Thursday, December 22, 2011

    Merry Christmas from Rethinking Youth Ministry

    Someone Came in the Night from Sam Billen on Vimeo.

    Wishing all of you a merry and peaceful Christmas season.  (Music from the above video and more free Christmas music available on the album "A Light Goes On" which you can download for free here.)

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Image of the Day: Subversive Advent Art

    This mosaic image was created by teen and adult artists at my church this past Sunday using paper pieces torn from Christmas ads and Christmas sale catalogs we'd been collecting for the past month. 

    The idea was to take things that symbolize the commerciailization and secularization of Christmas and use them to create a sacred Advent icon.  The inspiration for this art piece can be found here.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Youth Leaders: Give Yourself this Free 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 Advent and Christmas music by Sam Billen (and friends) entitled "A Light Goes On."  The music is spiritual, lyrical, comforting, fun, restful -- all the things we really should be gifting ourselves in this often hectic season. Merry (almost) Christmas.

    A Light Goes On‘s artistic roster is pretty impressive, including musical and visual contributes from the likes of Half-Handed Cloud, The Tenniscoats, Timbre, Dan Billen, Danny Joe Gibson, Beau Jennings, and of course, Sam Billen himself. If you’re looking for some original holiday music to listen to, or an alternative to the packaged Christmas muzak that fills stores and shopping malls this time of year, then A Light Goes On might just be the thing for you.
    The website for the project is pretty cool, too.  It includes artwork, videos, and a chance to listen to all the songs online.  

    Teen's YouTube Cry for Help

    My latest essay at Patheos reflects on this heart-breaking video of 14-year-old Jonah Mowry, a victim of bullying, and the Advent message of hope that has come about since the video went viral: 

    I wonder what the teens in our own communities are waiting for this Advent season? What changes do they desperately need to know and experience so that they might fully receive God's gifts of hope, joy, peace, and love at Christmas? Many of us become so caught up in the nostalgia of Christmas that we fail to see Advent as a time to look ahead, not backward, at the potential for God's love to heal a hurting world. What many young people need is not necessarily the often too-sweet message of an "all is right with the world" Christmas season, but rather the radical message of Advent that God can make a change in our broken lives.  

    You can read the rest of the essay and share your thoughts here

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Advent 2011 Ideas for Youth Ministry: Greeting Card Mixer

    Try this mixer at an upcoming meeting in Advent or for your youth group Christmas celebration.

    Recycle the images from the front of last year's Christmas cards (or get a cheap box of greeting cards from the dollar store) by removing the back and cutting each image into 2-4 pieces (depending on the size of your group).  As teens arrive for the meeting or party, hand each a random piece from one of those greeting cards. Some time during your gathering, invite teens to find the other persons who have the matching pieces to the one they are holding. With those groups sitting together, read off one-at-a-time a list of questions for them to discuss.  Suggestions might include:
    • What is a favorite toy you received for Christmas as a kid (and do you still have it!)?
    • What are you hoping to get this year?
    • What gift are you excited about giving?
    • What funny or special tradition(s) does your family do together this time of the year?
    • Who are you particularly concerned about, praying for, grateful for this Advent season?

    Video: Mr. Bean's Nativity

    In this video, Mr. Bean adds some new characters to the traditional nativity and disturbs the peace for the baby Jesus.  A nice illustration, perhaps, of how the noise and activity of this season often threatens to distract from the real story.  Oh, and it's also pretty funny.

    Friday, December 09, 2011

    Still Available: Advent & Christmas Ebook for Youth Ministry

    There's still time to grab a copy of our latest ebook, Creative Youth Ministry Ideas for Advent and Christmas. You can check out a sample from the ebook here.  

    In addition to offering some of the material scattered about this blog new edited and neatly repackaged into one ebook, you'll also find new ideas never before published on the site.  This 66-page ebook includes Bible studies, games, discussion starters, art projects, song studies, and more.  All for the small price of $1.99.

    PLEASE READ THESE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY BEFORE PURCHASE: To get your copy of the ebook, click on the "Buy Now" button below. Once you make your purchase, don't close the final PayPal window. Look on the middle of the page for the  link "return to" Click it and you'll be taken directly to a page where you can both view and download the ebook immediately. Download problems or questions? Just contact us at and we'll help. 

    Your purchase will help us to continue providing quality youth ministry resources on this site. Thanks for your support and happy holidays!

    Wednesday, December 07, 2011

    Advent 2011 Ideas for Youth Ministry: Coldplay's "Christmas Lights"

    Coldplay's "Christmas Lights" offers a path to help teens explore the deeper questions of Advent.

    Opening: Prepare in advance a  string (or more) of Christmas lights all tangled together in a bundle. Challenge your youth to  untangle the bunch in one minute or less (while showing care not to damage the lights!). Increase the challenge by having them work together with each person keeping one arm behind their back. Afterwards, invite the group to think about how this activity might represent how some people see their lives this time of the year. While so many people are celebrating and the radio tells us this is "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," for some (including perhaps a few of your youth) this is a season of brokenness, doubt, and hopelessness.  Help your students identify where that brokenness might be manifest in their schools, your community, the world. 

