Wednesday, July 28, 2010

    Co-Mission: An Alternative Approach to Mission with Youth

    What is the difference between "mission" and "co-mission?"  I recently discovered the answer to that question in conversation with a missionary to Haiti.

    For many of us, the youth mission trip season will be winding down in the next few weeks as students get ready to go back to school and start band and sports practices.  My own congregation has seen a steady flow of youth groups almost every week of this summer who have come to our church to stay in our Urban Mission Inn while they volunteer in inner city St. Louis.  One group was blessed to be able to hear from Patrick Bentrott, a missionary to Haiti through Global Ministries, who was visiting St. Louis for a week.

    Patrick gave us a great overview of the history of Haiti and the history of missionary involvement in Haiti then and now.  I certainly was aware that the old understanding of mission work involved Christians going into a foreign lands and attempting to convert the populace (whether they wanted it or not), working independently of indigenous entities, while also attempting to impose their (usually European) culture and values on the locals.  This kind of evangelism is the reason, for example, that Christian missionaries are still not welcome in China today.  But it surprised me to hear that this approach to mission is still alive and well, in Haiti and other places.  Apparently, it is still very common for Christan groups to walk into other countries and set the agenda for their mission work, completely independent of the desires of the native persons living in those regions.  

    As an alternative to this approach, Patrick advocated for what he calls "co-mission." In this model, foreign missionaries help in areas where they have been invited and where local faith-based organizations, led by indigenous persons, have indentified the needs of the people.  Foreign missionaries then come in and partner with these local groups, allowing the locals to help set the agenda and priorities for the work of the missionary.  Such an approach acknowledges that God is already at work all over the world, rather than the missionary believing she or he is "bringing God to the masses." 

    How might this co-mission approach work with our youth ministries?  Certainly, some of us are already involved in international mission trips that are organized and led by indigenous persons in the places where we travel to serve.  But, what about locally?  How might we use this approach to serve in our own backyards?  In the case of the Urban Mission Inn ministry at my own church, the work that our visiting volunteers do is always planned in partnership with on-the-ground community organizations who have a long history in the inner city and know what real needs exist.  We work through these groups, rather than deciding on our own what the needs are and just sending folks out to do what we think should be done in our neighborhoods. 

    Another good example of a local version of "co-mission" can be found here at Benjer McVeigh's blog. Rather than taking an international mission trip this summer, Benjer's church partnered with their city to identify and work on homes in the community in need of repair (be sure to read the linked article to get the full story).  Instead of starting by asking, "What do we want to do as a mission project for our city?" they went to the city leaders who already knew where the greatest needs were and offered to partner with the city in meeting those needs.

    This co-mission approach is a far cry from a youth ministry I used to serve which began its summer mission trip plans by first asking "Where do we want to travel this summer?" and "What kind of work do we want to do when we get there?"  The co-mission approach is a way of taking the focus off our own wants and desires as missionaries and instead being flexible enough to see where God's Spirit might be leading us in mission together.

    -- Brian

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010


    Yes! We are taking Rethinking Youth Ministry live this fall (October 29-30) for a weekend event at the Rickman Conference Center in Jefferson City, Missouri. This Friday-Saturday retreat, sponsored by the Missouri School of Religion, will be an opportunity to meet with this blog's authors, Jacob and Brian, along with other youth ministry colleagues in an intimate setting, surrounded by the great outdoors and a chance to get some sabbath after the rush of the start of the school year.

    The main content for the retreat will be a series of interactive workshops focusing on many of the topics we touch on every week here at Rethinking Youth Ministry: mission, worship, community building, creative prayer, volunteers, Bible study, and more, all while rethinking the current paradigms for youth ministry and offering some new ways forward. You can find out more and register online here or check out a pdf flyer for the event here. We'd love to meet some of you in person and hope you can join us.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    CREATIVE WORSHIP for Youth Ministry: Add-On Prayers

    I recently returned from keynoting a week-long youth event at which I was also responsible for helping youth plan the evening worship experiences.  One teen wanted to focus a service around prayer and shared with us a unique approach to group prayer.  We started by giving each participant an index card on which we had written the name of a prayer concern or issue such as homelessness, the oil spill, the elderly, pregnant teens, and so on.  Each person was invited to go sit by themselves somewhere in the worship space and pray silently for several minutes for whatever was on their card.  Next, we invited each person to join with someone sitting near them, share their pray cards, and pray for those concerns together. Next, each group of two joined with a group of four.  We continued the process until the entire group was sitting together in a circle and we closed with a prayer together.  It was a moving experience, both to pray with just one other person and also to share the different ways each of us articulated prayers for the various concerns.  

