Friday, December 24, 2010

    Merry Christmas from Rethinking Youth Ministry

    Merry Christmas! - Brian and Jacob

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Youth Workers: Give Yourself a Christmas Gift

    Fellow youth workers: If you haven't already thought of a gift to give yourself this Christmas, I would heartily recommend that you download (for free!) the album of Christmas music by Sam Billen entitled "A Word of Encouragement."  The music is spiritual, lyrical, comforting, restful -- all the things we really should be gifting ourselves in this often hectic season. Merry (almost) Christmas.

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    A Digital Nativity for the Age of Facebook #2

    A Digital Nativity for the Age of Facebook

    Saturday, December 18, 2010

    GREAT YOUTH MINISTRY IDEA: Create Safe Space for Teens Who Don't Want to Be at Church

    Once in awhile you come across an article you wish you'd written yourself ...and you're also glad someone else beat you to it! Such is the case with this article by Neil Christopher at the Evolitionist blog. Speaking in his role as an ELCA youth minister, Neil argues that those of us working with teens in the Church may need to be more sensitive to the rights and needs of those youth who really don't want to be there:

    What I’m talking about here is creating safe places and environments for kids that come into our care or across our paths who seemingly or who actually want nothing to do with us; the genuine seekers who have many walls, the ones who were dragged in by a friend, and the ones who were forced to come by a parent or guardian. How do we interact with these kids?

    I have memories to this day that still rub me the wrong way of my own experiences in youth groups. Leaders belittling me and my friends; forcing us to participate in things we did feel comfortable with; making me stand during worship songs when I was just there as a seeker; making me sing and even pray when my heart was not ready for it; even rudely jabbing my back, grabbing my arms, and ripping hats off my head. Do we treat adults this way during worship?

    What Neil is arguing here is responding to the unique needs of youth who probably want nothing to do with religion.  Neil is careful to say that we should attend to these youth -- not because doing so might eventually add them to our list of converts -- but because they deserve the same respect and love as the youth who can't wait to get to youth group each week. 
    I'm sure for some Neil's perspective will be controversial.  He certainly has given me food for thought, particularly as it relates to the teens in my Sunday morning Christian education class who only seem to enjoy the Sundays when we meet up at the local coffee house. 
    Read the rest of the article and let him know what you think.

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    How Do You Ruin A Youth Ministry?

    This week I participated in a quick online survey (via youthworkermovement) about youth ministry. One of the questions was so simple yet amazingly provovative:
    Imagine that you were tasked with ruining (yes, ruining) a vibrant youth ministry within 12 months, all while appearing to be trying to keep it afloat. How do you tactically dismantle it? (Tricky one. Think backwards.)
    Here is the response I offered:  "Great question. I would focus most of our efforts on offering high energy, technology centered, entertainment-feuled programs that attracted lots of teens, but give only passing nods to things like Bible study, issues related to justice, or talk of servanthood. I'd make a point of always talking up the number of teens we had at our gatherings without ever talking about the substance of our programs (because there wouldn't be any). Then, when I had the program built up with big attendance numbers, in the 12th month I'd suddenly drop all the fun programming and move instead to hardcore Bible study and sermons, telling the youth what they should believe and what will happen if they don't. That should do the trick."

    What about you?  How would you go about ruining a vibrant youth ministry in just 12 months time?

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    2010 Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry # 6: Nativity Bible Study

    What sort of power is the power of God? Explore this question with your youth through this Advent and Christmas Bible study.

    Getting Ready: Open with a game of “Guess my Power.” Tape on the back of each youth one of the “super powers” listed below. Give students time to mill about the room and ask yes or no questions of others in an attempt to guess their power. They are not allowed to ask direct questions like “Is my power invisibility?” As they guess their powers, they should help others guess theirs.

    Powers: Flight, teleportation, shrinking yourself, money, love, listening, xray vision, compassion, speed, empathy, generosity, healing, mind reading, turn into ice, genius IQ, turn into an animal (add others as needed)

    Follow up by asking whether there were any surprises about the powers that made the list? Are all of these really powers? Why or why not?