    Digging In: Read together Mark 1: 1-8.  Reflect on John's call to repentance. At its most basic, the word "repent" really means to "turn around," to head in a new direction.  John was challenging people to get ready for the coming of Jesus by reorienting their hearts toward God. Help the youth to consider what was going on in the ancient near east at the time that would have made John's declaration of the coming Kingdom of God so attractive (e.g. Roman occupation, oppression, poverty). Ask: Are there any similar situations going on in the world today?  Where might there be people who really want to believe that God's justice and peace is almost here? 

    Next, watch or listen to Coldplay's "Christmas Lights." 

    This tune tells of a broken relationship at Christmastime:

    Christmas night, another fight
    Tears we cried a flood
    Got all kinds of poison in
    Poison in my blood

    I took my feet
    To Oxford Street
    Trying to right a wrong
    Just walk away
    Those windows say
    But I can't believe she's gone

    When you're still waiting for the snow to fall
    Doesn't really feel like Christmas at all.

    Invite responses to the song. Ask: Why do you think Coldplay would create such a melancholy song for Christmas?   Who do you think could relate to this tune? Why does it sometimes seem, even in the middle of December, that  it doesn't really feel like Christmas at all? 

    Ask: The song talks of "waiting for the snow." What else do you think people in need are waiting for this Advent? 

    Post several large sheets of paper around the room.  At the top of each, write one of these words: school, family, city, country, world. Invite the youth to take time at each sheet of paper to write down what people in need in those contexts are "waiting" for this Advent season.  What might be on their Christmas lists this year? (e.g. peace, a new job, health care, less crime in the neighborhood, enough food, end of war, etc)

    Reflecting & Responding:  By the end of the song there is a glimmer of hope ("Oh Christmas lights Light up the street / Light up the fireworks in me / May all your troubles soon be gone / Those Christmas lights keep shining on"). 

    Ask: What do you think the Christmas Lights represent in the song? Who might the Christmas Lights represent? Invite the group to consider how we might have a part in the prophet Isaiah's call to "Prepare the way of the Lord, [and] make his paths straight."  How might each of us reorient our hearts toward God, in specific and tangible ways, in the coming year to help bring a measure of God's Kingdom of Peace to those around us?  Provide each youth with paper and pen and ask them to write a short letter to themselves committing to specific ways they might do this in 2012.  Seal the letters in envelopes with the student's name and plan to mail them to them in mid-January.  Close in prayer. 

    Advent 2011 Ideas for Youth Ministry: 9 Unintended Advent Songs

    I've been watching a series of posts on Twitter with the hash tag:


    They've generated a good list of songs that, while not intended for Advent, carry an Advent theme.  Some are listed below (including a few of my own additions). I imagine you can think of others.  These might be helpful in illustrating an Advent lesson in the coming weeks, using in a prayer station, or simply to help focus a moment of worship with teens. Additionally, you might challenge your youth to reveal their thoughts on the meaning of Advent by suggesting their own nominees for an "unintended Advent Song." A final thought: Provide the lyrics or recordings of each tune and challenge your teens to discern which lyrics or themes speak to the season of Advent. 

    The Waiting - Tom Petty ("The waiting is the hardest part/Every day you see one more card/You take it on faith, you take it to the heart/The waiting is the hardest part)

    People Get Ready - The Impressions ("People get ready/There's a train a-coming /You don't need no baggage/You just get on board")

    Love Rescue Me - U2 ("I stand at the entrance to a new world I can see")

    Saturday, December 03, 2011

    Advent 2011 Ideas for Youth Ministry: Out-of-the-Box Jesus

    This Advent idea for youth ministry comes from a really great blog I recently came across entitled Creative Theology, authored by Callie, a United Methodist youth director.  

    Callie created a great lesson for Lent entitled "Letting Jesus Out of the Box," and I think it could be adapted as a great Advent experience as well. As this is the time of year we wait to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it's a great opportunity to have youth reflect upon how they understand this one for whom we wait.  What image of Jesus speaks most meaningfully to them. Which image of Jesus challenges them?  Provokes them?  Encourages them?  

    Callie challenged her students to contemplate how they see Jesus and this is how the lesson evolved:

    On Monday afternoon, while cleaning out the Sunday School closets of the Youth Wing, some of the youth and I ran across the big party box of the game Apples to Apples. (If you’re unfamiliar with the game, click on the link to read wikipedia’s version of the rules…very briefly, it involves matching nouns and descriptive adjectives). So, during our Wednesday night Bible study, we put Jesus at the center of the game. (The youth informed me that there is apparently a Bible version of the game that may have been more immediately relevant, but we used the real game). I scattered all of the green cards — the adjectives — around the floor, and asked the students to find the word that best described Jesus. We discussed their choices, and then went on to read some Bible passages that showed some conflicting images of Jesus: i.e. the meek and mild moral teacher vs. the conquering king of Revelation. After each reading, the youth were invited to pick up a new card.

