Monday, March 29, 2010

    CULTURE WATCH: A Jonas Brothers Easter

    Saddleback (mega) Church will be celebrating Easter this year with special guests...The Jonas Brothers!

    Apparently the celebs offered to play for free.  Is this a bold move to attract folks to church...or another example of confusing pop culture with authentic faith?  What are the chances that there will be lots of preteens there on Sunday morning more focused on getting a glimpse of a Jonas brother than a chance to understand more deeply the symbolism of resurrection and new life in Christ?  Is this any different than the tired old method of using pizza and paintball to try to draw teens into a youth ministry and then sneaking in a little Bible study when they aren't paying attention?  What do you think?

    Saturday, March 27, 2010

    Song for Holy Week: "Fix You" by Coldplay

    As we move into Holy Week and see the cross looming on the horizon of Good Friday, invite your youth to reflect on their own experience of isolation, worry, and fear as well as the hope we find in God's love during life's struggles.

    Coldplay's song "Fix You" could be just the right tune to help your youth reflect on the themes of Lent and the story of Holy Week. From an article at Christianity Today online:

    Then there's the glorious "Fix You," supposedly written for [front man Chris] Martin's wife after the death of her father. The song plays like a modern day "Bridge Over Troubled Water," offering peace and comfort to the weary: "Lights will guide you home and ignite your bones/And I will try to fix you." It's up to listeners to decide who's offering to repair the soul.

    Share this song and its lyrics with your youth and ask them to think about what needs "fixing" in their own lives?  Where is there brokenness in relationships, in behavior, in their sense of self?  Where do they seek change, or help in finding a new path forward? What are the "lights" that guide you home when they feel lost and confused about life? How do they understand God's involvement in bringing healing and new life to our struggles?  What might we learn from Jesus' struggles in the last week of life?  Who in the song do they think is offering to do the "fixing?"  In what ways are we called to be participants in God's healing of the brokenness of this world?

    Another thought:  Choose a quiet, contemplative space and set up a series of prayer stations that invite the youth to reflect on the themes of the song.  For each prayer station, set out a sheet of white poster board with one of the following lyrics from the song:

    When you try your best, but you don't succeed/ When you get what you want, but not what you need/ When you feel so tired, but you can't sleep/ Stuck in reverse/ And the tears come streaming down your face/ When you lose something you can't replace/ When you love someone, but it goes to waste/ Could it be worse?/ When you're too in love to let it go/ But if you never try you'll never know, Just what you're worth/ Tears stream down on your face/ When you lose something you cannot replace/ Lights will guide you home...
    And ignite your bones...And I will try to fix you

    Invite students to spend some time in silent prayer at each station, reflecting on the line from the song (and perhaps an accompanying scripture text from the psalms or the gospels), as they consider how the verses relate to their own journey of life and faith. Youth can then respond by writing or drawing something on the poster board before moving on to the next station. You may even want to include a cd player or Ipod at each station so participants can listen to the song again.

    Close your time with this song by sharing with youth Romans 8: 38-39 (For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.) and an assurance that, even in the darkness, God's love is with us.

    By the way -- for my money, the best version of this song is one that is performed in the Oscar-nominated documentary "Young @ Heart." It is particularly meaningful to hear this tune sung by an elderly man who has been through more of life's struggles than many of us have yet to endure.

    Other thoughts for using this song with youth?


    Youth Ministry Ideas for Lent '10: #7 Palm Sunday Bible Study

    Invite your youth to explore the meaning behind the gospel narratives of Palm Sunday with this interactive Bible study.

    Scripture focus: John 12: 12-19

    Learning Objectives:

    Youth will compare the four versions of the “Palm Sunday” study in scripture.
    Youth will discuss the significance of this story in Christian tradition.
    Youth will present their own updated version of the story.

    Getting Ready - Invite students to ponder the following questions in groups of three or four, then bring everyone together to report their responses and write them on a flip chart or white board: What sort of welcome do you think you would get if you were the President arriving for a visit here in our town? What would it be like when you arrive? Who would be there? How do you think you would be treated? (Convoy of limos? Red carpet? Lots of media?) How would you feel being the center of attention like that?

    Digging In: Introduce any random video clip that portrays Jesus entering Jerusalem as part of the Palm Sunday narrative. This could be from an animated cartoon or any of the many films made about Jesus' life. Mention to youth that the challenge in presenting any sort of animated, film, or dramatic version of this event is that the story appears in all four gospels and each tells it a little differently. If you were to make a movie of this scene, you would have to decide which details are most important to include.

