Wednesday, May 26, 2010


    I stumbled upon a mention today about a guy who bought his own gumball machine and set it up in a public place as a way to challenge folks who walked by:  

    Jake Bronstein recently bought a toy vending machine off the Internet. He filled the toy capsules with ideas of fun things to do and started placing the machine in various spots around New York. For 50 cents you get the original toy, an idea, and a map to guide you to the location for your idea. Each capsule also contains a quarter, refunding half of your purchase price (the machine wouldn’t let him charge less than 50 cents.)
    So what if you adapted this idea for your youth ministry? I checked ebay and, sure enough, you can get your own gumball vending machine for under $100.  Why not get one and fill it with words of wisdom, verses from scripture, small pieces of art, suggestions for random acts of kindness or ways to engage in mini-moments of mission?  Set it up in a public place and see what happens and how people react.  Take it to the local outdoor theater event or the July 4th fireworks display.  Get permission to put it out in front of the places where your youth hang out -- coffee shops, fast food eateries, comic book stores, and so on.  Use the funds you raise to go toward a mission project. 

    So, any one up for a race to see who can put this idea into motion first?

    UPDATE: Someone actually tried this idea. See our follow-up post here


    Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    Pentecost Ideas for Youth Ministry

    Help your students experience the unpredictability of the movement of the Spirit with these hands-on ideas.

    The beginning of the church season of Pentecost offers an opportunity to invite youth to think about their understanding of how God's spirit is at work in the world and in their lives.  Pentecost has its origins in an ancient Jewish observance (also known as the "festival of weeks") which traditionally took place 50 days after Passover.  The festival marked the end of the spring harvest and was time when the Jewish people renewed their commitment to the covenant with God and offered up the first fruits of their harvest and the first-born of their flocks as sacrifice.  

    It is during this celebration that the author of Acts places a group of disciples, women and men, in an upper room in Jerusalem, waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. And then it comes, and it is as if the room is filled with the roar of rushing wind. This metaphor of rushing wind is no random choice on the part of the writer of Acts.  Throughout scripture, wind is synonymous with Spirit. In fact, the Hebrew word for "spirit" ("ruach") also means "wind."  And the Greek word for "wind" ("penuma") also means "spirit."  And of course, in Genesis, God breathes life/spirit into the nostrils of the first human.  Wind and spirit are of the same nature:  unpredictable, powerful, often unexpected and sometimes nothing more than a gentle whisper. Both can gather or scatter. Perhaps most importantly, neither can be contained. 

    So how might you help your youth explore the themes of Pentecost and metaphors for the movement of the Spirit?  Here are a few simple ideas to get you thinking:

    • Balloons - Invite youth to blow up red balloons, but don't tie them. Use sharpies to write prayers on the balloons or perhaps gifts of the Spirit that they possess or that they see in the group.  On cue, have everyone release their balloons and enjoy the moment of mayhem as they fly all over the room.  Invite them to reflect on how this might be like the movement of God's Spirit.
    • Kites - Make or purchase paper kites. Use markers to decorate them much as in the balloon activity above and then head outdoors and have fun flying the kites.  Afterwards, brainstorm how the movement of the kites (and their attempts to control that movement) is like our experience of the Spirit.
    • Paper airplanes - Invite youth to make their favorite paper airplanes and then go outdoors and let them fly!  Reflect on how the different styles and flight paths of the airplanes can be like the diversity of gifts we possess and the way the Spirit works through them.
    • Video - Share this video clip and discuss.
    • Bubble - Create an inflatable bubble room using plastic sheeting and duct tape. (See pages 7-9 of this pdf doc for detailed instructions). This bubble room is kept inflated by an ordinary house fan. Climb inside and use it for a worship space, inviting youth to reflect on how the wind of the Spirit moves through their lives. For added effect, project Pentecost imagery onto the outside of the bubble while the youth watch from the inside.
    • Music - Invite youth into a moment of unplanned and unpredictable spontaneous music-making.  If you have handbells or chimes, give each person one and have them begin to ring, working together  until the  sounds blend into something harmonious.  Reflect on how this is like allowing the Spirit to work through the diversity of the gifts we have to share. (If you don't have bells on hand, get really creative and head to the church kitchen and grab pots, pans, wooden spoons, etc.).
    • Art - Create a completely unplanned piece of community art.  Pass out a variety of materials: markers, crayons, acrylic paint, watercolors, ink pads and stamps, finger paint, and so on. Lay out a large sheet of paper or  piece of canvas and challenge the group to work together to create a mural depicting the movement of God's Spirit without any pre-planning.  Just jump in and do it! You could try to play different styles of music as they work and encourage them to let the music influence their art. For added impact, do this in silence (no talking) and then reflect on the experience of what was created without the need for planning and verbal communication.  How is the final product different than it might have been if you'd started with a sketch or everyone had the same design in mind?
    • Wind - Cut strips of fabric and invite youth to use markers to decorate them with words and images representing the gifts that help them participate in Gods' mission of love and peace.  Next, tie the strips of cloth to the grill on the front of a box fan and turn it on. As your new kinetic sculpture flutters away, reflect on how it represents the themes of Pentecost.
    • Trust walk - Try an old fashioned trust walk by pairing up youth.  One is blindfolded and leads the other on a random walk and then they switch places and walk back.  Reflect on the experience and what it would mean for us to just trust the movement of God's Spirit in the work of the Church.
    • Random Acts of Mission - Put your gifts to use by going out into a public area to perform random acts of mission such as giving away free hugs, pumping peoples' gas, passing out flowers, praying for strangers, protesting a local injustice, passing out sack lunches to persons who are homeless, performing a skit or song about God's amazing love on a busy street corner, and so on.  Afterward, reflect on the experience and what is was like to take a risk, not knowing how the acts of mission might be received.  Consider how this can be what it means to let go and trust rather than try to control the movement of the Spirit.