    One thing I’ve learned about my role as a youth director: every week, I get to learn, teach, and experience the lessons, all at the same time. By the end of the game, I had collected cards that said “Revolutionary,” “Rare,” and “Stunning.” My answers surprised me, as they were different from the cards that I thought I would choose.

    But that was what the lesson was all about: expanding our image of Jesus. Too often we put Jesus in a box and never let him out (like Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights, who insists on praying to little baby Jesus in a manger). But that’s no way to treat the Son of God! 

    You can read more of Callie's creative ideas at her blog

    Thursday, December 01, 2011

    Advent 2011 Ideas for Youth Ministry: Facebook Advent Calendar

    Try this simple idea to share an online Advent Calendar experience with your youth via Facebook.

    I've been monitoring a hashtag search for the word "Advent" for several days now on Twitter and have discovered that for the vast majority of people out there the season of Advent really means enjoying the fun of Advent calendars.  These calendars, however, don't count up the days of the Christian season of Advent but rather count down the days until Christmas, starting not with the first day of Advent but rather December 1.  Well, when in Rome...

    Why not simulate an Advent calendar experience for your youth via Facebook? If you already have a way to message your teens as a group, each day you could post a scripture verse related to the biblical stories of Advent/Christmas or perhaps offer a simple devotional, a one sentence prayer, a photo to stir the imagination, or a quick idea for observing Advent. 

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    Hot Off the Presses: Advent & Christmas Ebook for Youth Ministry

    Our latest ebook, Creative Youth Ministry Ideas for Advent and Christmas, is now available, serving up a wealth of ideas for helping you and your youth experience the seasons of Advent and Christmas.

    In addition to offering some of the material scattered about this blog new edited and neatly repackaged into one ebook, you'll also find new ideas never before published on the site.  This 66-page ebook includes Bible studies, games, discussion starters, art projects, song studies, and more.  All for the small price of $1.99.

    PLEASE READ THESE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY BEFORE PURCHASE: To get your copy of the ebook, click on the "Buy Now" button below. Once you make your purchase, don't close the final PayPal window. Look on the middle of the page for the  link "return to" Click it and you'll be taken directly to a page where you can both view and download the ebook immediately. Download problems or questions? Just contact us at and we'll help. 

    Your purchase will help us to continue providing quality youth ministry resources on this site. Thanks for your support and happy holidays!

    Justin Bieber's Christmas Album: Bad Theology For Teens?

    Have you heard the songs on Justin Bieber's new holiday album?  Should your teens be listening to it?

    My latest essay at Patheos responds to the many criticisms being aimed at Justin Bieber's latest album which offers up a typical mix of the secular and the sacred that defines many Christmas albums.  But is he sending a mixed message to teens when he conflates romantic lyrics with biblical references to the nativity story:

    The miracle of Christ's birth hardly seems to be an apt metaphor for Justin's receiving a Christmas kiss, but perhaps we should cut this young guy some slack. Particularly since his version of "Drummer Boy" offers a pretty catchy updating of a Christmas classic. Critics are suggesting that the bridge of the song in which Justin raps along with Busta Rhymes amounts to a bastardization of the true meaning of the carol. I'm not so sure.

    You can read the rest of the essay and share your thoughts here.  

    Do You See What I See?

    To borrow a line from the well-known Christmas carol:"Do you see what I see" in the photo above?  Look closely. Perhaps you can make out a Jesus....Joseph (and maybe even  a dog standing in for lamb)?  

    This makeshift nativity was crafted from trash by my youth Sunday school class as part of a lesson on how the characters in the Christmas story represent the "throwaway" people of their culture: an unmarried girl, outcast shepherds, a helpless baby, a poor carpenter.  Why is it important that we tell the story of Christ's birth from the perspective of those at the bottom of society?

    This activity is one of many available in our new ebook "Creative Youth Ministry Ideas for Advent and Christmas" available here.

    Sunday, November 27, 2011

    VIDEO: Advent in 2 Minutes!

    A short little video that helps illustrate what Advent is (and is not).

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    It's Here! Creative Youth Ministry Ideas for Advent/Christmas Ebook

    Our first Yuletide ebook, Creative Youth Ministry Ideas for Advent and Christmas, is still available, serving up a wealth of ideas for helping you and your youth experience the seasons of Advent and Christmas.

    In addition to offering some of the material scattered about this blog newly edited and neatly repackaged into one ebook, you'll also find new ideas never before published on the site.  This 66-page ebook includes Bible studies, games, discussion starters, art projects, song studies, and more.  All for the small price of $3.99.

    PLEASE READ THESE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY BEFORE PURCHASE: To get your copy of the ebook, click on the "Buy Now" button below. Once you make your purchase, don't close the final PayPal window. Look on the middle of the page for the  link "return to" Click it and you'll be taken directly to a page where you can both view and download the ebook immediately. Download problems or questions? Just contact us at and we'll send you the book directly. 

