Friday, December 24, 2010

    Merry Christmas from Rethinking Youth Ministry

    Merry Christmas! - Brian and Jacob

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Youth Workers: Give Yourself a Christmas Gift

    Fellow youth workers: If you haven't already thought of a gift to give yourself this Christmas, I would heartily recommend that you download (for free!) the album of Christmas music by Sam Billen entitled "A Word of Encouragement."  The music is spiritual, lyrical, comforting, restful -- all the things we really should be gifting ourselves in this often hectic season. Merry (almost) Christmas.

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    A Digital Nativity for the Age of Facebook #2

    A Digital Nativity for the Age of Facebook

    Saturday, December 18, 2010

    GREAT YOUTH MINISTRY IDEA: Create Safe Space for Teens Who Don't Want to Be at Church

    Once in awhile you come across an article you wish you'd written yourself ...and you're also glad someone else beat you to it! Such is the case with this article by Neil Christopher at the Evolitionist blog. Speaking in his role as an ELCA youth minister, Neil argues that those of us working with teens in the Church may need to be more sensitive to the rights and needs of those youth who really don't want to be there:

    What I’m talking about here is creating safe places and environments for kids that come into our care or across our paths who seemingly or who actually want nothing to do with us; the genuine seekers who have many walls, the ones who were dragged in by a friend, and the ones who were forced to come by a parent or guardian. How do we interact with these kids?

    I have memories to this day that still rub me the wrong way of my own experiences in youth groups. Leaders belittling me and my friends; forcing us to participate in things we did feel comfortable with; making me stand during worship songs when I was just there as a seeker; making me sing and even pray when my heart was not ready for it; even rudely jabbing my back, grabbing my arms, and ripping hats off my head. Do we treat adults this way during worship?

    What Neil is arguing here is responding to the unique needs of youth who probably want nothing to do with religion.  Neil is careful to say that we should attend to these youth -- not because doing so might eventually add them to our list of converts -- but because they deserve the same respect and love as the youth who can't wait to get to youth group each week. 
    I'm sure for some Neil's perspective will be controversial.  He certainly has given me food for thought, particularly as it relates to the teens in my Sunday morning Christian education class who only seem to enjoy the Sundays when we meet up at the local coffee house. 
    Read the rest of the article and let him know what you think.

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    How Do You Ruin A Youth Ministry?

    This week I participated in a quick online survey (via youthworkermovement) about youth ministry. One of the questions was so simple yet amazingly provovative:
    Imagine that you were tasked with ruining (yes, ruining) a vibrant youth ministry within 12 months, all while appearing to be trying to keep it afloat. How do you tactically dismantle it? (Tricky one. Think backwards.)
    Here is the response I offered:  "Great question. I would focus most of our efforts on offering high energy, technology centered, entertainment-feuled programs that attracted lots of teens, but give only passing nods to things like Bible study, issues related to justice, or talk of servanthood. I'd make a point of always talking up the number of teens we had at our gatherings without ever talking about the substance of our programs (because there wouldn't be any). Then, when I had the program built up with big attendance numbers, in the 12th month I'd suddenly drop all the fun programming and move instead to hardcore Bible study and sermons, telling the youth what they should believe and what will happen if they don't. That should do the trick."

    What about you?  How would you go about ruining a vibrant youth ministry in just 12 months time?

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    2010 Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry # 6: Nativity Bible Study

    What sort of power is the power of God? Explore this question with your youth through this Advent and Christmas Bible study.

    Getting Ready: Open with a game of “Guess my Power.” Tape on the back of each youth one of the “super powers” listed below. Give students time to mill about the room and ask yes or no questions of others in an attempt to guess their power. They are not allowed to ask direct questions like “Is my power invisibility?” As they guess their powers, they should help others guess theirs.

    Powers: Flight, teleportation, shrinking yourself, money, love, listening, xray vision, compassion, speed, empathy, generosity, healing, mind reading, turn into ice, genius IQ, turn into an animal (add others as needed)

    Follow up by asking whether there were any surprises about the powers that made the list? Are all of these really powers? Why or why not?

    Next, do a continuum exercise to challenge the youth to consider whether or not they think certain powers in our world are positive or negative. Designate an imaginary line on the floor, name each entity below, and invite youth to stand somewhere on that continuum to express how they rate the positive or negative effect of each entity's power.  For each round,  invite several youth to explain their decision:

    Wall Street, the military, the Church, police, teachers, U.S. Government, terrorists, the president, your parents, friends, Osama Bin Laden, Christians  (Note: This portion of the lesson generated a great deal of discussion with our youth as they found that there was no clear-cut answer among the group).

    Digging In: Focusing on the nativity texts of Matthew, divide into small groups to read the text and list the various types of power and relationships in the characters and plot of the story.  Use a handout, which you may download  here as a pdf, to rate which powers in the story are negative and positive. In the small groups, consider whether or how God is present in any of these examples. Ask: What might this story tell us about how first century followers of Jesus understood God/God’s power/God’s participation in human activity? What does it say about how God may be active in the world/our lives today?

    Reflecting:  Come back together to share what each small group discussed. Ask: Why do you think Matthew chose to start his story with Jesus as a little baby? What might this say about how God's power works in the world? Where do you see parallels between this story and the Exodus story about God's solidarity with those at the bottom of society? Why do you think Matthew includes the Herod story? What does this say about worldly power? Of the “powers” represented in the story, which are most valued by culture? Which are most valued by God? 

    Wrapping It Up: Set out various magazines and invite youth to find images that may represent where they see the possibility of God’s power working through the meek, the disenfranchised, the lowly, the humble in today's world. Share the images and offer prayers for all those who need to experience this sort of power.


