Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Creative Worship: World Communion Sunday

    This Sunday is World Communion Sunday. Churches throughout the world will be intentional about sharing a meal with one another. World Communion Sunday is a great opportunity to share with your youth the idea that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Here are just a few ideas of what you might try at youth group:

    • Have some bread baking (either in a machine or oven) while your youth group meets
    • When the bread is finished, use it for communion
    • Try to have breads from other cultures
    • Check out this link for more bread baking ideas
    • Read testimonies or prayers from missionaries working abroad.
    • Read prayers from these missionaries. Here's a good resource: globalministries.org/prayer/
    • After each prayer is read, light a candle and place it on a world map
    • Read the parable of the mustard seed, the lectionary reading for this Sunday, and discuss how we can each make a difference in the world
    • Brainstorm specific ways we can help others
    • Create a prayer that focuses on the idea of world communion and reaching out to others

    THIS is Youth Ministry? Teen Mania's ESOAL

    Maybe you've been following the recent investigations into Teen Mania's ESOAL events. I have to say that I cannot see how this event has anything to do with ministry with youth and I find it disturbing that churches and parents are encouraging this sort of activity in place of all the positive and affirming ministry teens could be doing. 

    A number of former participants have come out and raised real questions about ESOAL. This comment in particular caught my attention: 

    I think its kind of presumptous for Teen Mania to assume that ESOAL - "Emotionally Stretching Opportunity of a Lifetime" is beneficial to everyone. What about people who have already been through an emotionally "stretching" experience of a lifetime?

    - Broken Homes
    - Sexual Abuse
    - Gang Rape
    - Abortions
    - Jail time
    - Accidentally killing someone else
    - Cutting
    - Suicide attempts
    - Deaths of close family members
    - Addiction
    - Dysfunctional Families including neglect, abandonment, parents in jail, drug and alcohol addiction, physical, sexual and verbal abuse.

    Every year there are interns with these wounds in their past. Every single example on this list comes from an intern or alumnus that I personally know. I'm sure there are many more things we could add to that list. (And if they tell you they don't accept interns that have CURRENT struggles with the things on this list, they are wrong.)

    What if they did EHOAL instead? "Emotionally Healing Opportunity of a Lifetime." I think many interns have already had enough trauma. What if, instead of beating the crap out of the interns, they embraced them in the totality of their wounds and brokenness? What if they allowed people to freely express their pain and feelings without fear of condemnation or dismissal? What if they embraced courageous vulnerability instead of forcing many interns to hide who they really are and numb out to their feelings in order to look "spiritual"? What if they quit focusing on outward behaviors and instead sought to heal the underlying issues with love, patience and grace?

    Here you will find a detailed description of the event from a young participant who  saw it as worthwhile.  Note how he describes those who "ring out" (quit) the event as lacking in faith and admits that some teens are injured to the point of not being able to continue.

    It would seem this is just another example of (perhaps well-meaning) adults who are manipulating the emotion centers of the adolescent brain.  Due to the recent criticism, Teen Mania has announced an investigation of their own program.  You can read more here.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    A letter to you?

    Do you want to do something really crazy at youth group this week? Something original? Something concrete? Something that has lasted for centuries but has recently been forgotten? If so, here's the answer: write a letter.

    But not any old letter. Spend some time talking about Paul's epistles. Remind your youth that Paul wrote letters to his friends in order to help them along the path of becoming a disciple and follower of Christ. The letters were meant to be personal. Then, have your youth choose a letter that Paul has written (probably one of the shorter ones) and have them rewrite it to themselves. Go all out, put a stamp on the envelope, and mail it a week later to your students. Everyone loves getting a real letter.

    So, for example, in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, write the salutation with your name and location:

    "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in (Your City) and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ."

    This exercise helps youth see that the letters from Paul aren't just thousands of years old and meant for ancient communities, but are intended for us as well.

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    Progressive Prayer Party?

    Last week one of our college students asked me to come over to his new apartment and say a house blessing. This is something I haven't done before. In fact, I had no idea what to say. But the visit went really well. I spent some time getting a tour of the apartment, had the chance to check-in and hear what was going on this student's life, and then said a prayer of blessing for the new apartment.