     Thanks for your support and happy holidays!

    Tuesday, November 08, 2011

    Should We Help Teens "Occupy" the Church?

    In my latest column at Patheos, I consider the intersection of the Occupy Wall Street movement, new efforts to lower the voting age, and the call to help youth take a place of greater responsibility within our churches:

    Rather than relegating teens to the backseat of Church life, as we so often do, why not invite them into positions of leadership and responsibility? Instead of limiting teen participation to joining the youth group or leading on one token Sunday of the year, why not invite adolescents to serve as the chairs of church committees and ministry teams or as leaders of worship? Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, we might find that allowing teens to lead and make decisions creates some messiness and inconvenience for those of us already in positions of power, but the passion of youth might also help to propel the Church into exciting new expressions of mission, ministry, and change for the better. 

    You can read the entire column and share your thoughts here.

    Guest Post: The Greatest Obstacle to Following in the Footsteps of Christ

    Guest Blogger Jason McPherson offers up his thoughts on what we might term a "missional" question: What is the greatest obstacle to following in the footsteps of Christ, particularly for those of us living in a consumerist culture?  How might your youth answer this question?  How might we be called to help them name that obstacle?

    I recently had the opportunity to attend a great conference called 'Sentralized' in Olathe, KS a few weeks back that focused what it looks like for the Church to be a missional people. There were several speakers at the conference that I learned a great deal from. One of the main speakers, Michael Frost, challenged people to 'listen to the heartbeat of your city' in order to find out how to be the hands and feet of Christ to them. He went on to say that we must really know the inhabitants of our community in order to effectively minister to them and we must listen to their cries.

    Here is my issue. I understand what Michael Frost was getting at. I understand the necessity of having listening ears and sensitive hearts in order to properly and effectively do the work of the Kingdom in our communities. You don't start an 'Obesity Recovery Club' in a village that is full of people who are starving nor do you offer English speaking classes for Japanese people in a town that is 70% Caucasian and 30% Spanish. Listening with a prayerful heart is essential.

    But what if the greatest desires, wants, and 'needs' of my community is a flat-screen to replace their 'old tv' from 2005? What if what people desire most is a better car than the one they already have now? A job that pays better so they can afford to go out to eat more and to support an excessive lifestyle? Someone to repave their driveway so it looks as good as they neighbors new driveway across the street?

    Monday, November 07, 2011

    Why Do We Say Thanks? A Youth Ministry Bible Study

    Back by popular demand, here is a Bible study just in time for Thanksgiving to help your youth explore the spirtual practice of gratitude.


    Opening: Play a quick game to test your teens' knowledge of Thanksgiving. Using the list of facts and answers below, create a set of note cards with just one fact or just one answer per card. Give all the cards to the group and challenge them to work together to match the right answer with the right fact. When they think they are finished, reveal the correct answers.

    1. Pounds of turkey consumed by the typical American in 2007: 13.8
    2. Pounds of expected U.S. cranberry production in 2010: 735
    3. The year killer-turkey horror movie “Blood Freak” was made: 1972
    4. Dollar amount (in millions) of Thanksgiving weekend movie box office earnings in 2009 : 275
    5. Percentage increase in the volume of household waste between Thanksgiving and New Years: 25
    6. Time in minutes it takes to make Stove Top Stuffing: 30
    7. Number of pounds the average person puts on between Thanksgiving and Christmas: 1
    8. The value (in billions) of the turkeys shipped in 2002: 3.6
    9. Number of cities in U.S. named “Turkey”: 3
    10. Number of years the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was suspended during WWII: 2
    11. Cubic feet of helium needed to inflate the Jimmy Neutron balloon in Macy’s parade: 12,300
    12. Number of days the first Thanksgiving celebration lasted: 3

    You will find a nice graphic with most of these facts and more here.

    Digging In: Ask the group if they can think of times that they forgot to say thank you to someone – maybe a relative that sent them a gift, a favor offered by a friend, or a simple act of kindness by a stranger. Why do they think they didn’t bother to say thanks? Ask the youth if anyone has ever failed to thank them for some deed or favor they considered important. What did it feel like to be forgotten or slighted? Read together Luke 17: 11 – 19, the story of the ten lepers. Ask: Why do you think the nine lepers failed to say “thanks” to Jesus? Why do you think the writer of Luke wanted us to remember the story of the one who did come back to say thanks?

    Reflecting: Invite the group to consider why we might offer thanks to God. Does God need to hear us say “thank you?” Do we benefit from the spiritual practice of offering thanks? When in our lives do we actually take time to do this?

    Wednesday, November 02, 2011

    Leaving Attractional Ministry Behind: An Interview with Calvin Park

    Faithful readers of this site know that we've been talking about leaving behind attractional youth ministry from almost our very first postI have coined the term "distractional model" to critique this approach which is more about entertainment than ministry and we offer a new way forward in our book Missional Youth Ministry.  Recently, fellow youth minister Calvin Park began to explore his own journey toward a new understanding of ministry with youth.  You can read more about it at his blog. We invited Calvin to share some of his thoughts on the topic, his reason for making the shift, and the challenges and blessings he expects to see along the way. For anyone about to start the journey away from attractional youth ministry and toward something more deep and meaningful, Calvin's responses below will offer you hope and some thoughts on a path forward.