    Next, do a continuum exercise to challenge the youth to consider whether or not they think certain powers in our world are positive or negative. Designate an imaginary line on the floor, name each entity below, and invite youth to stand somewhere on that continuum to express how they rate the positive or negative effect of each entity's power.  For each round,  invite several youth to explain their decision:

    Wall Street, the military, the Church, police, teachers, U.S. Government, terrorists, the president, your parents, friends, Osama Bin Laden, Christians  (Note: This portion of the lesson generated a great deal of discussion with our youth as they found that there was no clear-cut answer among the group).

    Digging In: Focusing on the nativity texts of Matthew, divide into small groups to read the text and list the various types of power and relationships in the characters and plot of the story.  Use a handout, which you may download  here as a pdf, to rate which powers in the story are negative and positive. In the small groups, consider whether or how God is present in any of these examples. Ask: What might this story tell us about how first century followers of Jesus understood God/God’s power/God’s participation in human activity? What does it say about how God may be active in the world/our lives today?

    Reflecting:  Come back together to share what each small group discussed. Ask: Why do you think Matthew chose to start his story with Jesus as a little baby? What might this say about how God's power works in the world? Where do you see parallels between this story and the Exodus story about God's solidarity with those at the bottom of society? Why do you think Matthew includes the Herod story? What does this say about worldly power? Of the “powers” represented in the story, which are most valued by culture? Which are most valued by God? 

    Wrapping It Up: Set out various magazines and invite youth to find images that may represent where they see the possibility of God’s power working through the meek, the disenfranchised, the lowly, the humble in today's world. Share the images and offer prayers for all those who need to experience this sort of power.


    Youth Specialties/Zondervan have released the cover for our upcoming book Missional Youth Ministry: From Gathering Teenagers to Scattering Disciples which will be published in April of next year.  As I had some not-quite-nightmares about the cover turning out terribly (imagine a geometry textbook cover from senior high) I'm pleasantly surprised at the artwork.  We'll be blogging more about the book as the release date gets closer, but perhaps most important to point out today is that the book would not have been possible without the many of you who have supported, commented on, reacted against, and shared ideas with us in this space over the last four years or so.  Our hope is that the book will be another avenue to challenge some of the existing paradigms for youth ministry while also suggesting a new way forward. 

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    2010 Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry #5: Light

    During the season of Advent, we spend a lot of time talking about the light shining in the darkness. Sometimes though, I wonder if our students really grasp what the gospel writers are trying to convey. Even though the light shines, the darkness doesn't disappear. Even when our lives are going great, there can still be moments of heartbreak and despair. So here's another Advent activity for you and your youth:

    • Take your youth to the darkest corner of the church you can find
    • Immerse your group in total darkness
    • Sit in silence for five minutes
    • Share the first five lines of the gospel of John (maybe even have this memorized)
    • Light a single candle
    • Say again, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
    • Spend some time debriefing. Focus on what it means to have light shining in the darkness.
    • Ask what this means for the lives of your youth.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    2010 Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry #4: Links Galore

    Another round of helpful links to help you explore the seasons of Advent and Christmas in your youth ministry!

    Advent Siloquies - Use these first person reflections by various characters in the nativity story as part of an evening worship experience with youth reading each part.

