Sunday, February 27, 2011

    Guest Post: Being Church - Recovering Spiritual Gifts in Youth Ministry Pt. 2

    This is part two of a  guest post by our colleague TJ Humphrey who serves as Youth Director at Trinity Christian Reformed Church in St. Louis, Missouri. In part one, TJ explored the Biblical imperative for helping teens discover their spiritual gifts. 

    In this post, he shares how his ministry made a shift in focus from a more recreational program to a ministry focused on worship. In so doing, they helped their teens unearth their gifts for ministry.  You can read part one of this post here.
    After my study [of the focus on spirtual gifts in the New Testament],
     I wanted to see what would happen if we restructured our youth group time around the discovery and implementation of spiritual gifts. Interestingly enough, we designed a worship service that, for lack of a better word, is liturgical. It is composed of many different elements that are led by many different students, according to their gifts. In other words, we designed a worship service around the students’ giftedness.

    So, the students who are gifted in a more “behind the scenes way,” help out with technical stuff, set up and clean up. Some other students lead a part of the service, whether it be through prayer, music, the call to worship, reading…etc. We even have our adult leaders plugged into our time together. I teach during the service and our other leaders design a fellowship/game time each week after the service.

    Right now, our worship time looks like the following:

    • A student who is passionate about seeking God’s presence opens us up in prayer.
    • Students with musical ability lead us in a time of singing.
    • There is a reading from Scripture from a student who loves getting into the Scriptures.
    • Then, I teach.
    • A student who has a strong gift of discernment then leads us in a time of prayer in response to the teaching. He decides what we are going to pray for and how we are going to pray, whether we do it individually, corporately, or in small groups.
    • The musical students lead us in one more song.
    • Another student leads us in a time where we greet one another.
    • Lastly, another student leads us in a final prayer time, a prayer for strength to carry out the great commission.

    Also, keep in mind that there are students who work behind the scenes, whether it be through working powerpoint, clean up or set up…etc. We also have a student who has a passion and a gift for evangelism, so her primary responsibility is to share her faith and to invite friends. Don’t get me wrong here, that is a responsibility that we all share. However, we simply acknowledge that she has a particular giftedness for it.

    The transition into this “new style” of worship has been an interesting one, to say the least, but God has blessed it in so many ways. Other than numerical growth, we have seen a very genuine growth in our core students and a coming alive of students who were struggling spiritually. I am beginning to see why the practicing of spiritual gifts in the life of the church on a regular basis was such a big deal to Peter and Paul.

    Remember, the game is just not as much fun when you’re on the sidelines. Kids want to be in the game. After all, professional athletes don’t start practicing only after they reach adulthood. No, they start as youth, develop habits of practice as youth, and fall in love with the sport as youth, enough at least to dedicate their lives to the game.

    Brian's Comment: I invited TJ to write this post after a chat he and I had one morning a few months ago. He shared how he'd felt called to help his ministry transition from the more attractional model he'd inherited (where much of the program was done for the youth) to a model based around youth leadership and worship. I was impressed with his willingness to give this new approach a try, trusting that though students may love fun and games, they also crave meaningful faith experiences that call upon their own gifts. What are your thoughts?  Can you see such a transformation as possible for your ministry? Do you have your own story of helping teens to discover their spiritual gifts?

    Saturday, February 26, 2011

    Creating A Life of Prayer: Prayer as Muscle Memory

    Over the next few weeks, as we get closer to Lent, we’ll be sharing a series of posts on prayer. Our hope is that these conversations will deepen not only your prayer life, but also the prayer lives of the youth you work with on a daily basis.

    Lately, I've been drawn to the sport of rock climbing. I am just a beginner. But I'm starting to understand the different terms and techniques: sport, trad, bouldering, belaying, on-belay, off-belay, ratings, carabiners, quick draws, dynamic, static...the list goes on and on. But here's what I'm also starting to understand. Once you have done a particular route several times, the route becomes easier and easier. At the start of a moderately hard route, I fall often--quite often to tell the truth. But I know that my climbing buddy will safely catch me and that, as long as we are careful with safety, I have nothing to worry about. As I practice the climb more and more, I eventually am able (hopefully) to climb the route without falling back on the rope. After a few falls and mistakes, the moves become more natural. My body movements feel less forced and more free.