    Calvin Park currently serves as Director of Youth Ministries at Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church in Gaithersburg, MD. He holds an MA in Biblical Languages and an MA in Old Testament from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He and his wife are expecting their first child soon, and they dearly hope he'll be ever bit the geek that they are.

    What do you understand attractional ministry to be and how does it differ from the "model" of ministry you are working towards now?

    Attractional youth ministry is difficult to define. It's incorrect to assume there is this monolithic thing called attractional ministry. It varies from ministry to ministry. I've written quite a bit on my own blog about what attractional youth ministry is, and I'll probably revist the topic in the future. It's just extremely broad.

    In short, however, I think attractional ministry is ministry that is focused on me (as the student, not the youth pastor). It is ministry that places my desires, needs and wants ahead of others. It is ministry that entertains instead of discipling. It is ministry that attracts instead of sends. In other words, when we seek to attract youth to our ministries through any means other than the Gospel of Jesus we've missed the point; and we may be implicitly teaching our students that--just like our culture--the Gospel is all about them. As the old adage goes, what you win them with is what you win them to.

    In terms of how this differs from the model our ministry is now working towards, we're still in the process of discerning where God is leading us. At the least, I think a different kind of youth ministry has to include three elements:

    1. Intergenerational diversity - No longer can we confine youth to their own ministry apart from the larger church and expect them to grow into fully committed disciples of Jesus. Not only do the students miss out, but the rest of our churches miss out on what students have to offer.

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Why Are Youth Still Staying Away From Church?

    The Barna Group and David Kinnaman continue to share findings from their five-year project surveying youth and young adults on their reasons for disconnecting from the Church.  In particular, the study looked at those youth who had been active in church but are no longer.  The respondents shared many reasons but six major themes emerged for what seems to be keeping youth away from organized Christian faith:

    1) Churches seems overprotective (e.g. resist, demonize, and ignore real-world issues and problems).
    2) Youth experience Christianity in the Church as shallow (e.g. not relevant or connected to an experience of God.)
    3) Churches appear antagonistic to science.
    4) Churches take an overly-simplistic or judgmental view of sexuality.
    5) Youth struggle with exclusive claims of some Christian churches.
    6) Youth sees the Church as unfriendly to those who doubt. 

    Their findings suggest that churches ignore these issues at our own peril.  Twenty years ago we could rely on youth leaving the church for a few years, then marrying, starting a family and coming back.  This just isn't the case anymore for most youth. Adolescence stretches into the mid-to-late twenties and many young people put off school, career, and family much longer. Additionally, the internet and social media are exposing young people to a vastly diverse world of ideas, religious beliefs, and culture.  In other words, its a whole new ballgame.  I'm currently reading Kinnaman's latest book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith.  My review to follow soon.  

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Christian Haunted Houses: Scaring the "Hell" Out of Teens?

    It's that time of the year again. As Halloween approaches, I get to plug one of my favorite youth ministry documentaries : Hell House (see trailer above).  Let me be clear:  I love this documentary but couldn't disagree more with the subjects of the film: Christians who believe fear is an appropriate tool for bringing teens into discipleship in Christ. You can watch the entire documentary online here.

    Relatedly, my current essay at the Patheos site shares more about the nature of these "hell houses" and why I think there has to be a better way to evangelize youth:  

    But all these hell houses, supposedly aimed at pointing teens toward wholesome lifestyles, reek of irony. In their efforts to offer a Christian alternative to supposed pagan elements of Halloween, they end up using the worst cultural elements to attract teens: violence, sex, blood, and carnage. Perhaps most telling, according to the director of the Hell House documentary, is the apparent excitement expressed by the Christian teens who help to organize and present the gruesome scenarios. 

    You can read the entire essay and share your thoughts here

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Missional Youth Ministry...At A Glance

    Preparing for a recent presentation on our book, Missional Youth Ministry, I attempted to redesign a simple visual way to compare the earlier youth ministry paradigm known as "attractional youth ministry" and the emerging paradigm many would label "missional youth ministry" (you can click on the image above to see a larger version).  Though I resist suggesting these two views of ministry are in complete opposition to one another, I find it helpful to set them side-by-side to point out the differences.  In summary:

    Attractional Youth Ministry
    • The weekly meeting/worship service is the focus.
    • Marketing is used to bring participants into that meeting.
    • Evangelism is focused on making participants into members of the group/church.
    • Programming (Bible study, mission, fellowship, worship) is all designed to draw or attract participants into that weekly meeting and church membership.
    • Most of the work is done by professional or paid ministry staff.
    Missional Youth Ministry

    • The mission of the Church (big "C") is the focus.
    • Participants are sent out to embody that mission in the world.
    • Evangelism is primarily about living out and telling the good news.
    • Ministry, rather than programming, makes up the bulk of the activity. All activity (study, mission, fellowship, worship) is seen through the lens of "What is our mission?"
    • Strong emphasis on the priesthood of all believers -- empowering youth to find their own call within the ministry of the Church and to live it out in their daily lives. 
    Certainly there is overlap between the two models, but the greatest distinction is that one is more inwardly focused toward the Church as institution and the other more outwardly focused toward our call to ministry in our own daily context.  Your thoughts?  How might you change or tweak this model?  What is missing?  Does this connect with or push back against your understand of "missional?"