    Another interesting approach to this way of praying might be to pass out blank cards and let each person begin by writing their own prayer concern on the card.


    Monday, July 19, 2010

    If The World Were 100 People. . .

    What would the make up of this world be like if reduced  to just 100 people? Share these thought-provoking numbers with your youth and see what they think.  More information can be found here.

    50 would be female
    50 would be male

    20 would be children
    There would be 80 adults,
    14 of whom would be 65 and older

    There would be:
    61 Asians
    12 Europeans
    13 Africans
    14 people from the Western Hemisphere

    There would be:
    31 Christians
    21 Muslims
    14 Hindus
    6 Buddhists
    12 people who practice other religions
    16 people who would not be aligned with a religion

    17 would speak a Chinese dialect
    8 would speak Hindustani
    8 would speak English
    7 would speak Spanish
    4 would speak Arabic
    4 would speak Russian
    52 would speak other languages

    82 would be able to read and write; 18 would not

    1 would have a college education
    1 would own a computer

    75 people would have some supply of food and a place to
    shelter them from the wind and the rain, but 25 would not

    1 would be dying of starvation
    17 would be undernourished
    15 would be overweight

    83 would have access to safe drinking water
    17 people would have no clean, safe water to drink.

    Ask:  What surprises you about this list?  What saddens you?    If the world were more like the Kingdom of God, how would these numbers be different? What response to you feel compelled to make?  Is there any way we might respond as a group? 

    Thursday, July 08, 2010

    The Future of Youth Ministry?

    How do you imagine youth ministry in the coming years of the 21st century?

    Sally over at the blog RevGalBlogPals recently posted on developments at the British Methodist Annual Conference and an inspired address by their new vice-president, Enuice Attwood, imagining the Church of the near future she would like to see:

    I want to be part of a church that throws parties for prostitutes -
    A church that welcomes those who seek asylum,
    A church that longs and yearns for justice,
    A church that listens to those no-one else wants to listen to. I want to be part of a church that believes in transformation not preservation - A church where all who are lost can be found,
    A church where people can discover friendship,
    A church where every person takes responsibility in sharing the good news.
    You can read Attwood's complete reflection here.  Sally has invited the RevGalBlogPals to respond with the five things they would like to see as part of the Church of the future. Their responses, linked in the comments section, are an inspiring read.  

    So, what about the slice of the church we call youth ministry? What kind of youth ministry do you want to be part of in the coming future?    My list is below:

    • I want to be part of a youth ministry that sees mission not as something it does but something it is. 
    • A youth ministry that gives to the world more than it keeps for itself.
    • A youth ministry that welcomes, affirms, and loves gay and lesbian youth.
    • A youth ministry that allows youth to ask lots of questions (without giving them "the one right answer.")
    • A youth ministry that lives Christ's radical way in the face of racism, sexism, violence, and indifference.  


    Monday, July 05, 2010

    The "1 Thing" Youth Ministry Interview

    Jeremy Zach is asking youth ministers "What is the one thing (and only one thing) you want to tell the youth pastor population?"  He has posted my answer here and his here.  How would you answer that question? If you got up on your youth ministry soapbox what is the one thing you'd want to share with your colleagues in minstry? Go join the conversation and add your own thoughts.

    -- Brian

    Friday, July 02, 2010

    6 Ways to Gaurantee a Lousy Fall in Youth Ministry

    Some time ago a reader commented that our post "7 Ways to Gaurantee a Lousy Church Camp" could easily be adapted to apply to youth ministy in general. So, we have done just that, offering up this slideshow of six things to avoid this coming fall if you want to start off right with the  new school year.

    Note: See here for an interesting follow-up to this post at the Marathon Youth Ministry blog.