Friday, April 29, 2011

    Video: Transforming the World?

    Optimist from Brian Thomson on Vimeo.

    A simple but captivating video that seems to me a metaphor for how we are called to help transform the world. Or is it a metaphor for how we see the world differently on this side of Easter Sunday?  Or is a metaphor for the power of community, working together, to create something beautiful?  What do you think? Maybe show this to your youth and let them share their thoughts, too.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011

    Teens, Royal Weddings and Marriage

    The Royal Wedding spectacle begs the questions: How is popular culture helping to shape what teens and young adults think about marriage?

    My latest column at Patheos looks at how teens in the U.S. approach the subject of marriage, a topic at the forefront right now as we here in  "the colonies" get all excited about the royal wedding happening in our mother country of merry old England:

    Surveys...indicate that a majority of teens feel it's a good idea to live together prior to marriage in order to build a relationship. In the past, the Church would have collectively condemned such a suggestion. But in a culture where "The Bachelorette" picks a mate to marry in a matter of weeks from a pool of men selected by a television casting agent, we might want to take a step back and consider if our young people have a better handle on what it means to be married than the entertainment culture surrounding them.
    You can read the entire column here and share your thoughts.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011


    Here's a nifty tool for setting up a meeting time for your small group, adult volunteers or other youth ministry colleagues:  

    The site allows you, without cost or need to register, to set up suggested times for a meeting and then invite the participants to indicate which times work best for their schedule.  No more need to send out emails and hope to get everyone to "reply all" and then sift through everyone's feedback.  And, instead of just setting up one meeting time and seeing who can make it, you can suggest multiple options and see which ones work best. The site does other things too.  Check it out here.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Film Review: "Source Code"

    My review of the new sci-fi flick "Source Code" is now up at  Yes, it's mostly a Saturday afternoon popcorn movie, but for your youth who catch this film there might be an opportunity to use it as a springboard for discussing themes of grace and second chances: 

    Getting beyond our sin to accept God's offer of a "do-over" is often hard, uncomfortable, scary work. In the film, Stevens has to face the reality that in order to uncover the terrorist, he must be willing to return to that train over and over, each time experiencing the horrific explosion and his own virtual death. If he's not willing to do this, his controllers tell him, more people will be lost. To get to new life he has to be willing to walk through the valley of death. Or as one character puts it in the film, "The world is going to hell. But there's hope in the rubble. But first there has to be rubble."

    You can read the entire review here.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Jesus and Cage Fighting?

    We spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the different ways we can help connect youth to the church. Some individuals try to host really big events that draw in large numbers of youth; while other gatherings are more contemplative and smaller in attendance. Both methodologies work well and have their own strengths and weaknesses.

    The other day though, I came across something completely new. According to this article, “cage fighting” is being used by several churches to attract individuals, including youth. The author states that, “The sport is seen as a legitimate outreach tool by the youth ministry affiliate of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 45,000 churches.”

    On the one hand, I can sort of (and this is really a stretch) see why individuals might use cage fighting as an evangelical tool. There are always different approaches and methodologies that are going to be used to draw people to the church. Some will work better than others. Fair enough.

    But on the other hand, I just want to say: Really? It’s pretty clear to me that Jesus, at the very least, opposed violence. Personally, I feel Jesus was a pacifist. I have serious questions about a church that both promotes and encourages violence.

    Is it wrong to judge though? A number of youth I know really like (for reasons I cannot understand) cage fighting. If this draws them to the church, is it wrong to stand in opposition?

    We’d love to hear your thoughts.

    VIDEO: A Creative Way to Share the Good News?

    The weather is getting warmer is this part of the world. I could see adapting the approach in this video as a way to get teens outside and spreading some of the good news to others.

    Youth Ministry as Family Ministry? Be Careful What You Wish For Pt. 2

    This is part two of a two part essay on the changing face of family in American culture and the implications those changes have for ministry within the Church. You can read part one here.


    Scholar John Dominic Crossan has observed that Jesus is often depicted as attacking what many today might term “family values.” Though there are many biblical texts to which we could turn, two are particularly instructive for understanding Jesus‘ vision of “family“ in the realm of God: Mark 3:31-35 and Matthew 10:34-38.

    In the passage from Mark, the reader is presented with a concept of family that does away with biological ties. Here Jesus sees those who follow him to be a new kind of family, one that even takes the place of blood ties:

    Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

    In this passage, attachment to the biological family is seen as a possible danger to one’s commitment to discipleship. This was no academic issue for disciples who found themselves in the position of having to leave family, village, and traditions behind in order to follow Christ. Jesus makes it clear that family is not defined as one into which you are born, but one which you choose and which is open to all. It is interesting to note that in this passage there is no reference to father, neither in the announcement of the arrival of Jesus’ family, or in his new definition of family. Some scholars interpret this to be an acknowledgment that only God is to be the father of the community of believers. In this respect, Jesus is defying the political and social structures of his day that placed the human father at the head of the household. Christian community then was to be founded not on the Roman Empire’s notion of society and familial structure but was to emerge as a new form of family that valued committment to Christ over blood ties. 

