Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Let's Start Talking...

    It’s striking to me that over the past few weeks, there has been little conversation on youth ministry blogs about the suicide of Tyler Clementi—an eighteen year old student at Rutgers University who jumped off of the George Washington Bridge after his roommate used a live webcam to broadcast Clementi’s sexual encounter with another young man. Tyler was clearly deeply embarrassed and ashamed. His final facebook status said, “Jumping off the gw bridge. Sorry.”

    Are we avoiding this conversation because of his sexuality? Because we are uncomfortable talking about suicide? Because we just don’t know what to say? Because we don’t know where to draw the line between public and private?

    The rate of suicide among our young people seems to be increasing. It’s terribly scary.

    We have to take the time to have conversations with our youth about sexuality, vulnerability, and how our actions have an impact on others. A rumor, practical joke, or intentional embarrassment can literally ruin the lives of those we love and care about.

    Teenagers, or for that matter all of us, easily forget that we say and do really matters.

    Over the next several weeks, Brian and I will offer some posts that suggest ways to have these conversations with our youth. We look forward to sharing the conversation with you and welcome ahead of time any comments or ideas that you may have.

    Sunday, October 24, 2010

    Considering the "Hereafter"

    I went with family this past week to see Clint Eastwood's latest film Hereafter.  Advertised as a thoughtful reflection on the afterlife, we found the film to be aimless, uninvolving and with nothing substantial to add to the discussion about what may or may not await us after this present life comes to an end. 

    The film did, however, motivate me to invite my Sunday morning youth class into a discussion of the topic of the afterlife and what importance it does or does not have in their theology and faith life.  I began the discussion by asking the group to share their personal thoughts on heaven and then challenged them to consider how they might react if they discovered tomorrow that there is no afterlife -- that this present life is the gift God gives us and we are to make the most of it. "Knowing this, " I asked, "Would it make any difference for your faith?  Would you still choose to be a Christian?"  This question knocked some of them off balance a little, perhaps because it challenged them to consider the priority of heaven in their belief system.  In other words, are we Christians because we want a reward at the end of life, or is Christianity about something more than that?  

    We continued the discussion by looking at what I suggested might be the two most controversial sentences of the New Testament: "Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) We considered the implications of these words which are so often quoted by Christians completely out of context.  Does this passage really suggest that John's community believed that Jesus' way is the only way to God?  And, if that is true, what then is this "way" that Jesus talks about?  I believe this last question is one of the most important we can pose to young people learning about the Christian faith.  If Jesus is the way, what is that way beyond simply stating "Believe in Jesus and you get to go to heaven."  My suggestion to the youth was that they might start answering that question by looking at the way Jesus lived his own life since the gospel writers spend most of their time writing about that -- not the after life.

    What do you think?  Is the after life a primary component of the Christian faith? How necessary is it that young people learning about Christianity also develop a belief or understanding of the after life?  Is salvation primarily about what happens to us after death or could it have more to do with the life we are living now?

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    10 Yuth Ministry Twitter Feeds U Should B Following

    There's a lot of great tweeting going on out there in the youth ministry world.  Here are just a few twitter feeds you might find useful.  This is not an exhaustive list but each of these consistently share information and links that would be helpful to anyone working with teens:

    Youth Group Games - The name says it all.
    YMToday - From the website full of free youth ministry resources from great bloggers.
    DOPCANDY - Diocese of Portsmouth Children's AND Youth Ministry
    Deech Kirk - Executive Director of the Center for Youth Minstry Training and
    YS Scoops - Links from Youth Specialties
    Sophia Network - Women in Youth Ministry
    Soul Pancake - Not strictly youth ministry, but a treasure trove of inspiration.
    Youth Ministry 360 - Twitter feed of a great new YM website.
    YouthWorker Journal
    The TV Show "Glee"

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    What's So Great About "Rethinking Youth Ministry?"

    What's so great about "Rethinking Youth Ministry?" Well, for starters, you've just stumbled upon several years worth of ideas, rants, programs, projects, and theological wrestling by two pastors who are passionate about ministry by, for, and with youth in the Church.  Since no one has the time to go digging through all our archives, we thought we'd offer you few quick links for accessing the most popular content on this site:
    Prayer Stations - Looking for ways to incorporate interactive and creative prayer experiences into your worship? Look no further. Want even more creative worship ideas? Check this out.

