Thursday, March 31, 2011

    MINISTRY MATTERS: When Things Don't Go Your Way

    It happens to all of us sooner or later. If you're in youth ministry long enough it will happen more than once. What do you do when things don't go your way? 

    You have an amazing brainstorm -- maybe it comes to you just as you're waking up at 5 in the morning.  A great idea about how to revolutionize your youth program, or a plan for a mission trip to a foreign land that will impact your teens forever, or a new ministry focus that will help turn your church around.  Or maybe it's just a great idea for a new study or event.  The excitement builds as you work out a plan for this new thing and then you present it to your leaders.....and they aren't interested.  Or perhaps worse -- they think it's a lousy idea and they don't mind detailing for you exactly why.  What do you do?  You're convinced this idea is not only good, but it's the right thing for your ministry, but no one else is really behind it.  What do you do?

    1) Remember it's not all about you: It's easy in these situations to take the rejection personally.  "If they really respected my leadership," you might be thinking, "They'd trust me on this."  You might start wondering if some of the naysayers have it in for you or if it's time to start looking for a new church where they will love all of your new ideas instantly!  At times like this it helps to remember that we are called to serve the mission of the church -- not the other way around.  The whole point of being a community of faith is to have a shared mission, not a collection of individual agendas. Furthermore, people reject new ideas for all sorts of reasons, most of which probably will have nothing to do with you. Lastly, though it might be hard to hear this, it just might be that your new idea stinks! Be open to that possibility and really listen to what others are telling you. 

    2) Rethink your plan:  Maybe your new idea is just a little too bold, too big, or even scary to some who are happy with the status quo.  But perhaps you could adapt your plan. Start with just one piece of it and work on that for awhile.  Postpone your plan. Six months or a year from now might make all the difference in others being ready to accept the idea. Go to a different group in the church and see if they might be more receptive to trying your new approach.    Perhaps the best idea of all:  Present your idea to just a few individuals and get their feedback and hopefully their buy-in.  It's much easier to create excitement around something if you already have a few core church members who are also passionate about the plan and want to support it. 

    3) Let it Go:  Sometimes an idea is before its time.  Sometimes an idea that sounds great at 5:00 in the morning or looks great on paper just isn't practical in application. At some point, if you can't get others to support your brainstorm, it's time to ask 1) Is it such a great idea if no one else is willing to support it? or 2) Is continuing to fight for this idea worth the time, energy, and possible conflict?  Ultimately, this comes down to priorities about what's most important in the ministry you have been called to in the Church. The best plan, in the end, might be just to let it go and focus on the big stuff. 

    What about you?  Ever been in this situation?  I have -- more times than I'd care to share.  What have been your experiences with something in ministry not going your way?  What did you do about it? 

    Wednesday, March 30, 2011

    Is MTV's "Skins" the Biggest Problem Facing Teens Today?

    Now that the first season of MTV's "Skins" has ended, maybe we can look back with a little bit of perspective. Was it really the most important thing we needed to be worrying about when it comes to our teens?  

    From my most recent column at the Patheos site:

    Perhaps it is easier to focus on these hot button issues than it is to engage teens around the real problems in the world. Recently I attended a lecture by Jesus scholar Marcus Borg in which he suggested that if there were a devil, he'd love to see the Church preoccupy itself with trivial issues while the rest of the world "goes to hell." Borg was speaking slightly tongue-in-cheek but his meaning was clear: far too often in the Church we turn our attention to things that have nothing to do with the core values of the gospel.

    What do you think?  How much time should we spend trying to warn our youth about the dangers of popular culture that linger behind every corner?  In a world of massive economic disparity, constant warring, chronic food shortages, racism, heterosexism, sinful healthcare inequities, human trafficking, and systemic poverty, might our time be better spent turning our teens' attention to the real issues that connect with the gospel message?  You can read the rest of my thoughts here.  I welcome your reactions.  

    Wednesday, March 23, 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 several weeks we want to highlight a few of those great blogs and encourage you to check them out. Our first list can be found here.  Today's 5:

    DOPCANDY - Here you will find the Children and Youth ministry resource site for the Diocese of Portsmouth (which is made up of 142 Church of England parishes in south-east Hampshire and the Isle of Wight). They regularly post links and articles full of creative youth ministy ideas and commentary on youth culture.

    ym360blog - The blog portion of the Youth Ministry 360 site posts insightful essays by a variety of youth ministry bloggers offering practical advice and ideas. Not to be missed: their Friday round-up of some of the best youth ministry posts from around the blogosphere in the past week.

    The Mayward Blog - Joel has a way with using analogies from everyday life that illuminate important questions about the why's and how's of youth ministry.  Plus he offers useful film and book reviews, theological reflections and updates on youth culture.  

    Reyouthpastor - I've been following Jeremy for a long time and through a variety of blogs and titles but he always has something of interest to say and writes with a definite passion for youth ministry.  If you like lists, Jeremy has plenty to spur your thinking about the intersection of theology and ministry with youth.

    YouthWorker Movement - This site grew out of the efforts of a group of Methodist youth workers seeking a way to support those serving teens in the Church. There's a little bit of everything here, including some great free resources such as Bible studies and prayer station ideas.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Creating a Life of Prayer: Questioning

    We are sharing a series of posts on prayer as we journey together through the season of Lent. It's our hope that these conversations will deepen not only your prayer life but also the prayer lives of the youth you serve. Be sure to check out parts 1, 2, and 3.