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Will Your Church Be Celebrating "Jesus-Ween?"

    An organization based in Calgary is inviting churches to participate this month in "Jesus-ween," an evangelistic alternative to Halloween.  This is a new twist on the old practice of giving out those creepy (and scripturally inaccurate) Jack Chick tracts, intended to scare kids in an entirely different way on Halloween night when they start reading the little comic somebody dropped in their goodie bag:

    What about your Church? Any alternatives planned for Halloween? Do you even see a need to provide an alternative to the cultural observance of Halloween?

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    Back to School: Are We Planning for Ministry or Programs? Pt. 2

    As we enter a new fall season, are we preparing for ministry or programs? This was the question we posed in part one of this two-part series and we offered a way for you to help your teens define their ministry together long before you fill the calendar with activities.  In this post we'll offer a way to help your group formulate a mission or vision statement that can become the yardstick by which you measure all your ministry together in the new school year.

    After helping youth determine the "who" of your ministry together (i.e. who will you invite to be part of your fellowship), it's time to focus on the "what."  The following is an example of how we helped our youth explore the mission of our group.

    Step One:  We introduced the group to the following quote from German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as way to frame our discussion: "There is probably no Christian to whom God has not given the uplifting experience of genuine Christian community at least once in his or her life.  But in this world such experiences remain nothing but a gracious extra beyond the daily bread of Christian community life. We have no claim to such experiences, and we do not live with other Christians for the sake of gaining such experiences. It is not the experience of Christian community, but firm and certain faith within Christian community that holds us together. We are bound by faith, not by experience." -- D. Bonhoeffer

    To my pleasant surprise, this quote stirred up an amazing amount of conversation among the youth.  They latched onto this idea that the purpose of our time together is not to be the activities and programs that we schedule -- the experiences. Sure, we enjoy the lock-ins and the pizza-making parties, but these should not be the focus of our ministry nor the main reason that we decide to participate.  Experiences are important but we have to be grounded first and foremost, the teens argued, in our faith as a community of Christians.

    Step Two: Next, we split into smaller groups and introduced several biblical texts that connect with the understanding of mission in the New Testament.  My personal "go to" scripture for this purpose is Luke 4: 14-30 (Jesus reading from Isaiah.) With these words as inspiration, we provided each group with a stack of paper rectangles like those you see in the photo below. We challenged them to work together and to think about how they would define our ministry and work together as a group.  As they brainstormed, they were to write any words that popped into their heads onto the paper, one word per sheet.  Groups were also encouraged to use some words from the suggested scripture texts.

    Great Youth Ministy Idea: You Teach Me!

    Try this idea for encouraging active Bible learning in your teens.

    TJ, a youth ministry colleague, recently shared with me a clever approach he takes to engaging teens in Bible study.  In a way, he does the very opposite of what many of us might try when introducing a new text.  TJ gathers the teens in a room, gives them the scripture citation and tells them he's leaving for awhile. The Challenge: When he comes back they are to be ready to teach him what the text is all about.  TJ says that the first couple of times he tried this the teens were a little slow to catch on, but now when he returns to the room they often have a flipchart page ready with all sorts of interesting observations and points of discussion ready to share with him.

    This approach really is a great way to engage the brain. It allow the learners to show you what they are already thinking, which portions of the text connect with them, and what questions are forming in their thoughts about the scripture's context, language, and meaning. This sort of foundation can allow you as the adult to lead a much richer follow-up conversation and takes the focus off of you as the "keeper of knowledge and right answers" (though I know many of us love playing that role!).  It's also a great way to encourage youth to take charge of their own learning.    

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    Book Give-Away Winner plus Fall Planning Ideas!

    Our congratulations to Cheryl Hatch for winning the random drawing for a copy of our text Missional Youth Ministry.  Thanks to everyone who entered the drawing by sharing with us what your youth ministry will be focusing on this fall.  What a really amazing list of ideas we received! Everything from studies on missional living, to prayer, to bullying.  Below are many of the ideas submitted. Lots of great suggestions so you may want to bookmark this post when for you need a little inspiration during future planning:

    • This year our focus will be getting to known the arch of the Bible.
    • Our focus will be service as related to justice...and congratulations!
    • In sept we are focussing on building the culture of our youth group through team-building, covenant making, etc. in october we will focus on loss and grief because of some tragic losses that our teens experienced over the summer.
    • My theme for the first two weeks is called: life transformed. It is testimony driven.
    • I am taking our group through the "how to" of missional living in school, home, and church, while keeping Jesus' relational life as our model.
    • Our theme of study for this school year. So the first unit is: Who is God? We will talk about God as Creator, God as one who keeps promises, the language we use to talk about God, etc. etc. Should be fun!
    • I'm teaching ideas adapted from Stomping out the Darkness by Neil Anderson. We're looking at our identity in Christ and changing our thinking.
    • This year our weekly gathering will be going through the book of Jonah and our small groups are going through "Crazy Love"- Our whole church has a theme of "commissioned to love".