    Youth Specialties/Zondervan have released the cover for our upcoming book Missional Youth Ministry: From Gathering Teenagers to Scattering Disciples which will be published in April of next year.  As I had some not-quite-nightmares about the cover turning out terribly (imagine a geometry textbook cover from senior high) I'm pleasantly surprised at the artwork.  We'll be blogging more about the book as the release date gets closer, but perhaps most important to point out today is that the book would not have been possible without the many of you who have supported, commented on, reacted against, and shared ideas with us in this space over the last four years or so.  Our hope is that the book will be another avenue to challenge some of the existing paradigms for youth ministry while also suggesting a new way forward. 

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    2010 Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry #5: Light

    During the season of Advent, we spend a lot of time talking about the light shining in the darkness. Sometimes though, I wonder if our students really grasp what the gospel writers are trying to convey. Even though the light shines, the darkness doesn't disappear. Even when our lives are going great, there can still be moments of heartbreak and despair. So here's another Advent activity for you and your youth:

    • Take your youth to the darkest corner of the church you can find
    • Immerse your group in total darkness
    • Sit in silence for five minutes
    • Share the first five lines of the gospel of John (maybe even have this memorized)
    • Light a single candle
    • Say again, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
    • Spend some time debriefing. Focus on what it means to have light shining in the darkness.
    • Ask what this means for the lives of your youth.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    2010 Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry #4: Links Galore

    Another round of helpful links to help you explore the seasons of Advent and Christmas in your youth ministry!

    Advent Siloquies - Use these first person reflections by various characters in the nativity story as part of an evening worship experience with youth reading each part.

    Christmas Video Loops - Here you'll find three free video loops for enchancing an Advent/Christmas themed worship experience
    Where's the Line to See Jesus? - This song asks us to consider just who the focus should be on this season of Advent (HT to Deech Kirk). It would make a great discussion for youth paired with this provocative image of Jesus replacing the traditional mall Santa. 
    Advent Time Out for Youth Leaders - Benjer McVeigh offers up some thoughtful Advent devotionals for those of us in youth ministry who often forget to take time out during this season. 
    Free Christmas Songs - That's right. Lots of free and legal downloads for you to enjoy this Advent Season (includes Jars of Clay and Sixpence None the Richer) 
    Digital Nativity - Check out this cool video that retells the Nativity story utilizing the tools of our digital age. (HT Youth Ministry Geek)
    When Will We Have Peace? Something a bit different here -- essays by a sixteen year old Mennonite boy who writes with clarity and brutal honesty about his search for peace (appropriate in this season as we wait again for the coming of the Prince of Peace.)  You might use these as discussion starters with your youth.
    Contemplative Christmas Worship - A really excellent pdf resource with all the details for setting up a series of creative prayer stations for the Advent/Christmastide seasons from the Youth Worker Movement.
    Quick & Easy Christmas Games - Provided by the good folks at YM360.
    12 Duh's of Christmas - A fun True/False quiz to test your teens' knowledge of the Christmas stories and traditions.
    Top 5 Christmas Videos - for youth ministry, courtesy of (Youth) Ministry in Progress.

    Music Video for Advent: "This Little Light of Mine" by LZ7

    (HT to DOPCANDY)

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    2010 Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry #3: Creating Relationships

    This Sunday, many of us will celebrate the theme of "Love" for Advent. Here's a fun and simple way to help your youth think about the ways in which we love and reach out to others:

    Step one: Create a list of individuals in your church who are shut-ins, older, alone, or sick.

    Step two: Put each name, along with a phone number and address, on an index card.

    Step three: Have each youth take a card, along with a pre-written script. The script, written by you, should give an outline for how a phone converastion might go. Encourage the youth to say that as part of their worship at youth group tonight, they are each calling members of the church. When we did this, we had those calling invite individuals to the Christmas Eve service and ask if they needed to have transportation provided.

    Step four: Following phone conversation, or even if just a message was left, have youth create or sign a Christmas Card to be sent.

    Step five: Spend some time debriefing. Ask what it means to reach out to others, especially those who aren't able to attend church on a weekly basis.

    Step six: End with prayer and hot chocolate for everyone. What could be better?


    Thursday, December 09, 2010

    2010 Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry #2: Prayer Stations

    Prayer stations (or centers) are a very effective means of helping youth to explore a theme thoughtfully and prayerfully while also attending to their various learning styles and intelligences.  The following prayer experiences are adapted from those developed by my colleague, Devoree Crist, as part of our study of Advent this past Sunday. 

    Each of these prayerful experiences focuses on one of the four themes of Advent. Even if your church doesn't specifically observe Advent, the themes fit just fine in a Christmas focus, as well.  You could set these up in one space as stand-alone centers and invite youth to engage them individually and in silence. We chose to set them up in different rooms and move through each as a group with conversation and prayer together.

    THEME: Hope
    Text: Luke 2: 1-7 (the birth of Jesus)
    Set-up: Sit together in a circle and place a baby doll wrapped in a cloth in the center of the group.  Read aloud the text from Luke's gospel. Invite the group to consider how Jesus came into the world as a baby.  Ask: "What words would you use to describe a baby?  Why do you think it's important that our story begins with Jesus coming into the world as a tiny helpless baby, born to peasants?  What does that say about God?  How could this be good news for us?  Where is the hope in this story?"  Next, pass out strips cut from purple construction paper (purple is the liturgical color of Advent, representing royalty) and pens.  Invite youth to take one or more strips of paper and, on each, write a prayer of hope for themselves, the world, someone in need, a friend, the church, and so on.  As they finish, have the group work together to tape their strips of paper into loops to form a paper chain of hopes.  Offer a concluding prayer of hope and move to the next center.