    Can a question be a prayer?  I imagine most prayers are questions: Why God? How God? When God? Who God? We've only to look to the book of Job or many of the Psalms to know this was true of our spiritual ancestors. Sometimes, it's enough to ask the question and accept that easy answers are not part of what we can expect from God.  But perhaps if one person's prayer can be a question, another person's prayer can be an answer.

    We recently created a prayer station at church that started with inviting people to write questions of faith on index cards.  Some of these were deep, tough questions about pain and suffering and loss.  Others were simple questions about why the world is the way it is.  We spread these questions out on a table and provided two journals.  Worshippers were invited to sit at the table, meditate on the questions left by others and then, as they felt moved by the Spirit, each wrote a prayerful response in the journals.  Using an idea I saw elsewhere, we intentionlly selected journals with translucent paper such that you could see the layers of prayer responses on the different pages.

    This approach to prayer reminds me of the process theology notion that in the act of prayer we can be connected through God to each other, like an invisible web with God at its center and threads radiating outward connecting us to those we pray for and those who pray for us. 

    See here for a different approach to creative prayer that shares this same understanding of our connectedness in God. 

    RESOURCE REVIEW: The Kingdom Experiment (Youth Edition)

    Our youth ministry does not often use published curriculum, opting most of the time to create our own.  But I recently came across a resource that was too good to pass up: The Kingdom Experiment, Youth Edition: A Community Practice on Intentional Living. This little book invites youth to explore the beatitudes by living them out together.  Each short chapter provides some background on the scriptural text, a quote from a famous person, questions for discussion and then a set of "experiments" -- ideas for putting the beatitude into practice in the coming week.  For example, in the chapter on "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." two of the experiments include:
    SHUT YOUR PIE HOLE: Fast from food for a short period of time as a way of making yourself aware of its physical and emotional ownership over you (afternoon snacks for a few days or a lunch or two. Do this not for diet reasons but to center your body on God). Think about how important food is to us; then reflect on Christ’s suggestion that life is more important than food.

    ROUGHING IT. AIR MATTRESS NOT INCLUDED: Sleep on the floor for a week. Think about how life might be Different if you didn’t have a comfy home. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, take a few showers without warm water. Remember, with less of you, there is more room for God.

    We've been working our way together through this book with each chapter providing excellent opportunities for rich discussion and the experiments offering a way for the youth to apply what we've discussed.  We open our weekly meetings by sharing which experiment we each tried and what the experience was like. I'd recommend this text for anyone looking to help their youth gain a deeper understanding of what it means not only to study the gospel but to live it out intentionally in daily life.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Creating a Life of Prayer: Wordless Prayers

    Over the next few weeks, as we move through 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.

    We tend to think of prayer as primarily attached to language -- we use language to offer written or spoken prayers in worship.  We even use language as we pray silently in our heads.  But don't we also pray whenever we walk in the woods and are overcome by the beauty of God's creation?  Isn't it a prayer when we feel a sense of love when seeing the face of a loved one?  Isn't it a prayer when we feel compassion when viewing video of the destruction in Japan? 

    Prayer goes beyond words.  Offer your youth a chance to experience this first-hand by creating a prayer station of nothing but images.  For the station below, I gathered a variety of images from magazines and art, attached them to cardstock, and scattered them about on a table.  The instructions were simple:  

    Take a moment to use the images to compose a visual prayer.  You may want to lay the images together in a sequence, sharing a visual message with God.  You may want to simply create a cluster of images that relate to something that is on your heart.  If another person joins you, perhaps compose the prayer in silence together.  It need not be a literal prayer.  Let the images speak to you and be open to the leading of the Spirit.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    A Song For Lent? The Foo Fighters "Come Alive"

    The Foo Fighters "Come Alive." Best viewed full screen.   HT to Jonny Baker.

    Monday, March 07, 2011

    FREE E- BOOK: Creative Youth Ministry Ideas for Lent

    Looking for ideas to help your youth experience the journey of Lent?

    We've posted many over the past few years but we know you may not have time to go digging through our archives so we've compiled a "greatest hits" compilation of the top ideas in this free e-book

    We've included Bible studies, prayer stations, suggestions for spiritual disciplines, ideas for worship and discussion activities, and links to other resources to help your youth take time during Lent to look inward and consider their own call from God. 

    Download a free copy of the book here and please feel free to pass it on and share it with others.

    Friday, March 04, 2011

    Does It Matter What Justin Bieber Thinks About Abortion?

    Some have questioned what Rolling Stone magazine was thinking when they recently asked pop singer Justin Bieber to share his thoughts about abortion.  Many people have been angered or confused by his comments leading some to suggest that he should have kept his thoughts to himself.  In my latest column at I touch on the intersection between this story and that of another teen boy who recently got in hot water for sharing his religious convictions:

    Two teenagers stepped into the public fray in the past few weeks and were slapped down for expressing their religious and ethical convictions. One, pop idol Justin Bieber, dared to state his views on abortion. The other, high school wrestler Joel Northup, forfeited a sporting event rather than betray his religious beliefs. Both of these young men have been the object of scorn across the internet. All this raises the question: Should it matter what teens think about important issues related to faith and ethics? Are teens old enough to have a real opinion on such topics? Does it really matter what they think?
    I try to answer these questions and argue for a healthier attitude toward youth in the church in the rest of the essay which you can read here.  I welcome your thoughts and reflections.