    Prayer is the same way. I remember that when I first studied Christian Spirituality I was overwhelmed with all of the different terms, practices, and techniques. It took me a while to learn the language and methods. Contemplative prayer never comes as easy as I would like. I find it hard to sit still, to be serene, and to contemplate God's presence in my life. I find it difficult to do this for more than ten or twenty minutes at a time. Yet, when I practice contemplative prayer on a regular basis it becomes more and more natural, less forced. It is almost as if the prayer becomes a part of my daily routine. My mind responds to the memory of praying, just as my muscles respond to the memory of a particular rock climbing route.

    Of course, one cool way to teach this to your youth would be to take them out climbing or to a climbing gym. Climb the same route several times and explain how it gets easier each time. If you do this activity, make sure you have a professional guide with you who can really show and teach you what to do (make sure you use all of the proper safety equipment). But another way to emphasize this point is to simply have ten minutes of contemplative prayer each time you meet with your youth. I guarantee that after several months of this if you don't have a quiet time set aside for prayer, your youth will ask you why.

    How about you? How are you teaching your youth to pray?

    Friday, February 25, 2011

    Guest Post: Being Church - Recovering Spiritual Gifts in Youth Ministry Pt. 1

    For this guest post we welcome our colleague TJ Humphrey who serves as Youth Director at Trinity Christian Reformed Church in St. Louis, Missouri. This is part one of a two part post on how TJ has attempted to bring a different focus to his youth ministry program.

    There are no benchwarmers in the Kingdom of God.  According to the Scriptures, everyone is expected to suit up and get into the game, no exceptions.  The church, however, has gotten into this horrible habit of sidelining many of its congregants, especially its youth.  This is what happens when we view our students only as the future of the church and not as a part of the church here and now.  We tell our students, “Just sit back and watch us for a while, and one day you will be able to do what we do,” which a lot of the time isn’t much of anything at all.  We force our students to sit out for the majority of the years that they are under our care and we are baffled when, a few years after they graduate, they decide that Christianity isn’t for them anymore.  We need to face the fact that it is time for a change.  We need to teach our students how to be the church (here and now) and how to use their spiritual gifts (here and now).

    Ah, spiritual gifts…those are two words that are thrown around fairly often but never taken very seriously.  Do we really know what the New Testament writers meant whenever they wrote about them?  Are we taking them as seriously as they did?  From my experience, most Christians today have the tendency to either neglect the gifts of the Spirit or to abuse them.  It’s time for us to take a sober look at what the New Testament writers viewed as radically significant.
    Several months ago I began to notice a trend in many of the New Testament letters, most of which, were written by Paul.  For some reason, I never noticed how much these New Testament verses intensely emphasized the use of spiritual gifts in the lives of every believer in the different churches.  Paul writes about the usage of spiritual gifts in great detail in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, and in my opinion, several other places.  Even Peter is very specific about the recognition and usage of spiritual gifts in 1 Peter 3:10-11. 

    Furthermore, it is vital to note that both Paul and Peter are not specifically writing to “ordained” ministers, but to entire congregations in each account, which means that the exhortation to exercise the usage of spiritual gifts is not just a “pastoral” thing, but is meant to be accepted and acted upon by every believer:

    ·         “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others…”  1 Peter 3:10-11.
    ·         “The whole body…builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  Ephesians 4:16.
    ·         “Now, to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  1 Corinthians 12:7.
    ·         We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”  Romans 12:6.

    For Peter and Paul, it was imperative that each Christian used his/her gifts to edify the church in service to God.  It’s absolutely crucial that we rediscover what it means to not only help our young people discover what their spiritual gifts are, but to provide an atmosphere where they can begin putting them into practice on a regular basis.

    In part two of this post, TJ will share a practical, hands-on approach to encouraging the spiritual gifts of the teens within your ministry.

    Thursday, February 24, 2011

    Are we dying?