    Matthew 10:34-38 offers an even more biting attack on the traditional family structure in the Roman Empire:

    "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

    Often this passage is seen as referring to familial tensions between believers and non-believers because early followers of Jesus often had to chose between family and faith. However, Crossan offers a more insightful viewpoint that takes into account Jesus’ new vision of family. The typical Mediterranean family might consist of mother, father, a married son and his wife and an unmarried daughter. It was a hierarchical system in which each person was answerable to someone else, with the men occupying the highest places of power. Matthew (perhaps taking a cue from Micah 7:6) depicts Jesus attacking this hierarchical system of family life that was a product of Roman society. The division is not between those who believe and those who do not. Rather, it is a division across both gender and generations. Argues Crossan: “Jesus sets parents against children and wife against husband, sets, in other words, the Kingdom against the Mediterranean [culture].”

    For Jesus, the ideal family is not one established by society, built upon power relationships and the support of the surrounding culture. Rather it is a vision of family that transcends previous relationships and calls one beyond ties of blood and law to embrace the entire community as “family.” In his deconstruction of hierarchy, perhaps Jesus is also calling us to dispense with our own hierarchical systems which allow us to idealize one form of family to the exclusion of all others.

    Jesus’ radical vision of an all-encompassing family of God opens the door for the Church to claim a new understanding of community, not based in biology but in Jesus’ vision of a family open to the diversity of all God’s children. The Church’s call to “koinonia” or communion is the call to gather around God’s table from of all our different walks of life and family structures. It is the call that invites us to see that, ultimately, it is the saving grace and love of God through Christ which binds us together. Single, married, divorced, adopted, widowed, gay, lesbian, partnered, and blended and nuclear family – our real goal should be to embrace all people into God’s family and to celebrate the many ways God has brought us together into community and relationship with one another.

    Note: To read more, see Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography by John Dominic Crossan (Harper Collins, 1994).

    Friday, April 08, 2011

    What Would You Do? Addressing Bad Behavior in Youth Ministry

    I was contacted recently by a youth ministry colleague with a dilemma regarding discipline. I know many of us will be able to relate to the issues below:
     I have a youth group with the average attendance around 25.  Over the last couple of months I have been having problems with them showing respect to peers and leaders.  There always seems to be talking going on when the lesson is going on and just through out the night.  I find myself and the other leaders sitting patiently and waiting for them to settle down and give us their attention and this is after we speak in a loud voice for all to hear.  Who do I get a hold on this?  It disrupts our growing, learning, and with having to stop to gather their attention is taking up a lot of time.  I need some ideas on haw to handle this.
    So what are your thoughts?  How have you responded to situations like this in your own ministry or how would you respond to it if it happened at your church? 

    Update: Joel Mayward has written a very useful post on this topic and has some great thoughts on how to deal with discipline issues with youth.

    Image of the Day: A Prayer for Peace

    Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
    where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    when there is injury, pardon;
    where there is doubt, faith;
    where there is despair, hope;
    where there is darkness, light;
    and where there is sadness, joy.

    Grant that I may not so much seek
    to be consoled as to console;
    to be understood, as to understand,
    to be loved as to love;
    for it is in giving that we receive,
    it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
    and it is in dying [to ourselves] that we are born to eternal life.


    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Hula Hoop Havoc!

    Try this community builder as a way to help your teens experience cooperation and teamwork.

    This activity may be done indoors or outdoors. You will need five hula hoops and about 50 tennis balls (or some similar object -- I suppose you could use rubber chickens if you really wanted to!).  Mentally plot out about a 25 foot square playing field.  Place one hula hoop in each corner with the fifth hula hoop placed in the center of the playing area.  Pile all the tennis balls inside the middle hoop.

    Next, divide your group into four teams (perhaps designating each team with the name of one of the first century churches such as Corinthians, Philippians, Romans, Thessalonians). Invite each team to stand together next to one of the four hula hoops in the corners of the field. Share that the object of this challenge is for their team to get all of the tennis balls inside their hoop.  The following rules must be followed: 1) You can't defend your own hoop. 2) All the balls have to be removed from the middle hoop before you can start taking balls from other people's hoops. 3) You can't throw the balls. Give them a minute or so to strategize and then start playing.

    Now, what will likely happen is that there will be a wild frenzy of passing, grabbing, and stealing tennis balls, all to no avail with no one close to accomplishing the goal.  Take a pause in the game and then let rethink their approach in their teams. Play a few more crazy minutes and pause again. This time call the whole group together and invite them to talk with each other about how this could be accomplished.  With luck and perhaps a little encouragement from you, they may come to the conclusion that they need to work together.  Suggest (if no one asks) that there is no rule against moving the hoops. Eventually they will come to one of two possible "winning" solutions: 1) 3 of the teams agree to "lose" so that one team can accomplish the goal or 2) Put all the balls in the middle hoop and have all teams place their hoops around the middle hoop, thus reaching the goal for every team of getting all the balls inside their hoops.