    Theme: Peace
    Text: Luke 2: 8-14 (the shepherds)
    Set-up: Again, ask the group sit in a circle. Have quiet, peaceful music playing in the background or perhaps a mini fountain trickling water. In the center of the group, place a pitcher of water and a large, clear glass bowl.  After a time of silence, read the story of the shepherds and the angels. Invite the group to consider what words come to mind when they think of peace.  Ask: What would it take, do you think, for us to have peace on earth?  Where are the places that really need peace right now? What relationships are required?  How might God be part of bringing that peace through us? Next, invite the group to offer prayers for peace (in the world, in their schools, in their relationships, in their homes) either aloud or in silence. As they pray, invite each youth to pour a small amount of the water from the pitcher into the bowl, representing the way all of our prayers become one in the love of God. Close with a prayer for peace and move to the next center.
    Theme: Joy
    Text: Luke 2: 15-20 (the shepherds visit the baby)
    Set-up: Gather the group around a table with a variety craft items, including some sort of Styrofoam ball or other simple plain ornament, glue guns, beads, pom poms, markers, and so on. Read the text aloud and invite the youth to consider the joy most parents feel at the birth of a baby and how that joy can be contagious. Ask:  Where do you think God finds joy with this world of ours?  What are we joyfully thankful for in this season of Advent?  Which part of the good news of the gospel, like the shepherds, are we willing to joyfully share with others? Next, allow time for youth to use the craft items to create an ornament that they feel reflects this theme of joy. Close in prayer by inviting each person to share one thing for which they are joyful.

    Theme: Love
    Text: 1 John 4: 7-12, 16 (God is love)
    Set-up: Gather around a small artificial Christmas tree (you know -- the Charlie Brown kind).  Invite the youth to decorate the tree with the paper chain of hopes, the ornaments they made, and whatever other decorations you might want to have on hand.  Point out that the one thing missing from the tree is the gifts underneath.  Read the text and ask them to consider the gift of love.  Ask: How has God shared the gift of love with us?  Who in this world, in our lives, needs that gift more than anything right now?  How can we as individuals share that gift?  How can we as a group share that gift? This moment might be a good opportunity as a group, if you haven't already done so, to plan a way to reach out to those in need this holiday season.  Instead of giving gifts to each other, who might your group join together to help with the gift of love? 

    Close by gathering around a table of votive candles, inviting each person to light one as they offer a prayer aloud or in silence, inviting God's love to work through them in the days to come. 

    Tuesday, December 07, 2010

    Big Youth Ministry Changes are Coming

    A colleague forwarded a list to me today of big changes that are about to happen to our lives within the next decade. The world we live in today will look very different when the youth we serve are full-fledged adults.  Ready or not, here's what's coming...

    No more Post Office
    - Email and private mail/shipping companies will soon make the government-run mail service defunct.

    No more checks - Does anyone still write these things?  In Britain, they plan to phase them out by 2018. If you don't use plastic or bank and buy online, you better have cash (unless that is disappearing, too!).

    No more newspapers
    - This is already happening of course, since most of us would rather get our news in real time on the internet and read it on an Ipad. 

    No more land line phones - Who needs a phone tethered to a wall when you can take your cell everywhere you go and annoy people in public? 

    No more paying for music
    - As the music industry dies a slow death and their ability to stop illegal downloading proves to be impossible, expect that most music will be given away for free in hopes of enticing you to buy related products that feature your favorite performers (I've already pre-ordered the complete set of "Glee" tea towels.)

    No more privacy - Privacy...what a quaint idea.  But now that everything we ever say or do on the internet is cached for eternity, public video cameras record our every move, credit cards track our purchases, and Google Maps shows everyone a picture of our house, car and license plate, Big Brother has come home to stay.

    So, what about youth ministry?  What big changes do you expect in the next ten years?  What do we take for granted today which will likely be a relic of the past for the next generation of  youth pastors? 

    Update: I expect (or perhaps hope) that in the next decade or so we will see far fewer youth ministries which follow the current trend of isolating youth  with separate programs and facilities from the adult population of churches.  There will be more integration as congregations come to see the need for youth to spend most of their church time in intergenerational settings with adult Christians.  I think we will also begin to see at the least the beginning of the decentralization of churches away from big steeple buildings with a movement toward more "house" churches and small groups.  This would certainly have a major impact on youth ministry as it is practiced today.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Let's Start Talking: Teens, Bullying and Suicide Pt. 6

    Part six of a mini series exploring the disturbing trend of teen bullying and its consequences.  You will find links to the rest of the series here.

    I recently used the discussion outline below with our youth group and we had an amazing conversation about bullying.  This is clearly an issue about which many youth are passionate.  Most interestingly, our youth seem to identify that at the heart of much bullying is the notion of "power."  We live in a culture that places a great deal of value on power -- economic power, political power, military power, celebrity power, religious power.  Our teens felt that many people bully as a way to demonstrate or seize power.  Others bully because they feel powerless in other areas of their lives (perhaps at the hands of an abusive parent).  Our youth also shared that they are often reluctant to denounce bullies because others might see them as weak -- this is the same reason teens often will not enlist the aid of adults in these situation.  All of this made for thought-provoking conversation as we are just about to enter a season in the Christian year when we tell the story of how Jesus comes into the world as a completely powerless little baby.  -- Brian

    Getting Ready: Open the discussion by asking youth to identify if they have ever been bullied and if they have ever been the bully [In our group, 95% of the youth admitted to being part of both demographics]. Break into small groups and brainstorm for 2 minutes about 1) What constitutes bullying -- what behaviors, attitudes, etc? and 2) Who in your school gets bullied? Next, let teams share and compile a list on a flip chart.[We spent a great deal of time compiling this list. Students shared that bullying happens through words, physical violence, and by electronic media, to name a few.  They identified that just about everyone in their schools are bullied in some form or another, though most if it falls upon youth who fit into some minority group.  They also identified some of their teachers as bullies who often reprimand students in front of the whole class or make them objects of derision when they answer a question incorrectly.]