    Christmas Video Loops - Here you'll find three free video loops for enchancing an Advent/Christmas themed worship experience
    Where's the Line to See Jesus? - This song asks us to consider just who the focus should be on this season of Advent (HT to Deech Kirk). It would make a great discussion for youth paired with this provocative image of Jesus replacing the traditional mall Santa. 
    Advent Time Out for Youth Leaders - Benjer McVeigh offers up some thoughtful Advent devotionals for those of us in youth ministry who often forget to take time out during this season. 
    Free Christmas Songs - That's right. Lots of free and legal downloads for you to enjoy this Advent Season (includes Jars of Clay and Sixpence None the Richer) 
    Digital Nativity - Check out this cool video that retells the Nativity story utilizing the tools of our digital age. (HT Youth Ministry Geek)
    When Will We Have Peace? Something a bit different here -- essays by a sixteen year old Mennonite boy who writes with clarity and brutal honesty about his search for peace (appropriate in this season as we wait again for the coming of the Prince of Peace.)  You might use these as discussion starters with your youth.
    Contemplative Christmas Worship - A really excellent pdf resource with all the details for setting up a series of creative prayer stations for the Advent/Christmastide seasons from the Youth Worker Movement.
    Quick & Easy Christmas Games - Provided by the good folks at YM360.
    12 Duh's of Christmas - A fun True/False quiz to test your teens' knowledge of the Christmas stories and traditions.
    Top 5 Christmas Videos - for youth ministry, courtesy of (Youth) Ministry in Progress.

    Music Video for Advent: "This Little Light of Mine" by LZ7

    (HT to DOPCANDY)

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    2010 Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry #3: Creating Relationships

    This Sunday, many of us will celebrate the theme of "Love" for Advent. Here's a fun and simple way to help your youth think about the ways in which we love and reach out to others:

    Step one: Create a list of individuals in your church who are shut-ins, older, alone, or sick.

    Step two: Put each name, along with a phone number and address, on an index card.

    Step three: Have each youth take a card, along with a pre-written script. The script, written by you, should give an outline for how a phone converastion might go. Encourage the youth to say that as part of their worship at youth group tonight, they are each calling members of the church. When we did this, we had those calling invite individuals to the Christmas Eve service and ask if they needed to have transportation provided.

    Step four: Following phone conversation, or even if just a message was left, have youth create or sign a Christmas Card to be sent.

    Step five: Spend some time debriefing. Ask what it means to reach out to others, especially those who aren't able to attend church on a weekly basis.

    Step six: End with prayer and hot chocolate for everyone. What could be better?


    Thursday, December 09, 2010

    2010 Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry #2: Prayer Stations

    Prayer stations (or centers) are a very effective means of helping youth to explore a theme thoughtfully and prayerfully while also attending to their various learning styles and intelligences.  The following prayer experiences are adapted from those developed by my colleague, Devoree Crist, as part of our study of Advent this past Sunday. 

    Each of these prayerful experiences focuses on one of the four themes of Advent. Even if your church doesn't specifically observe Advent, the themes fit just fine in a Christmas focus, as well.  You could set these up in one space as stand-alone centers and invite youth to engage them individually and in silence. We chose to set them up in different rooms and move through each as a group with conversation and prayer together.

    THEME: Hope
    Text: Luke 2: 1-7 (the birth of Jesus)
    Set-up: Sit together in a circle and place a baby doll wrapped in a cloth in the center of the group.  Read aloud the text from Luke's gospel. Invite the group to consider how Jesus came into the world as a baby.  Ask: "What words would you use to describe a baby?  Why do you think it's important that our story begins with Jesus coming into the world as a tiny helpless baby, born to peasants?  What does that say about God?  How could this be good news for us?  Where is the hope in this story?"  Next, pass out strips cut from purple construction paper (purple is the liturgical color of Advent, representing royalty) and pens.  Invite youth to take one or more strips of paper and, on each, write a prayer of hope for themselves, the world, someone in need, a friend, the church, and so on.  As they finish, have the group work together to tape their strips of paper into loops to form a paper chain of hopes.  Offer a concluding prayer of hope and move to the next center.