    Several days ago, the National Council of Churches released a new report stating that while non-denominational churches are growing, mainline denominational churches (like the one I serve) are dying. Here is a brief summary of the article.

    Of course, I don't find this news to be exactly reassuring. I think this is an issue that needs to be addressed for both non-denominational and mainline churches. Here are just a few of my reflections, I would love to hear what you think as well.
    • Growth cannot be measured solely by numbers. Numbers are important. Numbers show trends. But, as we have discussed before, spiritual growth cannot be measured simply by numerical growth. Just because a church increases and decreases numerically, does not mean it is or is not living to its full potential.
    • The institutional past, may not be the best indicator for what the church should be. This report seems to suggest that mainline churches need to look like they did fifty years ago. There is no doubt that half a century ago, many mainline churches were flourishing. Yet in recent years churches like my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), are in a major decline. For example, in the CC (DOC) 63% of its churches are in a decline and almost half (47%) report having fewer that sixty people in worship on Sunday morning. Even so, are the "glory days" of the past the best way to judge our future? We can't forget that for several centuries the concept of a church was best defined as a house church--small numbers of individuals gathering in each other's homes.
    • There is a need to be more ecumenical. I am always amazed by how many churches there are in the yellow pages (yes, I do occasionally still look at a phone book). Yet, I am equally amazed at how little effort there is for the local churches to reach beyond their church walls. What would it look like if churches really did join together for mission and ministry? Can you imagine what it would be like in your city if everyone met just once a year at one location to celebrate that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ?
    • We shouldn't label ourselves as Methodists, Disciples, Presbyterians, Non-Denominational, etc. We are first and foremost Christians. It's true, I am a member of a particular denomination. I have chosen a denomination where I feel welcomed, loved, and challenged. But we have to remember that our denomination does not identify us as a particular Christian. We are first Christian in the truest sense of the word.
    • Youth Ministry can lead as an example for how today's church should look. For the most part I believe that youth are not at all concerned about what denomination they, or their friends, do or do not belong to. In mission trips, youth rallies, concerts, everyone joins together to celebrate the goodness of God. The challenge we face today is to help our youth realize now that to be a Christian is not to identify with a particular denomination.

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    Creating a Life of Prayer: Prayer as Gratitude

    Over the next few weeks, as we get closer to Lent, we’ll be sharing a series of posts on prayer. Our hope is that these conversations will deepen not only your prayer life, but also the prayer lives of the youth you work with on a daily basis.

    Traditionally, Lent is a time to reexamine one’s prayer life. The problem for many, both youth and adults, is that we have never been taught what a life of prayer might look like. Sure, we say prayers at each of our gatherings, we have the best of intentions, but if someone asks, “Can you teach me to pray?” we don’t always know where to begin.

    Perhaps the first step is to recognize that prayer is an act of gratitude, an act of thanksgiving for all that has been given to us. The psalms are full of individuals giving thanks to God. Each Sunday, many of us sing the doxology reminding us of the gifts that have been given to us by God. We praise God from “whom all blessings flow.”

    When we our prayer life begins with an act of gratitude, we have the option (if we choose) to live more freely. When we live more freely, we find ourselves connected more deeply to God, to our family, to our neighbors, and to one another. When we live connected with one another we can start to see life with others not as a series of competitions, but as a series of moments and interactions with our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we live connected with others, we can discover that each single day has a purpose, an opportunity to deepen our relationships. All of this can start with a simple prayer of thanks and gratitude.

    We’ll conclude each post on this series with a practical activity on prayer. Our goal is to not only teach our youth what prayer is, but also help them discover what prayer is.
    A Prayer Exercise on Gratitude:
    1. Discuss what gratitude means.
    2. Have your youth create the most exhaustive list of gratitude they can, thanking God for all of the goodness in their life.
    3. Watch this video from Sanctus Real entitled "Thank You."
    4. Close with silent prayer. Have each youth write on a chalkboard, banner, or something creative that you can leave in your youth room what they are thankful for as their "offering" to God.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    Was Jesus a Pacifist?