    Divide youth into teams and have each team explore one of the four gospel versions of the Palm Sunday narrative. Next, have each group report the basic details of their version and note these details on the flip chart or white board. Invite youth to notice the differences or similarities between the different versions. For example, the Gospels don’t all agree on what sort of branches the people were waving. Mark, Luke and Matthew all include the people shouting “Hosanna….” which is actually a quote lifted from Psalm 118. Some gospel writers mention details others don’t include. It might be worth noting that, according to most mainline scholars, none of the gospel writers was likely to have been an eye witness to these events. The writers of Matthew and Luke had access to, and were copying from, Mark's earlier text. Each writer is penning their Palm Sunday narrative in a different time and place and writing for different audiences. They include details and ideas that they hoped would be meaningful for the people for whom they wrote.

    Reflecting: Point out to the students one detail included in all versions: Jesus entering the city riding a small donkey or colt. Invite them to to think back over your brainstorm about how the President would be welcomed if s/he came to town. This is much the same way the Emperor would have been treated in Jesus' day. He likely would enter Jerusalem riding a warhorse or chariot, flanked by soldiers and banners. Ask: Why do you think the gospel narrative depict Jesus entering on lowly donkey? Based on what you know about the people who were drawn to Jesus, who are the likely people welcoming him into Jerusalem? (Peasants? Lepers? Women? Children? Beggars?) What sort of message about the Kingdom of God do you think this way of entering the city sent to the people? If you were one of the gospel writers, why might you think this was the best way to tell the story?

    Next, divide youth once again into their smaller groups. Invite them to imagine they are going to make a modern-day movie update of this scene. What sort of transportation would Jesus use to ride into the city? Who would greet him? What would he be wearing? What might people being cheering instead of “Hosanna”? Challenge groups to depict their ideas in some creative way. They might want to work together to make a movie poster of the story or perhaps prepare a short improvised scene of their updated narrative. When groups are ready have them present their ideas to the others.

    Closing: Despite the triumphalism that often accompanies Palm Sunday depictions in worship, the story reminds us that the Way of Christ often runs counter to the ways of popular culture and of those with power.  Invite youth to prayerfully consider, as we head into Holy Week and the journey to the cross, how they might emulate Christ's humility and counter-culturalism in the days to come.


    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Youth Ministry Ideas for Lent '10: #6 Celebrating Holy Week

    As we prepare to move into Holy Week, here are a few more suggestions for celebrating the season of Lent with your youth.
    • Consider hosting a prayer vigil. Youth respond well to prayer and silence. Have the sanctuary open for the twenty-four hours leading up to Easter morning. Ask each youth to sign up for thirty minutes of prayer. Make it a goal to always have someone present in the sanctuary praying. You could even do this as a lock-in.
    • Have a worship service with a variety of different prayer stations. You could have one station set up with palm branches, reminding youth of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Another station could have a bowl of water used for foot washing. As a leader of your youth, you might be the one doing the washing. A third prayer station could have a small table set up with bread and juice--on the table have the words of institution printed out. Across from the table, consider having a rugged cross set up. Have youth consider what the cross means to them. Finally, have a station where each youth can light a candle, reminding them of the light of Christ that is always present.
    • Design a Seder meal that can be used for youth. We did this last year and really enjoyed it.
    • Invite youth to fast from email or any social networking site for the week leading up to Easter. Start this off by having youth write letters, the kind with an envelope and stamp, to people who are important in their life.

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    Reaching Out to Young Adults

    Last week, I went to a conference that focused on marketing and advertising. We spent some time learning about how to create a "brand" for your organization. Your brand is the public's perception and feeling about who you are. In terms of ministry, this is pretty interesting: How you do differentiate yourself from others? How do you create a vision that is authentic to you and represents the DNA of who you are? And, perhaps most importantly, how do you attract others? How do you share your story with others?

    One of the breakout sessions, focused on the "YAYA" culture: The Youth and Young Adult market for individuals ranging in ages from 18-24. According to MOJO Ad, a student organization that reaches out to this group, YAYA's:
    1. Use social networks
    2. Can read emotions
    3. Are always connected and multi-tasking
    4. Rely on friendships for credibility, not corporations
    5. Use traditional media in non-traditional ways
    6. Are willing to listen if listened to
    7. Like to fit in, but also pride themselves in customization
    8. Are dependently independent
    9. Believe success is doing what you love
    10. Care about brands that model social responsibility
    If you think about these top ten characteristics, where does the church fit in? What do you think?