    Community Builders - Here you'll find a wealth of games and team activities that can help your youth develop a sense of community and cooperation. 

    Mission - Need to help your youth develop a deeper understanding of the mission of the Church? Here you'll find ideas, reflections, and projects to get you started. 

    YM Today - This link will take your right to our excerpted articles posted at YM Today (where you can also find a lot more great youth ministry help.) 

    Videos - We've posted lots of good videos related to youth ministry.  You might find something at this link for use with your youth or adults.

    Free YM Help - Here you'll find a whole list of links of helpful places to go on the web to find free resources and ideas for you to morph, adapt, tweak, and use for your own ministry.

    Finally, if you are wondering who these two guys are that spend all their time rethinking youth ministry, this might give you a little insight.  And if you want to be the first to know about all the latest youth ministry ideas and links we find all around the web, be sure to sign up for our Twitter feed here

    GREAT YOUTH MINISTRY IDEA: Third World Apology

    Do you want to engage your youth in a powerful discussion of mission?  

    Check out this post by Deech Kirk of the Youth Ministry & Life blog in which he shares a piece of a poem that invites us to compare our daily lives with those of persons living in developing nations.  Here is an excerpt:

    While I was deciding which oat bran cereal to eat this morning, you were searching the ground for leftover grains from the passing wheat truck…
    While I was choosing between diet and regular soda, your parched lips were yearning for a sip of clean water…
    Deech goes on to offer some thoughtful questions to help youth process the poem and lists several suggestions for ways your teens might put their faith into action by becoming more socially active with the needs of others around the world.  It's a simple post that might just help your group move from being inwardly focused to outwardly missional. 


    Try this quick activity to help your teens think about issues of inclusion, exclusion, and the spiritual practice of hospitality.

    Split into small teams of 5-10 people and have each team select someone to be "it." Each team stands in a tight circle, facing in, with their arms around each other.  When you say "Go," the "it" person attempts to force their way into the middle of the circle while the circle does everything they can to keep the "it" person out.  Call time after a couple of minutes.  Debrief quickly, inviting responses from the groups about the experience and what it felt like to be either the person trying to get into the circle or the being the ones trying to keep the person out.  Now issue a different challenge, explaining that when you say "Go" each group should work together as quickly as possible to completely surround and envelope the "it" so that he or she is completely hidden from view.  It's sort of a group hug with the "it" person concealed in the center.  Cheer on the groups and award 1000 happy points to the first group to successfully complete the challenge.  Finish by asking how this experience may have been different from the first challenge and what sort of emotions it stirred up.

    This would be a perfect activity to help lead into a discussion of your own group's efforts to show hospitality to visitors, to talk about Jesus' own ministry of welcoming those other excluded, or to open a discussion of the recent bullying going on in our nation's schools and how your youth might respond to this problem from a Christian perspective. 

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Top 10 Reasons to Host a Christian "Hell House"

    Hosting a Christian Hell House is all the rage right now with youth ministries across the country so I thought I'd share the top ten reasons you should consider hosting one yourself:

    1) It's the perfect way to scare people into joining your church and youth group!

    2) Can you think of a better vehicle this time of year for spreading Jesus' message of judgment and condemnation?

    3) By hosting your own scary event in your church you can show teens that. . .

    Ok. Who am I kidding? I can't come up with ten good reasons for hosting a Hell House. Heck, I can't even come up with three good reasons. More to the point, I could suggest a hundred reasons why this approach to evangelism is harmful not only to Christian youth but to the whole Christian cause of sharing the love of God through Jesus Christ. But don't take my word for it. See below just a smattering of comments from YouTube about the above trailer for a documentary depicting one church's year-round efforts to create their own "Hell House:"

    "These people are the epitome of all that is corrupt, dark and hopeless about the church and its bastardized beliefs"

    "Christianity is indeed all about fear."

    "Ah, the age old technique of terrifying people into submission. It's worked so well over the years and has resulted in so many people finding the kind of peace you can only get by brushing everything under the carpet."

    "ok let me just say im not an atheist, and i discriminate when it comes to personal beliefs. but dont they know that people shouldnt be scared into believing that there is a god? for them to "convert" they should go in willingly, because they feel its right and not out of pressure. this is just sad and disgraceful."