    Video: Ani Difranco Rethinks The Lord's Prayer

    This past Sunday our youth group began a long-term study of the Lord's prayer.  In my background research, I came across this interesting rethinking of that prayer by Ani Difranco:

    Our father who art in a penthouse
    Sits in his 37th floor suite
    And swivels to gaze down
    At the city he made me in
    He allows me to stand and
    Sollicit graffiti until
    He needs the land I stand on  

    Here are some thoughts on the meaning of the words.  What do you think?

    HT: Cobus Van Wyngaard.

    Thursday, September 15, 2011

    Back to School: Are We Planning for Ministry or Programs? Pt. 1

    As we enter a new fall season, are we preparing for ministry or programs?

    The temptation this time of the year is to create a full calendar of programs  and activities for our youth.  Lock-ins? Check. Game night? Check. Bible study? Check.  Christian Concert? Check.  Parents love these calendars because they can see at a glance every activity for the next nine months and know exactly how their family calendar will (or will not) line up with the youth group calendar.

    But in our rush to show how organized we are, have we substituted preparing for ministry with simply calendaring programs and activities?  This was the question our youth ministry team recently asked. So, before we put a single lock-in or game night on the calendar, we gathered this past weekend with our youth to simply focus on the questions: Who are you? Who are we? What is the purpose of our ministry together?

    Step One: We began by inviting the youth to reflect on their own identity as part of our group.  We asked them share about their interests, their talents, their families, their friends, their learning styles, and so on.  Learning more about one another invited us to see the diversity of personalities and gifts within our ministry.

    Step Two:  The youth divided into groups and were asked to think about what sort of ministry we wanted to be and who would be a part of it?  Who do we want to include?  Who do we hope would feel welcome in our fellowship?  The youth then wrote down their ideas on lots of post-it notes.  We then brought the groups back together and compared answers. Interestingly, one group had written down categories of people while the other had written down qualities of people.  As they went through their piles of post-it notes, they found many similarities and many cases where the category from one group matched the quality from the other group (e.g. musician and song-writing ability).  The teams became excited as they realized the diversity and agreement we had on just how welcoming we hoped our ministry might be.  Some of their responses on the post-its included:  athletes, artists,  intellectuals, doubters, believers, GLBT, rural, urban, visually impaired, differently-abled, nerds, musicians, peacemaker, republican, democrat, actor, studious, agnostic, atheist, nurturers, young, and old. We collected up all the post-its and some of the youth then worked to creatively attached them all to a poster board for use later in worship.

    Step Four:  Next, we invited everyone to scatter about the building or outside the building and find one object that in some way represented what our ministry means to them or what they hoped our ministry might be able to be as we moved into a new school year together.  After ten minutes, we regrouped and shared. Here were some of the objects and explanations from the group:

    • Chair - Our ministry provides support for the members and reminds us that God is always there to hold us up.
    • Cup of water - A reminder that our faith is a vital part of our life.
    • Colored pencils - Symbolizing the gift of our diversity and how all of us have something to contribute.
    • Clothes hanger - Our ministry supports us as we try to live out our faith each day.
    • Track shoe - A reminder that we journey together in faith, keeping each other on track (and the spikes symbolize how we also are called to help each other from losing our footing).
    • Coffee mug - Our group as a place that is warm, comforting and safe (and the cup had a lipstick stain on it -- a reminder that we are invited to come with all our imperfections).
    • Cross necklace - An outward sign of who we are, reminding us that it is important that we work together to become outward signs of Christ.
    • Light switch - A reminder that we are to be light, and to help illuminate and teach each other.
    And so we ended this first part of our retreat with a firm sense of who we are and who we wanted to be and a commitment to be open to all who might come to join us in ministry.  Our next task in the retreat was to establish a mission and vision statement -- one that would shape all of our ministry for the new school year. More on that in part two. 

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Missional Youth Ministry Book Give-away

    We're celebrating and that means a free book for one of our faithful readers!

    We are pleased to announce that our new text, Missional Youth Ministry: Moving from Gathering Teenagers to Scattering Disciples, has already reached a second printing after just a few months in publication.  

    We are thankful and honored by all those who have purchased the book and let us know how it has been helpful in their ministries.