    I have not doubt that some of us serve in churches where, if the Pentecost moment came during a worship gathering, there would be ushers ready with water bottles to spritz out the flames over our heads and elders rushing to close the windows in order to stop the roaring wind of the Spirit! The challenge then perhaps is to look for ways in our ministry to take what could be perfectly-controlled socially-acceptable situations (like many of our youth ministry gatherings?), and throw caution to the wind, introduce an element of the unexpected, maybe a hint of danger, and see if those experiences can make us more susceptible to the uncontrollable movement of God's Spirit. 


    Tuesday, May 11, 2010


    It's always exciting to stumble upon a ministry blog that offers fresh and creative ways for connecting youth with their faith.  Suzy Bower's site is a nice collection of experiential resources, such as this creative prayer idea she calls "faithbook":

    This is pretty cheesetastic, but you’ve gota have a bit of cheese once in a while. So Faithbook, basically it’s like Facebook, but on it’s on paper and can be used as a prayer tool. I used this at a youth group one evening when we were talking about prayer. I got them to fill in their name, and draw on their profile picture. They then filled in the ‘mutual friends’ column as they prayed for their Christian friends, followed by the ‘friend’ section for other people who aren’t Christians. I then asked them to take this home and use the status update boxes to chat to God about whatever is on their heart for that day.

    For the full post and to explore other creative ideas, go here.

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    VIDEO: The Land of 10,000 Homeless

    Monday, May 03, 2010

    RESOURCE REVIEW: Enter the Story

    All of us who strive to teach youth the stories of our faith know how difficult it can be to keep Bible study from turning into nap time.  How do we make these ancient texts relevant to youth so that they come alive?

    Michael Novelli's latest text Enter the Story: 7 Experiences to Unlock the Bible for Your Students may just be the answer to that question.  Using a method he calls "storying," Novelli's book offers all you need to take your youth on a journey -- and experience -- of such biblical stories and themes as  creation, the exodus, Jesus' teachings on the Kingdom of God, and the journey to the cross.  Using current understandings of educational theory and active learning, the author has crafted a series of experiences that invite youth into these stories in ways that use all the senses, pose a wide variety of thought-provoking questions, and invite reflection on the meaning of the narratives.  There is enough material here to develop several great retreats, a week of church camp, or months of youth group or Sunday school lessons.

    For regular readers of Rethinking Youth Ministry who particularly enjoy new ideas for creative prayer stations, this resource will be just what you are looking for as many of the "experiences" are designed as learning "stations." Some of the experiences are quite simple, requiring just a few props, and others are more elaborate or invite you to gather the group at a particular location such as a cemetery or park.  The accompanying cd includes much of the content of the book as well as complete directions for set up, sample photos, and copies of hand outs and instructions for participants.

    I found this book very readable, full of creative ideas, and look forward to using it as the focus for my youth Sunday school class this coming fall. You can read more about the author, his other resources, and his storying approach here.

    -- Brian