    Ask: What have you heard recently about the incidents of bullying and teen suicide in the news? How much of a problem do you think this might be in your school? Watch the video below from the TV series "What Would You Do?" about gay bullying. Invite youth to share reactions to the video and to talk about what they might do in a similar circumstance. What is the Christian approach to the bullying/oppression of others? Is it simply to avoid being a bully, to befriend the victim or do we have a greater responsibility?

    Digging In: Break into two groups. One group will look at John 8: 1-11, the story of the Jesus saving a woman from being stoned to death. The other, Luke 19: 1-10, tells the story of Zacchaeus, a outcast who Jesus befriends. How might these texts be related to the issue of bullying?  Who is the bully in the text? [This is not immediately clear, particularly in the Zacchaeus text and made for great conversation].  What do these texts say about how we might respond to bullying? How do we see Jesus using or not using "power" in these passages? Also consider: What was Jesus own response to being bullied by the religious leaders and government? Join the two groups back together and have each report on their story and thoughts about how the story connects to the topic of bullying. Based on these stories, what might we argue is the Christ-like response when we encounter incidents of bullying?

    Reflecting: Why do you think bullying happens? What attitudes in your school, our town, culture contribute to the problem of bullying whether it is physical or emotional? Why do some feel powerless when bullied? How can we help the victims and the bullies? Who do we go to for help? How do we help create a different atmosphere in our schools/world?

    Closing: Work in teams of three to create a poster that would communicate to any that enter your youth room that you have a different view of God’s world than the view that just accepts that there will always be bullies and the bullied. Is there some action the youth or our whole group can take in the coming weeks related to this problem?

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Why Do We Say Thanks? A Bible Study for Youth

    Just in time for Thanksgiving!  Help your youth explore what it means to give thanks to God and to count their blessings.

    Opening: Play a quick game to test your teens knowledge of Thanksgiving. Using the list of facts and answers below, create a set of note cards with just one fact or just one answer per card. Give all the cards to the group and challenge them to work together to match the right answer with the right fact. When they think they are finished, reveal the correct answers.

    1. Pounds of turkey consumed by the typical American in 2007: 13.8
    2. Pounds of expected U.S. cranberry production in 2010: 735
    3. The year killer-turkey horror movie “Blood Freak” was made: 1972
    4. Dollar amount (in millions) of Thanksgiving weekend movie box office earnings in 2009 : 275
    5. Percentage increase in the volume of household waste between Thanksgiving and New Years: 25
    6. Time in minutes it takes to make Stove Top Stuffing: 30
    7. Number of pounds the average person puts on between Thanksgiving and Christmas: 1
    8. The value (in billions) of the turkeys shipped in 2002: 3.6
    9. Number of cities in U.S. named “Turkey”: 3
    10. Number of years the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was suspended during WWII: 2
    11. Cubic feet of helium needed to inflate the Jimmy Neutron balloon in Macy’s parade: 12,300
    12. Number of days the first Thanksgiving celebration lasted: 3

    You will find a nice graphic with most of these facts and more here.
    Digging In: Ask the group if they can think of times that they forgot to say thank you to someone – maybe a relative that sent them a gift, a favor offered by a friend, or a simple act of kindness by a stranger. Why do they think they didn’t bother to say thanks? Ask the youth if anyone has ever failed to thank them for some deed or favor they considered important. What did it feel like to be forgotten or slighted? Read together Luke 17: 11 – 19, the story of the ten lepers.  Ask: Why do you think the nine lepers failed to say “thanks” to Jesus? Why do you think the writer of Luke wanted us to remember the story of the one who did come back to say thanks?

    Reflecting: Invite the group to consider why we might offer thanks to God. Does God need to hear us say “thank you?” Do we benefit from the spiritual practice of offering thanks? When in our lives do we actually take time to do this?

    Responding: Invite youth to write a prayer of thanksgiving using an outline like the one below. Explain that you will collect the prayers and read them aloud and challenge the group to guess who wrote each prayer. Teens will want to avoid using obvious references to themselves that will easily tip off to others whose prayer is whose. Of course, this will also encourage them to think more deeply about what they are thankful for and to avoid the more obvious and shallow responses such as “I’m thankful for my 2010 convertible” or “I’m thankful that I get to go to Florida for Christmas vacation.”

    Prayer of Thanksgiving: God of everything, today I'm thankful for all the good things which flow from you.  I'm thankful for (things in creation)_____, for (things that come to me without costing money)________, for (important relationships)_____.  I'm also thankful for (something you have learned about life) __________, and for (something you have learned about yourself)______. I'm thankful for (something blue) ______, (something big) ______, (something little)______, (something edible), _______ and (something that smells good) ______. Lastly, I'm thankful for (something that comes to you from God) ______. Amen.

    Finish with a circle prayer, asking each person in turn to share one word that represents something important in their lives for which they are thankful.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    GREAT YOUTH MINISTRY IDEA: The Involvement Funnel

    One youth minister's idea for turning the attractional approach to youth ministry upside down.

    The predominant approach to youth ministry in the United States is often referred to as the attractional approach.  It generally focuses on attracting youth to local ministries with entertainment and large group activites designed to get teens in the door in hopes that they might eventually become regular participants in weekly meetings and small groups.  St. Louis are youth minister Nikomas Perez serves a large church and has every reason to rely on this attractional model of ministry and yet he suggests turning that model completely on its head:

    The old funnel strategy of getting students has inherent problems that make actually harder for students to get involved. This year our student ministry is trying a new strategy. It's similar to the old one, but with a few tweaks. Here's what we're doing now:

    Basically, we're flipping the funnel upside down and re-purposing our big events. Here's what this flip does:

    1. Small Groups: Our small groups are no longer going to be two or three steps down the road of involvement. They are going to be immediately available to a student when the encounter our student ministry.

    2. Weekly Large Group Gatherings: Our large group gathering is now a gathering of all of our small groups into one location, rather than a gathering of individuals with nothing in common yet, hoping to get connected.

