For this center, use a box wrapped like a gift with a slot in the top.  Provide pens and small slips of paper and invite youth to write or draw those distractions in their lives right now that are keeping them from focusing on their faith. These distractions might include worries, stress related to school or family, relationship issues, or the everyday things like TV, video games, and the like. Encourage them to place their lists of distractions in the box as a gesture of letting go of some of those distractions during Advent so that they can focus on God.

    3) Xmas Icon - Use this creative idea to create a iconic image made up of colored paper from Christmas catalog, newspaper and magazine advertisements. Sort of like paint-by-the-numbers, draw out the image you want to use (perhaps the Christ child in the manger or an angel) and divide the image into sections like a stained glass window, indicating what colors of paper to include in each section. Youth then tear or cut out paper and glue it onto the image. As youth work, invite them to consider this subversive and prayerful act of turning the commercialism of this season into a spiritual work of art.

    4) Paper Chain Prayers - Lay out strips of green and red construction paper, markers and a stapler or tape.  Invite youth to use the strips to write down the names of people, places, or causes they would like to lift up in prayer.  Encourage them to then connect their strips as loops to the paper chain as a way of connecting their prayers together with those of the rest of the community. 

    5) Shepherd - Use a shepherd figurine or perhaps a toy lamb and a Bible opened to the story in Luke of the angels appearing to the shepherds.  Remind youth of the line in the 23rd Psalm that reads "The Lord is my shepherd" and the many times Jesus is described as a shepherd to his flock.  Ask: As we prepare again for the birth of the shepherd who comes to lead us closer to God, consider who the shepherds are in your life. Who has helped you know and experience God's love and compassion?   Provide a large sheet of paper and markers where youth can write down names as a prayer of thanks for these individuals. 

    6) Hope, Peace, Joy, Love - This center is composed of votive candles and a lighter.  Remind participants that each Sunday in Advent we focus on one of these theme words as reminder of the gifts Christ will bring to the world.  Invite youth to light a candle and as they do, ponder which of those elements- Hope, Peace, Joy, Love - they most need in their lives right now.  Which do they feel they are most called by God to share with others in their lives right now?

    7) Images - Put together a Powerpoint presentation of images of the nativity story in art throughout history.  Set the images to loop and provide comfortable chairs so that youth can simply sit and  meditate on the pictures.

    8) Waiting - Using sticky pad notes and a large sheet of paper on a wall, invite youth to write and post their answers to the question: "What are you waiting for this Advent Season."  Hang another sheet of paper next to this with the related question:  "What do you think God is waiting for this Advent season?"

    9) Letters to God - Set out paper and pens and image of Santa and a cross.  Invite youth to think back to the time when they were younger and wrote letters to Santa.  What did they ask for?  Next, invite them to write a letter to God, sharing their hopes and fears, their joys and their sorrows.  They should then seal the letters in an envelope and place them at the foot of the cross.

    10) Expecting - Display this amazing image of Mary, a copy of Luke 1: 26-38, and some children's books that show more traditional images of Mary.  Invite youth to take some time to think about the words that accompany the image.  Ask: When have they experienced these feelings?  What might Mary have been feeling knowing she was to bring the light of God into the world.  What about you?  Jesus says WE are the light of the world?  How does that make you feel?  How are you called to be a light to the world right now?  

    UPDATE:  Want to see some of these prayer stations in action?  Go here to see photos of how one youth ministry used these ideas for a night of contemplative prayer.  Go here to see how another youth minister adapted a few of the prayer stations above for his teens.