    Is this really the sort of reaction that we believe will open people's hearts to the Christian faith? To paraphrase one of the YouTube commenters, wouldn't it be better to host a "Happy House" where we portray Jesus' teachings about forgiveness, love, charity, peace, and justice? I realize those sorts of things aren't as sexy as screaming demons, bloody deaths, and violent shootings, but was Jesus' ultimate message about love or about a violent damnation that some think awaits the non-believer?

    And just as a final footnote -- I find it ironic/funny/sad that the cost of salvation is a cool $10 for those who want to attend the hell house of the church in the video clip above. All Jesus asked of Zacchaeus was a sandwich.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    What's So Great About "Glee?" Pt. 2

    Not too long ago I was praising the hit tv show "Glee" for tackling teen issues that other shows won't touch.  Now they've done it again with the recent episode "Grilled Cheesus."  The action begins with Finn, the jock-turned-Gleek, discovering an image of Jesus burned into the toast of his grilled cheese sandwich.  He begins praying to this toasted icon and, sure enough, everything he wishes prays for comes true!  Finn's new-found faith sets off a chain reaction of feelings amongst the Glee kids,  some who are religious, some not, including Kurt whose father is lying in a hospital bed dying. 

    Throughout the episode we see both the positives and negatives of the Christian faith -- the life-destroying judgment that some churches perpetuate, and the loving community that helps us through the tough times of life.  And, as an added bonus, we get to see some of the characters espouse perfect examples of moralist therapeutic deism (like in the clip above).  What other tv show would give over a whole episode to an examination of cultural attitudes toward religion coupled with music by Billy Joel?  

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    GREAT YOUTH MINISTRY IDEA: Using Social Media with Mission Trips

    How can you create a mission trip that includes church members back at home?  Adam Walker Cleaveand at Pomomusings has a host of ideas on how to use social media (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc) to promote your mission activities in real-time and while on-the-road so that parents and church members can be a part of the experience, too:

    On the middle school mission trip, being in an area that had both wifi and 3G service was obviously great. I could post live real-time updates/photos/videos, which was fun for parents to see. And I could just post a lot more as well. I would do some quick posts after we got settled in to a location or ministry site, and get some fun shots of the kids. Luckily, the place we were staying at night had wifi, so after lights out, I could lay in my sleeping bag + air mattress, type up a summary post of the day and upload some larger images and videos. It was a really good mix of both small, short, real-time updates throughout the day, and longer reflection posts at night.

    Check out the first post of three here for more ideas and actual examples of using social media to enhance mission experiences with youth and your church.

    5 Signs of Youth Ministry #3: Yield

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

    So far in this series we've considered the plusses of heeding the "No Standing" and the "Detour" signs as a way to engage our ministries more deeply in mission and less in "activities."  Today we come upon the yield sign and it stands as a reminder that youth ministry should not just be ministry for youth but, more importantly, ministry "by" youth. 

    Oh, how often I have forgotten this principle over the years, slipping into old (re: bad) habits of letting the adults of the ministry do all the planning and decision-making, with the youth simply serving as receivers of the ministry program.  If we really want to lead missional ministries, where our youth are equipped to find their own place within the Church's mission, don't we have to be willing to get out of the way and let them lead?  And I'm not just talking about allowing them to plan the next lock-in or wacky game night.  We've got to find ways to let youth guide the outreach, evangelism, study, and worship components of our ministries, too.  And, with any luck, this approach will spill over into the wider congregation, with youth finding that they have something to say when it comes to shaping the mission and worship lives of our local churches.  Are there downsides to this approach? Sure:
    • Adults will lose some measure of control over the direction of the ministry.
    • Adults will find it takes more work to guide teen leaders than just doing things themselves.
    • Adults will have to be willing to let teens try and fail...and try and fail.
    Are their upsides to this approach? Yes:
    • Teens will gain a deeper understanding of what it means to lead in the Church.
    • Teens will develop a greater sense of ownership of their ministry together.
    • Teens will serve as role models to each other.
    • Teens will grow in their vision of ministry as something they do themselves rather than something that is done for/to/at them. 
    One word of caution: I'm not suggesting, as I've seen done in some ministries, that the youth basically be given complete control and the adults simply stand on the sidelines and help as needed.  Teens don't need us hanging out in the back of the room -- they need us at the table and walking alongside of them, offering our advice and the benefit of our experience while also allowing them to make decisions, try new ideas, and explore their particular gifts for ministry.