    3. Big Events: Most of our big events are not about flash and awe anymore. We still make them big, flashy and awe-filled, but not for attraction purposes, but for fun and memories. But the big attraction is that we are all joining together to make a difference in the world or in our walk with Jesus.
    Read more about Nikomas' approach here and more about why the attractional approach just doesn't work here.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Let's Start Talking: Teens, Bullying & Suicide Pt. 5

    Part five of a mini series exploring the disturbing trend of teen bullying and its consequences. See also parts one, twothree, and four.

    This is the third guest post in this series authored by Dr. Michael E. Kirk, a California-based licensed clinical psychologist, specializing for over twenty-five years in child and adolescent issues. He is a father of three and a grandfather. In this essay, Dr. Kirk shares part two of an essay on the issue of teen suicide:

    It has been only in the last decade that there has been recognition that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth (generally defined as ages 15-24) are at an increased risk of suicide compared to other youth. A growing body of research literature has provided the estimate that gays, lesbians, and bisexual youth attempt suicide at a rate 2-3 times higher than their heterosexual peers. Some studies indicate that the rate of attempted suicide for transgender youth is higher than 50%. It is also estimated that gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth comprise 30% of completed suicides, with transgender youth also having a high incidence of completed suicides.

    Sexual and gender minority youth are at a high risk of suicide largely because of societal and developmental factors. This age period is when all people face the developmental tasks of finding or cementing their identity and establishing sexual/emotional intimacy in relationships. Our society fosters, nurtures, and channels these tasks for heterosexual youth. Implicitly and explicitly, heterosexual youth have their feelings, identities, and relationships acknowledged and validated. In general, our society is a perilous wasteland for sexual and gender minority youth. It is a wasteland because the resources that might help them in the developmental tasks of finding identity and establishing intimacy are nonexistent in most places, scarce in others. It is perilous because there are real dangers to their emotional and physical well-being which they must try to navigate.

    The teen years can often become times that are very challenging in general, but for homosexual teens their problems can turn out to be more difficult. Being gay for many teens is something that they can not live with because most of the time society, and often their own families, says that homosexuality is wrong. These teens usually have no one to go to with their problems for fear of being taunted, harassed, disgraced, or humiliated. With no place to go and no one to help them, homosexual teens can feel alienated which may force them think of more damaging or destructive ways of dealing with their problems, so at times gay teens may turn to suicide rather than having to continue to deal with their seemingly unsolvable problems.

    For many gay teens their everyday existence can cause severe psychological damage. When they are at school they are often taunted and harassed, and at home if they are not "out" they may be experiencing the constant fear of "what would my parents say if they knew I was gay?" Both of these situations can cause considerable stress on a teen, especially since they have to go through the other stressful problems that all their peers must deal with and go through. The school environment can be a very unsafe and scary place for an "out" gay teen. Many times they are physical hurt and called names. In a recent survey of 496 gay adolescents, 69 percent of these gay students reported having been targets of verbal, physical or sexual harassment in school, and that 42 percent said they had been physically assaulted. While gay teens are twice as likely to contemplate or attempt suicide as their straight counterparts, the study found that 85 percent of the same-sex- oriented youth never contemplated taking their own lives.

    Harassment, threats of violence, and physical/sexual assaults by peers and family are frequently experienced by sexual and gender minority youth. Even more ubiquitous are the slurs, insults, and jokes regarding this population which color their environment and make it an even greater challenge for them to come to love and accept themselves and have good self-esteem. Most of these young people do not possess the internal and external resources nor the autonomy that come with greater age to help them through these struggles with their environment. The internalized lack of acceptance of self, growing sense of self-dislike or self-hatred and resulting pain for sexual and gender minority youth contribute to a higher risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs as a means of numbing those feelings.

    There are several things that can help reduce the suicide risk factors for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. People can make a commitment to making the environment a safer place for them. Heterosexuals who are aware of this can do a lot. Refrain from acting amused at or ignoring the bigoted jokes and insults that are frequently made about sexual and gender minorities. Go a step further and confront those who make these remarks, telling them that you do not find them appropriate. Your voice will be a signal to others to speak up as well. Additionally, you can continue your own education about all sorts of people who are different than you, including sexual and gender minorities. Open your mind and your heart and others will follow. Communicate your caring to those around you. Support the struggles of this population to obtain the same basic civil rights you have, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    Dr. Michael E. Kirk

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    10 Ways to Empower Teens to Lead Your Ministry

    I have long believed that authentic youth ministry is ministry BY youth as much as it is ministry FOR and WITH youth.  Encouraging teens to be leaders within our youth ministries is an important step towards helping them to become lifelong participants in the mission of the Church.  Leadership responsibilities can steer youth away from the notion that they are a consumers of the Church and help them develop their gifts for ministry.

     Involve your youth in taking ownership of the ministry by empowering them to:

    • Serve on a Hospitality Team - Train some of your youth with strong interpersonal intelligence to intentionally welcome guests and new students and help them to know what to do on their first visit.
    • Be the Group Photographer - Tap into your teens' creativity by rotating responsibility for capturing images of your gathering for slide shows and publicity. This is a particularly good task for an introverted student because the camera gives them a reason to be interacting with the group.
    • Open Each Meeting - Empower youth, with the help of an adult, to develop and lead an ice breaker or community builder to open each meeting with the activity perhaps linked to the theme or topic for the gathering.
    • Close Each Meeting - Invite youth, with the help of an adult, to develop and lead a closing prayer or worship time for each of your gatherings.
    • Lead the Program of Study - Sure, it's easier for you to do it yourself, but it is so much more meaningful for the youth and their peers if they are at least occasionally invited to develop and lead the discussion, Bible study, or activity for a meeting (with the help of an adult mentor).
    • Prepare the Meal or Snack - Yes! Teens can cook and for some it's a way for them to share their creative talent.  It's great to have parents provide meals and it's always easier to order pizza, but don't overlook the chance for a teen to practice hospitality by preparing the food for your meeting.
    • Maintain Your Facebook Page - Encourage teens in your group to take responsibility, with your direction, for your various social media such as Facebook and Twitter, regularly updating your pages to keep your youth, parents, and Church connected to your youth ministry activities.
    • Lead Small Groups - Many youth ministries have had great success dividing their teens into small groups that meet away from church for prayer and study with youth acting as the primary leaders.  Doing so means taking time to train the teens so they are comfortable in their roles. See here and here for resources that might be of help.  
    •  Plan Your Mission Work - Many youth are passionate about mission. Tap into the energy by letting them seek out needs in the community and beyond and help you and your adult team plan and organize service projects and mission trips for the group.
    • Connect with other Teens - Challenge a team of youth to intentionally nurture other members of the group by sending encouraging notes, writing cards to those who are sick, praying for group members, and actively encouraging youth who have no church home to come and visit your ministry. 
    This is just the tip of the iceberg. What would you add?

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Let's Start Talking: Teens, Bullying & Suicide Pt. 4

    Part four of a mini series exploring how to invite Christian youth into an examination of the disturbing trend of teen bullying and its consequences. See also parts one and two and three.

    This is the second of several guest posts in this series authored by Dr. Michael E. Kirk, a California-based licensed clinical psychologist, specializing for over twenty-five years in child and adolescent issues. He is a father of three and a grandfather. In this essay, Dr. Kirk shares part one of a two part essay on the issue of teen suicide:

    Teen suicide is a growing concern in that it is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, surpassed only be homicides and accidents. Suicidal distress can be caused by psychological, environmental, and societal factors. Mental illness is the leading risk factor for teen suicide. Risk factors most certainly include depression and other mental disorders, along with substance abuse disorders. Nearly 90% of teens who die by suicide share these risk factors. The risk for suicide frequently occurs in combination with external circumstances (sexuality issues, parental distress, school and social problems) that seem to overwhelm at-risk teens that are unable to cope with the challenges of adolescence because of these predisposing vulnerabilities, including mental disorders. Example of overt stressors can include:

    • Disciplinary problems delivered excessively by parents
    • Interpersonal losses
    • Family violence
    • Sexual orientation confusion
    • Physical abuse by significant family members
    • Sexual abuse experiences, and
    • Being the victim of bullying

    There are screening tips that are available to identify “at-risk” teens, and they seem to be helpful because research has shown that suicidal individuals show overt signs of depression or emotional distress. Referrals can be made for treatment, and thus effective treatment may be employed when these signs are observed in the teen. Suicide is still a relatively rare event and it is difficult to accurately predict which individuals with these risk factors will ultimately commit suicide.

    Should the teen seem hesitant if queried as to whether or not he or she should become involved in counseling, it is often helpful to remind them that in most states, they can obtain patient-doctor confidentiality regarding their personal lifestyle issues. Indeed, their parents need not know about their counseling participation.

    Some possible warning signs can include:

    Talking about Dying: any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping from high heights, shooting oneself, or other suggested types of self-harm, or past attempts at suicide

    Recently Experienced a Serious Loss: perhaps through the death of a family member or close friend, parent separation or divorce, broken relationships, self-confidence or self-esteem problems, or a felt inability to resolve a sexuality issues, such as being gay yet believing that “no one will accept me,” can create a high stress experience for a teen

    Change in Personality: the teen acting as if he or she is sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired all the time, indecisive and apathetic, saying “I just don’t care anymore”

    Change in Behavior: The teen cannot seem to concentrate as well as before, cannot handle routine tasks, stops visiting with friends and activities, gives away personal possessions, and takes unnecessary risks, along with increased use of alcohol and/or drugs

    Change in Sleep Patterns: The teen has been sleeping too much or very little, with very early awakening or oversleeping with nightmares

    Change in Eating Habits: The teen has been exhibiting a loss of appetite or possibly even overeating, with significant weight changes observed

    Fear of Losing Control: The teem is acting erratically, may be doing mild acts of self harm, superficial cutting on upper arms or legs or talking about harm toward others

    Low Self-Esteem: The teen is expressing a strong sense of feeling worthless, losses interest in personal appearance, with overwhelming guilt and possible self-hatred, possibly being heard to state: Everyone would just be better off without me here” and

    No Hope for the Future: The teen is reporting that he believes things will never get better, that nothing will ever change.

    Should you notice these changes in an adolescent you should make every effort to have the teen directed toward a mental health counseling program as an immediate source of intervention. Work on LISTENING to the teen, rather than attempt to try to talk him or her out of one’s fears. Let the teen know you are HEARING what he or she is saying, and be willing to endure his or her harsh and often depressive comments. These feelings and fears are very real to them and if you minimize these feelings or problems the teen will feel discounted and view you as an unsupportive person, likely increasing his or her sense of isolation and depression. Asking a teen directly if they are considering committing an act of harm to themselves, as in suicide, often results in “no,” particularly if the teen does not feel as if he or she can trust the person inquiring.

    One in five teenagers in the United States considers suicide annually. Accurately identifying teens with these characteristics is the first step in preventing self-harm acts by these teens. Parents of teens found to be at possible risk can be notified and helped with identifying and connecting to local mental health specialists who can offer expert diagnostic evaluations and treatment. Such mental health screenings can detect teens with depression resulting from their unique self-idealized problems before the fall behind in school, develop adverse life-styles or consider ending one’s life.