    Was Jesus a pacifist?  And if so, what are the implications for how we form young Christians to walk the way of Christ? 

    These questions take on a greater relevance in the wake of the recent peaceful revolution in Egypt

    I wonder how many youth were paying real attention to the protests that unfolded in Egypt that so quickly brought down the often violent leader who held that country in a suspended "state of emergency" for the past thirty years. I wonder how many of our teens watched as young people flooded into the streets and stood together peacefully, demanding transformation and justice for their country. I wonder if our youth reacted with some sense of awe as in seventeen days this group of ordinary, banner-waving, chanting Egyptian citizens somehow managed to topple a powerful leader without use of violent overthrow, assassination, or military coup. I wonder what the events in Egypt might tell us about the power of non-violence to transform the human tendency to use coercive power. What I really wonder: might this example of the truth of non-violence be dangerous for our youth?

    Could urging youth to follow a radical path of non-violence be dangerous for them?  Read the rest of my column on this topic here at the religion website and I'd welcome your thoughts on this challenging issue.

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    TEEN SUICIDE: What We Need to Know Pt. 4

    After our recent series on bullying, we felt there was a need to follow up with even more specific information on teen suicide. This four part series is authored by Heather Harlan of Phoenix Programs, Inc. Heather's credentials include CRPS, Certified Reciprocal Prevention Specialists, ACRA (Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach) Certified Substance Abuse Therapist/ Supervisor, and GAIN (Global Appraisal of Individual Needs) Certified Administrator/Trainer.

    Part Four: Now What? Ideas to Comfort Family & Friends

    Individuals and family members following a non-lethal suicide attempt need attention, too.  What can you do?

    Visit the person and the family just as you would any other person needing hospitalization. Few things are harder than reaching out to those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Don’t allow your lack of the right words to deprive them of your comforting companionship on an excruciating stretch of their life journey.  Spring into compassion the same way you would for anyone who has suffered loss. Your caring presence is your most powerful offering. Show up. It’s an act of faith to believe God will multiply what you bring.  Encourage others to reach out too; acknowledge their awkwardness, “It would mean a lot to the family if you just stopped by, even if you don’t know what to say. . . .”
    Friends of mine who lost Cody, a son and a brother, to suicide in 2009 generously shared with me what was said/done that was helpful to them.   Here were three things they listed:
    Presence. “Just provide quality time. Sit with someone, bring a dish, hold hands, it doesn't matter - it's comforting to know you're not alone.” Friends of the young man stopped by to comfort the family, “They told stories . . . They weren't afraid to face us or the reality of the situation. They treated us like family. That meant a lot to me. “A hug without words goes a long, long way.” 
    Supporting the family in a meaningful response. “Working to educate others concerning what we learned from our experience was an effort to put our loss to some logical good.”
    Updating the language. “I don't like the terminology around suicide. .  . I would prefer someone say ‘He lost his life to suicide’, ‘he passed away’, ‘he died’ or ‘his mental illness became too much for him to handle’ or ‘he lost the battle of mental illness.’ Those things make more sense to me and I believe they more accurately describe my precious brother.”
    Additional Resources:
    Help for reaching out to the family and planning memorials/observances for those who have died by suicide.

    Want to know more?  Read part one, two, and three of this series.

    Wednesday, February 09, 2011

    5 Youth Ministry Blogs You Should Be Reading!

    I regularly read so many great youth ministry blogs that it's hard to keep up with them.  Many are included in our list of "More Youth Ministry Help" on the right column of this page. But I know not everyone has time to scan that list or may even see it during a quick visit to our site.  So for the next few weeks we want to highlight a few of those great blogs and encourage you to check them out.  Today's 5:

    Emerging Youth - Dan, a youth pastor in New York, regularly shares his approach to theologically sound ministry to teens in his efforts to "reinvent the way youth ministry has been done and attempt to bring, not just the message of Jesus, but Jesus himself to this next generation of students."

    Evolitionist - Neil is an ELCA youth minister serving in a progressive church and his blog is always on the cutting edge of approaching youth ministry in ways that are challenging, inclusive, and authentic. 