    So, what might all this look like in your church setting?  A few suggestions for getting started:
    • Form a youth council of teens and adults to help oversee the ministry, with a youth serving as chair.
    • Create small groups for study/prayer within your ministry and train teens to lead these groups (with adult help).
    • Schedule teens to regularly lead your weekly youth group activities such as community builders, Bible study, discussion programs, and worship.  Team them with adults who can offer support and resources. 
    • Encourage your church leaders to invite at least two youth to sit on committees that oversee worship, outreach, evangelism, etc. 
    • Forget Youth Sunday - have youth offering leadership in worship every Sunday!
      Any other suggestions?  How have you involved youth in ministry leadership?  What new ideas would you like to try if only your church or youth were willing? 

      Update: Want to give all this a try but need help? Check out the impressive resources from Endeavor, all designed to lead your ministry toward a more youth-led approach.  Also, check out the thoughtful blog of Endeavor's executive director Timothy Eldred.

      Friday, October 08, 2010

      Youth Leader's Retreat this October

      Yes! We are taking Rethinking Youth Ministry live 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. Our role is not that of youth ministry gurus but rather colleagues in ministry with you, offering questions and ideas that we hope will encourage all participants to share their own particular challenges and experiences in ministry with youth.  Together we'll think out loud about our hopes for the future of the Church and the place of youth within the Body of Christ.

      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.

      Thursday, October 07, 2010

      Creative Spiritual Journaling with Youth

      Looking for a way to help your youth communicate their faith journey with each other?  Try this idea of using a "round robin" journal.

      Several times in the past few years I've been involved in a fun creative journal project with friends.  Each of us starts a journal and fills up the first few pages with writing, art, photos --whatever we choose.  Then we pass the journal off to another member of the group.  They in turn fill in the next few pages with their own contributions and then pass the journal on to the next person.  Each journal makes the rounds to all members of the group and everyone contributes to everyone else's journal. In the end, we each get our original journal back full of images, stories, and reflections from the whole group.

      I've used this same approach with youth groups. Why not give it a try with your teens?  Challenge each member of your ministry or small group to choose a blank journal.  It could be as simple as a spiral notebook or a bound journal with blank pages purchased in a local bookstore. Kick the project off with a night of creative journaling, inviting teens to spend time with their journals creating entries that talk about their own faith story, their questions about God, the challenges they face.  Some may want to write, others draw, some create collages with magazine images, construct a time line, design comics, or simply make a list.  Let them take the journals home and finish their first few pages.  The next time you meet, ask the youth to bring their journals and swap them with someone else in the group.  Youth then take these new journals home, reflect on what the journal's author has crafted, and then they add contributions of their own.  Each week, journals are swapped until everyone has contributed to each journal. The original owners do not get to see the contents of their journals until they receive them back at the end of the experiment. 

      You can expand on this project by suggesting a topic for youth to reflect on each week such as a Bible passage or a faith-based question.  You might provide a copy of a photo and ask each person to consider what the image says to them about  God or challenge each person to share an experience that helped shape them spiritually. 

      Not only is this activity a good tool for helping youth think reflectively about their faith, but it also offers a way for teens to stay connected to one another throughout the week and learn from one another. 

      Photo source.

      Wednesday, October 06, 2010

      Youth Ministry and the "Mr. Nice Guy" God

      All the way back in 2006 (how time flies when you are having fun in ministry!), I wrote on this blog about a national survey of youth which suggested that many young people in the U.S. have a view of God as not much more than a cosmic therapist whose sole aim is to help us feel good and achieve our personal goals.  This understanding of God has been labeled moralistic therapeutic deism. I'm currently reading an advance copy of Wayne Rice's new book Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) in which he wrestles with the findings of this very study.  Adam McLane also touches on it in this post, suggesting that before we judge our youth on this issue, we perhaps should take a look at ourselves.  

      Here is portion of the post I previously wrote on the subject:
      The National Survey of Youth and Religion has some fascinating things to say about who these teenagers are that roam the hallways and youth rooms of our mainline churches. One of the most significant findings of their in-depth research is that Christian teens, by in large, seem to subscribe to what the researchers call "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." The MTD creed goes something like this:

      (1) "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth."
      (2) "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions."
      (3) "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself."
      (4) "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem."
      (5) "Good people go to heaven when they die."