    Theme: Peace
    Text: Luke 2: 8-14 (the shepherds)
    Set-up: Again, ask the group sit in a circle. Have quiet, peaceful music playing in the background or perhaps a mini fountain trickling water. In the center of the group, place a pitcher of water and a large, clear glass bowl.  After a time of silence, read the story of the shepherds and the angels. Invite the group to consider what words come to mind when they think of peace.  Ask: What would it take, do you think, for us to have peace on earth?  Where are the places that really need peace right now? What relationships are required?  How might God be part of bringing that peace through us? Next, invite the group to offer prayers for peace (in the world, in their schools, in their relationships, in their homes) either aloud or in silence. As they pray, invite each youth to pour a small amount of the water from the pitcher into the bowl, representing the way all of our prayers become one in the love of God. Close with a prayer for peace and move to the next center.
    Theme: Joy
    Text: Luke 2: 15-20 (the shepherds visit the baby)
    Set-up: Gather the group around a table with a variety craft items, including some sort of Styrofoam ball or other simple plain ornament, glue guns, beads, pom poms, markers, and so on. Read the text aloud and invite the youth to consider the joy most parents feel at the birth of a baby and how that joy can be contagious. Ask:  Where do you think God finds joy with this world of ours?  What are we joyfully thankful for in this season of Advent?  Which part of the good news of the gospel, like the shepherds, are we willing to joyfully share with others? Next, allow time for youth to use the craft items to create an ornament that they feel reflects this theme of joy. Close in prayer by inviting each person to share one thing for which they are joyful.

    Theme: Love
    Text: 1 John 4: 7-12, 16 (God is love)
    Set-up: Gather around a small artificial Christmas tree (you know -- the Charlie Brown kind).  Invite the youth to decorate the tree with the paper chain of hopes, the ornaments they made, and whatever other decorations you might want to have on hand.  Point out that the one thing missing from the tree is the gifts underneath.  Read the text and ask them to consider the gift of love.  Ask: How has God shared the gift of love with us?  Who in this world, in our lives, needs that gift more than anything right now?  How can we as individuals share that gift?  How can we as a group share that gift? This moment might be a good opportunity as a group, if you haven't already done so, to plan a way to reach out to those in need this holiday season.  Instead of giving gifts to each other, who might your group join together to help with the gift of love? 

    Close by gathering around a table of votive candles, inviting each person to light one as they offer a prayer aloud or in silence, inviting God's love to work through them in the days to come. 

    Tuesday, December 07, 2010

    Big Youth Ministry Changes are Coming

    A colleague forwarded a list to me today of big changes that are about to happen to our lives within the next decade. The world we live in today will look very different when the youth we serve are full-fledged adults.  Ready or not, here's what's coming...

    No more Post Office
    - Email and private mail/shipping companies will soon make the government-run mail service defunct.

    No more checks - Does anyone still write these things?  In Britain, they plan to phase them out by 2018. If you don't use plastic or bank and buy online, you better have cash (unless that is disappearing, too!).

    No more newspapers
    - This is already happening of course, since most of us would rather get our news in real time on the internet and read it on an Ipad. 

    No more land line phones - Who needs a phone tethered to a wall when you can take your cell everywhere you go and annoy people in public? 

    No more paying for music
    - As the music industry dies a slow death and their ability to stop illegal downloading proves to be impossible, expect that most music will be given away for free in hopes of enticing you to buy related products that feature your favorite performers (I've already pre-ordered the complete set of "Glee" tea towels.)

    No more privacy - Privacy...what a quaint idea.  But now that everything we ever say or do on the internet is cached for eternity, public video cameras record our every move, credit cards track our purchases, and Google Maps shows everyone a picture of our house, car and license plate, Big Brother has come home to stay.

    So, what about youth ministry?  What big changes do you expect in the next ten years?  What do we take for granted today which will likely be a relic of the past for the next generation of  youth pastors? 

    Update: I expect (or perhaps hope) that in the next decade or so we will see far fewer youth ministries which follow the current trend of isolating youth  with separate programs and facilities from the adult population of churches.  There will be more integration as congregations come to see the need for youth to spend most of their church time in intergenerational settings with adult Christians.  I think we will also begin to see at the least the beginning of the decentralization of churches away from big steeple buildings with a movement toward more "house" churches and small groups.  This would certainly have a major impact on youth ministry as it is practiced today.