    On the drive back to church I started to think: Maybe we should do this for all of our college students? To move into a new place and live entirely on your own (away from the comforts of a dorm room and parents) is a significant rite of passage. How cool would it be to connect this rite of passage with the church?

    So, here's the new plan: A progressive dinner party (think simple food here) with a blessing at each new apartment. The goal of the evening would be to visit each other's apartment, have some simple food, and then say a prayer.

    If you try it out, let us know how it goes.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Teaching Prayer

    The other day, an individual came into the office and asked: How do I pray? Before I could even answer, a co-worker and close friend said:

    Begin with the Lord’s prayer. After each line of the prayer, stop and visualize what this part of the prayer means to you. For example, after saying the first line, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” you might stop and reflect on what the name of God means to you. Is God’s name masculine or feminine? Loving or consoling? General or specific?

    Moving on to, “Thy Kingdom come,” what does the kingdom of God look like to you? How do you imagine the realm of God in today’s world?

    Simply move through each line of the prayer.

    I’ve found this to be not only a helpful prayer exercise for me, but also the youth I work with. As we begin yet another school year, this might be a good way to help your youth become intentional about praying.

    5 Signs of Youth Ministry #2: No Standing

    Part two of a mini-series about directional signs that can help move our youth ministries to become less programmed and more missional.

    Have you heard about these latest studies that show less and less youth are coming to church for worship or youth group activities?  What interests me in all this is the assumption that our primary goal is to get teens into our church buildings, as if that is where ministry primarily happens.  But we know that isn't the case. Deep and significant ministry with teens is actually more likely to happen when out in the community doing a service project, while traveling on a mission trip, during a shared cup of coffee at the local Starbucks, or in a small group gathering at a youth's home.  

    If more than 50% of our youth ministry programs happen within the four walls of our church buildings, maybe it's time to rethink our approach. Instead of putting so much energy into enticing teens to come into our buildings, we might consider joining with them out in the world, engaging with each other and our faith in the everydayness of life and culture.  The "no standing" sign is a reminder to us to move out of our cloistered and controlled youth rooms and programs and seek ways to help youth live out the mission of the church in the real world they experience everyday.  Perhaps we continue to gather weekly in the youth room, but only briefly and then we head out into the city for mission projects, or to engage in Bible study in places related to our topic (e.g. sit by a river for a discussion of baptism; tour a local mall for a discussion on possessions and greed).  Maybe we spend less time gathering as one big group and more time in small groups in people's homes or public spaces.  Maybe instead of focusing so much of our time each week planning the Wednesday night group Bible study, we spend most of our time visiting youth and family in their homes, inviting them to share their prayer concerns and challenges of faith.  

    How would such an approach change the way you engage in ministry to youth? How might your congregation react?  How would this new way change the goals and focus of your ministry? 

    See part one of this series here.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Community Builder: Puzzle it Out!

    As if one community builder using puzzles wasn't enough, here is another to help your youth learn to work and learn together.

    This activity could be just a simple opportunity to help build community or it could also be used as a creative way to lead into a discussion topic. First, you will need a puzzle. It could be either a regular jigsaw puzzle or you could get blank puzzles from a craft store and write or draw something on the puzzle related to a specific discussion topic or Bible study focus.  Divide the puzzle pieces evenly to correspond to the number of teams appropriate for the size of your group. For example, if you have 36 pieces and 6 teams, you'll have six even piles of puzzle pieces.

    Next, select scavenger hunt locations around your church -- the same number of locations as you will have groups.  At each location, place one of the piles of puzzle pieces and a list of trivia questions (possibly related to a specific discussion topic) for each group to try to answer. Provide an answer key at the location as well so teams can check their answers. Once groups finish with the trivia, they take one puzzle piece and move on to their next location.  When a group has cycled through all the stops, answering trivia questions and taking one puzzle piece each time, they should return to a central location where youth work together to complete the puzzle. Obviously, the puzzle cannot be completed until all group contribute their pieces. 

    This activity can be particularly fun if the final puzzle shares a special message or clue to the evening's study or topic which is slowly revealed as the students work together to complete the image.


    More details and registration info here.