      I think that hits the nail on the head. And this isn't just the viewpoint of many teens. It has permeated into the adult ranks of the Church as well. In the text that summarizes the studies findings, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, the authors argue that MTD has replaced a more traditional version of Christian belief and practice [with a very different religious faith than we find in the gospels]. This "different religious faith," perhaps not by accident, happens to be a perfect bedfellow with our modern consumer culture that sells happiness as the goal of life and supplies consumer products that promise to satiate our unending appetite for feeling good. The researchers argue: "Therapeutic individualism's ethos perfectly serves the needs and interests of the U.S. mass-consumer capitalist economy by constituting people as self-fulfillment-oriented consumers subject to advertising's influence on their subjective feelings."

      None of this should be a big surprise. I recall when I started serving at my current church several years ago and early on held a meeting with the adult and teen leaders of the youth group. When asked how they understood the purpose of our youth ministry program, the general response was something along the lines of "We come together to be nice to each other and have fun." In essence, youth group as "The Nice People's Club." Here's the problem: there are lots of "Nice People's Clubs" out there in the secular world. Does the Church not have an identity distinct from secular culture? One of my favorite texts in seminary, perhaps suprisingly as it was written by conservative authors, was Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon. In it they strongly argue that when the Church ceases to have an identity separate from the secular culture, it ceases to be the Church. The authors write: "...both the conservative and liberal church...are basically accommodationist (that is, Constantinian) in their social ethic. Both assume wrongly that the American church's primary social task is to underwrite American democracy." (p. 32)

      Of course, it goes without saying that if all we want our young people to learn is that God wants them to be good citizens -- to be nice to each other and to live a happy life -- it doesn't take long to teach that message. They pick that up pretty early on. So, once they get it, what use is the Church to them -- unless of course the Church is working to make them happy, too.

      So, here's what I'd suggest. Go to the teens of the church, present them with this notion of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and ask them what they think. Is this how they understand God and faith? If so, are they willing to risk going deeper with their faith? And if they don't see themselves reflected in MTD, are they willing to try to articulate what it is they do understand the Christian faith to be about? Maybe it's time to just sit down with kids and start having these conversations -- to ask them what they really think about God, sin, death, salvation, the afterlife, justice, and love. We might be suprised at what they have to tell us.

      Monday, October 04, 2010

      Passing on Football

      I know that some people consider football a religion. In fact, I love the game. I love the roar of the crowd, the impossible plays, and last minute touchdowns. For a short time, before I realized I was much more suited for swimming or golf, I even attempted playing football. But now I'm beginning to wonder if I can still support a game I used to love so much?

      A lot of our youth play on the local football teams. Some are very good and may even earn scholarships to play at the collegiate level. As someone who wants to support youth, it seems important to show up to the games. Is it hypocritical though, to now wonder if I should support youth playing football?

      All of the new research coming out, which supports the anecdotal evidence that has been there for years, demonstrates that playing football can have detrimental effects on the brain. A recent article in the New Yorker compares the brutality of dog fighting to that of football.

      I haven't had this conversation with any youth yet. In part, probably, because I can guess how the conversation will go. But if we are really going to claim we are Christians and followers of Christ, should we support a game that promotes injury, competition, and violence? The answer seems clear enough.

      Friday, October 01, 2010

      New Church Camp Curriculum: Got Spirit?

      I had the privilege a year or so ago of joining the writing team for "Got Spirit?", the latest outdoor ministry curriculum published by New Earth: Christian Resources for the Outdoors, a joint project of the Committee on Outdoor Ministries of the National Council of Churches and New Earth Publishers. I was particularly excited about this project because it invites youth to explore various ancient Christian spiritual practices as a way to understand how we encounter the spirit of God in our everyday lives.  The six daily discoveries cover the themes of wonder, gratitude, hospitality, generosity, worship, and living in Christ's love.  Each discovery includes biblical/theological background and ideas for exploring daily themes and scripture (tied to the multiple intelligences) as well as worship resources and suggested spiritual practices.  What I like best about this curriculum, besides the focus on spirituality, is that it is written specifically for a camp setting and for an ecumenical audience. You can check out a free sample of the curriculum here.