    Marathon Youth Ministry - Christopher hails from Maryland and has really mastered the skill of writing short, to-the-point blog entries that challenge readers to think about important questions and issues in the youth ministry sphere.  

    Suzy Bower - Suzy writes from Buckinghamshire, England and shares lots of creative ideas for engaging youth through the different senses and learning styles. 

    Youth Ministry Stuff - Here is the latest blog I've stumbled upon and keep going back to over and over. Tim is a youth minister in Kentucky and his blog regularly features ideas and resources for the creative things he is currently using with his youth.  

    More site reviews to come.  Have a youth ministry website you think we should feature? Email us. 

    Friday, February 04, 2011

    TEEN SUICIDE: What We Need to Know Pt. 3

    After our recent series on bullying, we felt there was a need to follow up with even more specific information on teen suicide. This four part series is authored by Heather Harlan of Phoenix Programs, Inc. Heather's credentials include CRPS, Certified Reciprocal Prevention Specialists, ACRA (Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach) Certified Substance Abuse Therapist/ Supervisor, and GAIN (Global Appraisal of Individual Needs) Certified Administrator/Trainer.

    Part Three: Talking with Parents

    Let’s say you have identified a youth in your circle who has confided in you (as an example), “Yes, I’m thinking of killing myself; I’m planning to use a gun; I know dad’s gun cabinet is unlocked and where he keeps his ammo.” (Suicidal thought, plan and access = emergency.)

    What to tell the parents?

    Communicate with the youth in a calm/caring way your concerns and what you will tell his/her parent/caregiver. Don’t leave him/her alone.

    Invite youth to be present when you tell parent/caregiver of your concerns so everyone has the same information, and s/he won’t be alone.

    Offer to help with referral to care—if threat seems immediate (such as answering “yes” to suicidal thought, plan AND access), go with them to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

    • If threat seems less urgent (answering “yes” to thinking of hurting her/himself) suggest a mental health screening ASAP with a trained mental health counselor or a family doctor who could assist with a referral.

    Follow-up to see how they are doing—visit the youth, hospitalized or not, and the parents/caregiver.

    • If the youth is in your care, and parent/caregiver is not available, handle as you would any other medical emergency.

    Coming in Part Four: Reaching Out to Family
    Want to know more?  Read part one and part two of this series.

    Wednesday, February 02, 2011

    Beyond the Distractional Model of Youth Ministry

    Part two of my essay on the "distractional model" of youth ministry is now up at  This column follows a brief analysis in part one of the challenges inherent within the attractional model of youth ministry and suggests a different way forward:

    What would happen if, for a season in our ministries, we gave ourselves permission to let go of using flash and noise to attract youth to God and instead trusted that what they might really desire is silence, contemplation, solitude, and prayer? What would happen if we let go for a time of the idea of trying to attract youth into our buildings and instead focused on helping them to experience God's presence in every aspect of their lives, particularly beyond the walls of the church? What if we decided to see what our youth programs might look like if we locked the doors of our youth rooms and sought to do ministry together out in the world?
    You can read the entire column here. It's been an interesting exercise summing up my thoughts on attractional youth ministry recognizing the controversy over this model amongst our peers. For many years everyone jumped on the bandwagon, criticizing this approach of attracting teens to churches using whatever worked, whether it was faith-based or not. In the last year or so, the tide has shifted with some now arguing that it is not an either/or situation -- the attractional model can be a way to draw teens into a deeper Christian experience.

    My realization in the last few days is that part of the divide on this model may reflect the difference between evangelicals and progressives. In the progressive church there is very little emphasis on reaching youth as a means toward their salvation. With no talk of hell looming over our heads, we simply aren't motivated to draw in scores of unsaved teens for fear of what will happen to them if we don't. Our focus is more likely to be on the youth already in our churches, challenging them to walk the way of Christ and to invite others to do the same.

    So, all this to say that I'm still thinking about this debate and open to learning more from others, particularly those who have found the attractional approach useful and those who are seeking other approaches. Any thoughts on all this? We'd welcome hearing from you.