    In celebration of this second printing, we invite our readers to enter a drawing for a free copy of the text.  To enter, all we ask you to do is let us know what your first study, program, or thematic focus will be with your youth this fall. Share your plans either by submitting a response to this post or by emailing us at  We'll share all responses later on this blog.  Entries need to be received by Friday, Sept. 16

    Wednesday, September 07, 2011

    Talking with Teens about 9-11

    Will you talk with your teens about 9-11 this week?  If so, how will you help them reflect on this event that is a part of their childhood and yet not something they really remember?

    This Sunday will be the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Most of the youth of today were preschoolers or primary-age when the attacks occurred. Their memories of the event are less first-hand and more an amalgam of all the things they have seen, heard, and read in the years since. 

    How should we talk with our teens about 9-11?  The truth is, it will be different for each group.  As you are the expert when it comes to your ministry and your teens, ultimately you are best able to discern how to challenge them to be thoughtful and honest in their discussion of an event that continues to affect the politics, economics, and social conditions of the United States. 

    Below are a few suggestions to help you in your planning. These are just the beginnings of ideas. Hopefully, something here will click and help you develop the right path for your group:

    • Discuss "Where was God on 9-11?"  This question has almost become a theological chestnut at this point but, honestly, can your theology answer the question in such a way that you'd be willing to share your convictions with a person whose loved one died in the planes or was burned to death in the twin towers?  This is a tough question worth wrestling with as your teens discern their own understanding of who and how God is in the world.  This response may be typical but leaves the door widen open to simply throw up our hands and do nothing in the face of an inexplicable God. Why not share it with your teens and let them discuss it?
    • Watch stories of 9-11 Kids - Help your teens see the effects of that day on the children of 9-11 victims, many of whom are their same-aged peers. You can find a few possible videos here, here, and and one of a series of videos interviews with children of 9-11 victims here
    • View a portion of the documentary "Beyond Belief." This film details how two 9-11 widows opted not to respond with anger or a call for revenge but rather reached out to help other widows in Afghanistan -- women whose own husbands were casualties of the U.S. war in that country. (available from Netflix and for purchase or download).
    • Debate: Violence versus God's Love - Those that died on September 11 were not the only victims. Thousands more died in the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including U.S. soldiers and approximately 100,000 civilians in Iraq alone.  Challenge your youth to consider if violence and war was the best response to September 11th.  What other options could have been considered? What was the Christian response? Do we trust more in violence and might or in the love of God to heal the world? 
    • Share Emotions Through Art - Help your youth brainstorm their thoughts and emotions about 9-11 and turn those feelings into an artistic expression, perhaps around the themes of forgiveness, peace, justice, mercy, reconciliation, and community.  Their creations could be a vision of a better more hopeful world for the next generation of children.
    • Invite Others to Share Their Stories - Invite young adults and older adults to come and share their stories of that day -- where they were when they heard the news, what impact it had on them, and how they think the world has changed since then. 
    • Pray - Adapt any of the prayer stations ideas on this blog and simply develop a quiet, thoughtful and maybe even silent hour of prayer, encouraging your teens to focus on the needs of the world.
    • Do something About It - Share with your youth about the "Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream" event being organized by Shane Claiborne. Invite their responses -- they might even be inspired to create an event of their own.
    • Need More Ideas? Check out this article from Youthworker Journal.

    Other thoughts? How will you talk with your teens about 9-11 this week?

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011

    Want To Take an Urban Mission Trip?

    Looking for an opportunity to involve your youth in an inner-city mission experience? 

    In the "old days," I usually didn't start thinking about our summer mission trip until sometime in January. But these events have become such a staple of youth programs that I find most youth  leaders start planning next summer's trip as soon as they return from this summer's trip! With that in mind, we offer you a few recommendations for urban mission opportunities in our city of St. Louis.

    The Urban Mission Inn - This ministry is hosted at Union Avenue Christian Church (Brian's church) and offers dedicated space for groups of 20+ people.  Housing area includes bunkbeds, air mattresses, showers, full kitchen, and meeting space. In addition, the ministry offers to help schedule mission projects for your group.  In the summer of 2011, over 400 youth and adults were hosted at the Urban Mission Inn. Coming in 2012: All groups will be provided with a complete urban mission and justice educational resource to help you prepare for your trip, debrief your experiences during your trip, and extend the experience once you return home.

    The Urban Mission Experience - This ministry is located at Epiphany United Church of Christ on the southside of St. Louis. They provide sleeping space, offsite showers, and a full kitchen. In addition, they will help groups set up mission projects and offer a poverty simulation. 

    The Bridge - This ministry, connected with Centenary Methodist Church,  provides a host of services to homeless persons.  They also offer volunteer opportunities for youth and space to host mission groups (whether your group chooses to serve at The Bridge or not) as well as an impactful educational experience on homelessness called "The Walk." 

    Looking for an inner city mission experience beyond St. Louis?  We can't recommend more strongly The Center for Student Missions. With locations around the country (and one in Canada) this faith-based organization welcomes all denominations and offers housing, meals, a full schedule of urban ministry volunteer projects, and a host who travels with your group throughout your stay.