    Wednesday, September 08, 2010

    Community Builder: Affirmation Circle

    Jesus' ministry was often to those who were the outcasts and the forgotten in his culture.  Time and again he empowered them to see themselves not as the discarded or the insignificant but as God's beloved children.  The world might be a more compassionate and peaceful place if more people embraced this simple truth and truly trusted it.  I'm a firm believer that we can't really learn to fully love others until we learn to fully love ourselves.

    With that in mind, invite youth into a simple experience of affirming each other as an expression of love and care for their fellow youth group members.  Tape a simple, white paper plate to each person's back and give everyone a magic marker.  Invite youth to mill around the room as they take time to write one or more affirming words on each person's plate.  Challenge them to think of descriptive words or phrases that describe each person's unique qualities.  When finished, take off each person's plate and write their name on the back.  Consider closing your meeting by sharing and discussing Psalm 139 and passing out the plates for youth to take home and hang in their rooms as a reminder that they are wonderfully made...and as a daily challenge to see others this way, too.

    Tuesday, September 07, 2010

    "Safety First" Should Not Be A Youth Ministry Afterthought

    Mark Oestreicher has a new post about some of the "crazy" and "stupid" things he has done in youth ministry and many other readers have chimed in to share their experiences.  I myself remember doing some pretty stupid/crazy (i.e. unsafe) stuff with teens in my early years, sometimes because I was too dumb to know we were being unsafe and sometimes because I just thought it would be cool or fun.  

    That said, let me share my number one safety issue that I wish more youth pastors took seriously:  when driving anywhere (whether it's down the block or halfway across the country), all youth and adults in our care should be wearing seat belts -- no exceptions.  Relatedly, when traveling on highways in youth vans and the like, follow the rules about maintaining safe stopping distance between yourself and the cars in front of you (at least one car length for every 10mph).  Tailgating at 70mph in a van or bus isn't a good idea for anybody.

    Other safety tips we should remember?

    Thursday, September 02, 2010


    Have you ever tried sharing a picture book with your youth as a way to illustrate a discussion topic or Bible study?  Believe it or not, we never grow out of enjoying the experience of hearing someone read to us.  Union Presbyterian Seminary hosts an excellent website called Story Path, with ideas for using children's literature in ministry.  There are many thoughtful resources and reviews on the site, including lesson plans for incorporating childrens literature into your confirmation class curriculum.

    StoryPath also has a companion site entitled Theology and Film with reviews and resources for utilizing all sorts of movies in your ministry.

    Wednesday, September 01, 2010

    More Free Hugs!

    Yet another free hugs video!  Every youth group should make this a regular part of their outreach ministry together. Get out of the youth room and go hug some strangers! (HT Jeremy Zach via Facebook)

    5 Signs of Youth Ministry #1: Detour

    Part one of a mini-series about directional signs that can help move our youth ministries to become less programmed and more missional.

    Fall is almost upon us! That means that many of our fellow youth ministry colleagues have the next few months if not the entire school year planned, scheduled, and on the church calendar.  Every Bible study topic is selected, deposits have already been made at a retreat center for the fall trip, leadership is in place and knows exactly what they will be doing on any given Sunday, and the  location of the summer mission trip is already decided.  Oh, and somewhere in the mix of all that are some teens who are hoping to be part of this crazy calendar of events which we have planned so meticulously for them.

    As a minister who feels that youth ministry is way too over-programmed, my initial instinct is to tell all of us to throw out those carefully planned calendars!  They might look great when we hand them out to parents, but they also communicate the idea that our ministry is just the sum total of the events we have planned to keep our teens busy (and, if we are honest, they are also a way to justify to our churches that "Yes, I am doing something to earn my salary!  Just look at all the stuff on the youth group calendar!").  

    But, maybe throwing out the calendar is too drastic.  Instead, what if we see that calendar as a suggestion -- not the road map for the way forward? Rather than seeing our journey with the youth this school year as a turn-by-turn set of Google map directions, what if it was more like a wandering in the desert, in which we were open to being led by the spirit, by the ever-changing needs of our teens, and by strange, perhaps dangerous, or exciting opportunities that may spring up in our path along the way?  What if we let go of control over the calendar and allowed the needs of the day to drive what we do in youth ministry?  What if we let current events in the world provide the focus for our Bible study?  What if we let the immediate needs of our community drive our mission?  What if instead of seeing possible detours to our programming as a distraction, we saw them as opportunities?