    Need a fun way to divide your youth into a smaller group and encourage team building at the same time?

    Cut out a variety of multi-panel comic strips from your local newspaper or cut up the panels from a page of a comic book (a better option if you need larger groups).  Mix all the comic frames into a container and invite each participant to choose one panel. Once everyone is ready, have them work to find others with the panels that are part of the same sequence. Once they have identified all members of their group, have them work together to put the panels in the correct order.  When they have completed this task, they sit together and you know they are ready to move on to the next activity.  As an extra challenge, invite groups to do this entire activity without talking. 

    Want to create your own custom comic strips, perhaps to tie them directly to the theme of your program or activity? You can make comic strips like the one here at the Strip Generator website.

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    CULTURE WATCH: The Problem with Sarcasm

    Could the use of sarcasm be hurting your ministry with youth?

    We don't link to other youth ministry blogs in our posts too often anymore.  We do all our linking through our Twitter account (and we post there nothing but links to good youth ministry resources so we encourage you to follow our feed!) but sometimes I come across an article that needs to be highlighted.  Such is the case with the post "Every Youth Minister Needs: Less Sarcasm" from the Reflections Ministry blog.   In my younger years, I used sarcasm constantly. It took an older mentor to help me understand that use of that form of humor with young people can often be misunderstood.  Of course, our culture is steeped in sarcasm -- it is the primary tool of the trade for great comedians like David Letterman and John Stewart. But does it have any place in our interactions with youth:

    Sarcasm is known for being "biting." In my experience, any time it is used it results in hurt feelings. Its not the person using sarcasm that is hurt, nor those who hear it, but the person to whom it is directed toward. As a youth worker, more often than not, we tend to direct sarcasm at a student. And when this student laughs we think we have accomplished the exact opposite of hurt. In reality, we are only fooling ourselves. No student walks away from a sarcastic remark without feeling some level of pain, especially if they respect the person who said it.

    We encourage you to read the whole post, share it with your adult leaders, and consider if there might be a need to reconsider how humor may be hurting or helping your ministry.  To follow other posts in the "Every Youth Minister Needs..." series, go here.
    Photo credit: J. Sandord

    Tuesday, March 09, 2010

    Youth Ministry Ideas for Lent '10: #5 R U A XIAN?

    As part of the Lenten journey, invite youth to consider just what it means to follow Jesus.

    Though we sometimes boil Christianity down to simply giving intellectual assent to a set of beliefs and declaring public our allegiance to those beliefs (something Marcus Borg calls "salvation by syllables"), it's hard to ignore that the gospel writers describe the Christian faith as something more -- evidenced by how much emphasis they place on how Jesus lived his life as a road map for the journey all followers of Jesus are challenged to take.  I recently challenged my youth to consider what it would really mean to follow Jesus -- not just believe in him -- but walk the path he walked. 

    I started by adapting an idea suggested recently by a reader of this blog. I invited the youth to rank, in a perfect world, how important the following should be in their lives: friends, family, God, school, sports, Facebook, hobbies. I then asked them to rank the items again, this time being honest about how important each truly is in their daily lives. Of course, for most of the teens the rankings on the two lists were quite different, with God often trailing toward the middle or bottom of the list.

    I then invited them to imagine that they live in a world, in the not-too-distant future, when it has been determined that religion is the cause of too much suffering and violence in the world and so is outlawed. That means that Christianity is no longer legal in the United States. My question to the youth: "If you were living in this future, could you be arrested for being a Christian? If someone looked at your life, would it be obvious to them that you are a Christian, and what would such a life look like?" 

    To aid this discussion, I provided youth with a handout that included a list of a variety of Jesus sayings from the gospel, particularly those related to social justice and encouraged the teens to consider if they could be accused of doing any of these things for which Jesus is remembered.

    This was not an easy conversation. It was challenging for the young people to consider to what extent their faith is "lived" or simply something they have "declared."  We considered how difficult it would be to follow all that Jesus does in scripture, and whether or not the goal is to be just like Jesus or simply to do our best to walk the path Jesus walked. We also talked about God's grace, even when we fail to do what we know we should.  Ultimately, I hope that some of the youth left the conversation thinking a little more seriously about their Christian walk, seeing it not simply as a one-time decision but a life-long process of joining in God's mission of peace, mercy, forgiveness, justice, and grace for all.