    -- Dr. Michael E. Kirk

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    GREAT YOUTH MINISTRY IDEA: Communion Prayer Stations

    Thanks to Suzy Bower, I stumbled upon Tabled, an amazing site which features a very creative set of ideas for setting up a series of worship experiences or prayer stations centered around communion.  The creators of the site describe it as a "collection of creative communion installations created with the hope of capturing the imagination and exploring the beauty and gravity of the Eucharist." The simple interface includes a series of beautiful photographs, text, and simple instructions for setting up each installation.  Here is a sample to spark your interest:

    CULTURE WATCH: "Glee" Addresses GLBT Bullying

    Last night's episode of Glee entitled "Never Been Kissed" seems to have left many viewers with mixed feelings.  

    The central storyline focused on the character of Kurt who is the only gay student who is out in his high school.  Many episodes have shown Kurt being harassed and ostracized for his sexual orientation but last night's story focused particularly on his being physically bullied by a member of the football team.  Realizing no one really understands what he is dealing with, not even the teachers or his friends, Kurt considers transferring to a new school.  When he goes to check out a local boys school, which also happens to be their biggest competition in the upcoming regionals, Kurt finds a friend in Blaine. Blaine is also gay and sings in the school's glee club.  In a particularly touching moment, Blaine joins his glee club in singing "Teenage Dream."  

    In Kurt's eyes, Blaine is singing this love song directly to him and he confesses to his new friend that he's never been kissed.  Blaine encourages Kurt to have courage, be himself, and stand up to those who mistreat him.  A related storyline focused on Coach Bieste's mistreatment by the students because she doesn't fit the feminine stereotype expected of women in our culture.  When confronted by the cruel attitudes of the teens, her choice is to walk away. Kurt's choice is to stay and confront the bully.

    So what to make of this storyline?  When confronted by bullying, do we encourage GLBT youth to stand and fight?  Do we tell them to go to a teacher or school administrator?  As a former public school teacher, I can tell you this rarely solves the problem.  In Kurt's storyline, his bully turns out to be a teen who is himself struggling with sexual identity issues.  So what do we do with the bully, realizing that those who harbor strong bigoted feelings against gays and lesbians are quite often persons who are trying to hide  or avoid their own sexual issues.  And how do we help our own youth see how much damage can be done by hurtful words and attitudes? 

    High school is hard enough when you are a straight teen.  At least for straight teens, the culture provides all sorts of ways to fit in by encouraging dating, school dances, prom kings and queens, and celebrating youth who best fit the sexual identity stereotypes of our culture.  But what about the GLBT youth who must spend four years imprisoned in a heterocentrist environment where they are the stranger in a strange land?  If you've never considered how hard...really hard it is for GLBT youth just to survive the high school years, please take time to read this review of last night's Glee.

    This all make me wonder: Why does the Church spend so much time pushing GLBT individuals away, labeling them, encouraging society to deny them rights and privileges, and motivating Christians to get out and vote by dangling anti-gay amendments in their faces?  What would happen if the Church spent one tenth of that energy getting to know gay persons as people -not as an issue or biblical hot topic - but as fellow children of God?  What would happen if the Church became the primary voice in our culture speaking out for justice, compassion, and inclusion of persons of minority sexual orientations?  How might such a shift affect how our teens see other students at school and their call as Christians to work for justice and peace for all people? (To see how  youth pastor John Vest thoughtfully answers similar questions go here and here).

    Tuesday, November 09, 2010

    Let's Start Talking: Teens, Bullying & Suicide Pt. 3

    Part three of a mini series exploring how to invite Christian youth into an examination of the disturbing trend of teen bullying and its consequences. See also parts one and two.

    This is the first of several guest posts in this series authored by Dr. Michael E. Kirk, a California-based licensed clinical psychologist, specializing for over twenty-five years in child and adolescent issues. He is a father of three and a grandfather. In this essay, Dr. Kirk offers suggestions for how adults might begin the conversation about bullying with teens:

    Suicides by teens who have been harassed by bullying and cyberbullying, which is bullying by electronic means such as email, Facebook, on websites or via text message, are in the current news and on the minds of parents everywhere. But rather than simply worrying and hovering over your child or teen, it's important to address the topic now, before any situation in your child’s or your teen's life escalates.

    Here are some tips and tools for talking about the situation with your teens and preteens:

    1. Open the Conversation—Don't Wait for the Teen

    Beginning a conversation with a teenager can be difficult, but this topic is crucial for today’s children. Use the news stories as a conversation opener. Open the communication flow and listen to what the teen has to say. It will work best to feel the teen out and let him talk. Listen more than speak. Remain neutral, offer no preaching, no wide-eyed looks of astonishment, and see where they take the topic.

    2. If a Teen Opens Up,  Do Not Shut Him Down!

    If a teen feels comfortable enough to explain to you a bullying situation he or she has experienced or observed, resist the urge to cross-examine or offer judgment. Getting emotional and angry and asking "Who was it? Who was it? Tell me! Tell me! When did this happen?" will only close that communication channel and your child will stop offering you information. Remaining calm and being a very good listener allows the teen to see that you can calmly handle this news and he feels safe about offering you more and more details. Instead, respond rather than react. Gentle prompts about how the youth felt during the situation will be the most effective way to keep them sharing with you. This is NOT the time for a lecture, but it is time to just listen.

    3. Prepare the Teen to Stand Up to Bullying

    As parents/youth leaders, we may worry that we sometimes sound like a broken record, but here are topics you can never talk about too often with teens:

    • Making good decisions in their treatment of peers
    • Standing up for what they believe in when around others who treat peers poorly, this almost always works out well.
    • Emphasizing that they never have to "just take it" if they are being harassed in any way
    • Feeling good about who they are and loving themselves, mostly as a result of how you, as a parent/mentor, have interacted with them throughout their time with you.
    • Letting them know that you always "have their back” and that you value and love everything about them.

    Over half of all kids have been bullied, and cyberbullying in particular can happen over and over before an adult is aware of it. As adults, we need to remind our teens over and over that we are to help them with bad situations. It' is crucial to let teens know that a situation is never hopeless.