    You can download a PDF version of the handout for this activity here.


    Wednesday, March 03, 2010

    Youth Ministry Ideas for Lent '10: #5 Recipe for You

    Lent is a season of self-reflection. Challenge youth to take stock of who they are and whose they are with this creative project.

    I am leading a creative spiritual journaling group during Lent and tonight we sent the participants off with a writing challenge borrowed from the excellent Soul Pancake website that would work well with teens. 

    Ask youth to think about what it would be like if we walked around with t shirts on all day that broadcast to others the basic gist of who we are.  What would your t shirt say -- 50% confused, 30% spiritual,  5% musical, 15% distracted? Or imagine you are expressed as a recipe.  What would be your ingredients?  A dash of humor?  Two spoon fulls of doubt?  A cup of sweetness but two cups of sour grapes?  

    Invite youth to spend some time thinking about themselves, both as they imagine others perceive them and as they would like to be perceived. You could approach this as a writing project, an art project or even have teens bring blank white t-shirts on which they describe themselves.  When finished, spend some time talking about what it was like having to think more deeply about themselves and what makes up who they are.  Where is God in that mix of attributes and ingredients?  What part of their life includes their faith?  What attributes or ingredients do they wish they could change or add?  Given who they see themselves to be, where might God be calling for them to use their unique talents, gifts, shortcomings, and personalities in ministry and mission?

    Note:  For any version of this activity, you might want to include a time of affirmation in which youth contribute to each other's creations by adding positive descriptive words about one another to each person's writing, art, or t-shirt.  

    Monday, March 01, 2010

    A SONG FOR LENT: I'm Not Alright by Sanctus Real

    Youth Ministry Ideas for Lent '10: #4 Post Secret

    Use the idea behind PostSecret to invite your youth into the spiritual practice of confession as part of their Lenten journey.

    For many protestants, the spiritual practice of confession only finds expression a few Sundays a year during Lent in the form of responsive readings in worship. I'll admit that I generally refuse to participate in these "Dear, God...we are so wretched and unworthy of your love" type of liturgies. Yet, the practice of confession is a powerful way of reminding us of the unique relationship we have with God. It's not that in the confessing that we share secrets that God does not already know. Rather, it is in the act of confessing that we are reminded that God knows us completely, even in our brokenness, and yet still loves us unconditionally.

    It's no great revelation to say that teenagers struggle with identity and self-worth and may find the notion of God's unconditional love difficult to accept. After all, they live in a culture that constantly tells them they are not good enough -- unless of course they buy the right car, the best brand of toothpaste, make the highest grades, win the ball game, or earn more money than the next person. I have to imagine the world would be a better place if we could help people learn to both be honest about their brokenness and also accept that despite their "sin" they are beloved of God. What better place to start than with our youth?

    You could invite your group into a conversation and practice of confession by tapping into the popularity of PostSecret -- a blog that features confessional postcards sent in by real people. Some of these confessions are funny, some touching, and some sad and tragic. Perhaps show the group some of the postcards from the PostSecret website (or one of the PostSecret books) and then set out a variety of art materials (paint, markers, crayons, magazine images, glue, etc) and provide each teen with a large blank index card. Ask them to find a spot where they can work quietly alone as they create their own confessional postcard. You may not want your youth to confess deep dark secrets. Instead, invite them into a time of introspection. Consider offering them some sentence starters like these:

    Something I don't want anyone to know about me is...
    I wish I could stop....
    I always lie when someone asks me...
    I think people wouldn't like me if they knew...
    I feel guilty when...
    One thing I wish I could change about myself is...
    I hope no one ever finds out that...

    It's important to maintain anonymity in a project like this. When students finish their work, perhaps have them place all the postcards in a lidded box. If you plan to display the cards later, tell students who do not want their card displayed to fold it in half before placing it in the box. Finish this project with a time of worship together in which the box of postcard confessions are placed in the center of the worship space as an offering. Invite youth to reflect on the experience of confession and finish with an assurance of God's unbounded, unconditional love for all. Close by sharing Romans 8: 38-39 which declares that nothing can separate us from the love of God.