    4. Consider This: No Conversation is Too Short, No Topic Too Frequent

    Not every talk with a teen has to be an hour-long, heart-to-heart — short, frequent conversations about bullying and self-esteem with teens totally count in your communication tally. Just remember to keep your ears and arms open, and your judgment and lecturing mouth firmly closed. Through diligence and tolerance, you'll be doing your part to help combat the ugly practice of bullying and give your teens the support they require.

    --Dr. Michael E. Kirk

    Read part four of this series here.

    Community Builder: One Piece at a Time

    Try this fun teamwork challenge to get your teens working together and to introduce a new topic or Bible study discussion.

    I recently used this activity with my entire church as an intergenerational activity but it's easily adapted to multiple settings and with any mix of age groups.  In this case, I purchased four blank puzzles, usually available at art or craft stores. I put the puzzles together as if they were one big surface and wrote the message I wanted to convey across the whole group of puzzles (in this case, the message was an abbreviated version of the mission statement of my church). 

    Next, I divided the pieces up and distributed them around the building at various locations revealed through treasure-hunt style clues.  Once the pieces were retrieved, groups came back and tried to put their puzzles together.  As an added twist, each group only had one-fourth of the puzzle.  To reveal the complete message, the groups had to combine all the puzzles into one. 

    CULTURE WATCH ALERT: Glee Takes on Bullying

    Just a heads up that tonight's episode of Glee, "Never Been Kissed," will directly address the issue of bullying of gay students in high school.  This storyline will focus on out character Kurt deciding to deal with the constant taunts of fellow students by possibly transferring to a new school.  Stop by here tomorrow and join the discussion about how this episode did or did not add to the national conversation on this issue.  See a clip from tonight's episode here.

    Monday, November 08, 2010

    Book Review: Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) by Wayne Rice

    Wayne Rice was present for the very dawn of youth ministry. Or at least, that's how he tells it in his latest book Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again).  Rice, cofounder of Youth Specialties with Mike Yaconelli, tells the story of his involvement with the parachurch movement in the early 1960's - a movement that would birth and partly morph into what most of us  today know as the attractional model of congregationally-based youth ministry. Reacting to the recent criticism that the last 40 years of ministry with Christain youth have resulted in their developing a watered down theology (i.e. moralistic therapeutic deism), Rice writes:

    I don't think there a too many youth pastors who are teaching Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to the teenagers in their youth groups.  Most youth workers I know would say they have been doing their best to teach the gospel week after week. That our youth are not getting the message is not necessarily because they haven't heard it or aren't being taught it.  But perhaps we're sending other messages to teenagers that are just coming across a lot louder and clearer than the message we want them to hear.
    These "other messages," Rice admits, can likely be traced to efforts by such groups as Youth for Christ to do whatever it took in those early years to get teens in the door -- from wacky games and stunts to groovy folk music (so much hipper than those boring old hymns!).  With a good measure of self-deprecation, Rice paints an image of himself and other youth ministers of the time that had me thinking instantly of the hilarious Revered Tim Tom, the groovy youth minister who pops up ocassionally on the tv series "The Middle."

    Rice then details how he and Yaconelli started Youth Specialties with little more than a mimeograph machine and lots of ideas gathered from their time leading Youth for Christ groups. Eventually Rice would leave YS, not an easy decision, and focused his attention on teaching parents and other adults about how to better understand teenagers. 

    The real gift of this text is that Rice was, in fact, there at the dawn of youth ministy as we know it today and he provides some real perspective for us younger folk who may think we know it all but have no idea where and how the current models of youth ministry originated. Ultimately, Rice's text is not only full of useful insights about the past but also offers thoughtful suggestions for the best way forward for the future. This book is both a fun read and a useful tool for helping us map the trajectory of youth ministry for the decades ahead.

    Note: A complimentary copy of this text was provided to RYM by the publisher.

    Saturday, November 06, 2010

    Let's Start Talking: Teens, Bullying and Suicide Pt. 2

    Part two of a mini series exploring how to invite Christian youth into an examination of the disturbing trend of teen bullying and its consequences.

    For those of you who may have missed it, we wanted to print in its entirety a thoughtful comment posted by reader "Dew" detailing how he approached this important subject with a group of youth. 

    "I actually did a class on Tyler Clementi. I teach faith formation for middle schoolers at at a Catholic Church. I set aside the issue of what type of sexual encounter was involved because I felt the lesson to be learned applied to all young people both gay and straight.

    I talked first about the commandment "Thou shalt not steal." I maintain that this extends to not stealing someone's privacy, secret, self esteem, reputation, etc, etc. And that is exactly what happened to Tyler. His roommate stole something private, personal and intense from Tyler and splashed it across the web. In his case it was an encounter with a man but it could have been any number of moments.

    I also talked about how the web provides a level of detachment and we must guard against that leading us to do things we might not otherwise do. For example, I do not believe Tyler's roommate would have stood in the room with a video camera. Nor he would have set up a screen in the hallway to show his video. He only did this because he could hide behind his laptop. I urged my students to think before the posted anything to the web or said anything on Facebook — would I say or do this if I had to look someone in the eye when I did or said this? If they wouldn't look at someone and say it, don't say it on Facebook or Twitter or AIM. If they are not willing to tell me what they were doing on the web, don't do it.

    Lastly, I suggested that Tyler took his life because he felt alone. I then reminded them that they are never alone. Jesus stands with them. Perhaps Tyler was embarrassed or felt he had done the unforgivable. But God forgives all. God loves even the worst sinner and Tyler was far from that. Though he felt alone, there were many who would have stood with him if he had only reached out to them.

    I also urged in this class, and others, that the kids think about who they can turn to when things go really wrong in their lives. When something really bad or tragic happens, we are not thinking clearly. At that moment, we don't know where to turn. But if we have already thought about where to turn, it becomes instinct. Bad moments = call my 'person'. Make it ingrained."

    Read part three of this series here.