    This activity could be followed by a great debrief discussion about why we tend to see activities as competitions first and opportunities for cooperation second.  How might this challenge reflect the difference between the values of our culture and the values of God's Kingdom?

    Thursday, April 07, 2011

    Youth Ministry as Family Ministry? Be Careful What You Wish For Pt. 1

    This is part one of a two part essay on the changing face of family in American culture and the implications those changes have for ministry within the Church. (NOTE: This is an updated version of this post which ran yesterday with a correction in the stats below. Thanks to those who spotted the typo.)

    “Leave it to Beaver.” Mention the title of that classic TV show of the 50’s and 60’s and for many of us it immediately conjures up images of the quintessential American family: the father who is gone all day to to work, the mom who stays home to care for the house and cook, and the (almost) 2.5 children. In many respects, this was the family model in which I was raised, though with my eight siblings we were much more like the “Waltons” than the Cleavers.

    But by the 1970’s this picturesque view of the family had been replaced by the “Brady Bunch” and their blended family and “Good Times” with it’s portrayal of a poor, father-less, African American family living in the inner city. By the 1980’s and 90’s, TV finally began to reflect the increasing number of so-called broken families with programs such as “Kate and Allie,” depicting two divorced moms raising their kids together in the same home.

    Today, families in the United States are so diverse that the “Leave It To Beaver” model is actually the minority. Up to 1/3 of all homes in the U.S. are now headed by a single parent and 80% of those families are headed by mothers. Current TV programs such as “Modern Family” and “Parenthood” represent the wide gambit of the cultural diversity when it comes to parents and children, depicting everything from the single mom raising two kids to a couple caring for their special needs son to a same-gendered couple raising an adopted daughter. Which begs an interesting question for the Church: How are we to understand “family” now that we are leaving Wally, Ward, June, and Beaver Cleaver behind as our culture makes some significant shifts in social structures?

    The Christian community is often referred to as a “family“ and, to be sure, the modern Church is very much concerned with the family. We don’t have to search long to find a host of congregations whose programmatic schedules are consumed with family-centered activities and events: Mother's day, Father's day, parent-child banquets, Grandparent's day, parenting classes, observance of the children's Sabbath, families hosting the lighting of the Advent candles, baby dedications, baptisms, and confirmation classes. A quick review of church websites reveals a host of congregations who either refer to themselves as family-friendly or family-centered or even include the word “family” in their name. Church websites highlight family-based activities and are careful to innumerate how many years each staff member has been married and how many children they each have. In these instances, it is just assumed that “family” refers to the archetypal “nuclear” family: a mother and father who are married and their children.

    Groups such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council have helped to usher in a new era in which recovering this “perfect” nuclear family has become an idol of the Church, often ignoring other family structures and understandings of Christian community. By lifting up this idol, some in the Church have conveyed a message, intentionally or not, that all other notions of “family” are inferior or possibly illegitimate. The victims of this attitude are many and varied: blended families, divorced families, single parent families, interracial, and adoptive families as well as families led by gay parents, unemployed parents, grandparents, and non-Christian parents. A focus on the ideal nuclear family alone fails to recognize those who are single, GLBT persons who do not have access to legal marriage, battered women, abused children, widowers, and couples who either choose or are unable to have children.

    In contrast, Christian history and scripture offers us a far more expansive and creative understanding of family.

    Part 2: A New Old Vision of Family

    Wednesday, April 06, 2011

    Book Review: Tim Schmoyer's "Life in Student Ministry"

    Tim Schmoyer's text Life in Student Ministry: Practical Conversations on Thriving in Youth Ministry is particularly helpful because of what it is not! 

    It is not a one-size fits all youth ministry tome that offers up a single approach that is supposed to work for every ministry.  Instead, Tim shares from his many trials and errors (and successes) in ministry with teens and then invites a whole host of other youth ministry voices (including yours truly)  into the conversation.  Some agree with Tim and others push back a little on his assumptions or offer a completely different point of view, hence the "conversational" part of the book. 

    The various chapters include topics such as
    "Are You Called to Be a Youth Minister?", "Starting a Youth Ministry," "Sharing God's Word with Teens," "Managing Money," and "Finding Adult Volunteers," to name a few. Each chapter offers both sound theology and practical advice from someone who clearly takes youth ministry seriously. Much of the content is apparently adapted from Tim's helpful blog, but having it all compiled and condensed into one short text makes it an excellent youth ministry tool to keep handy. In many ways, I think this book rivals the existing "go to" book for those who are just starting in youth ministry - Doug Field's Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry - as Tim's book is succinct and offers a variety of youth ministry voices.

    Finally, for our progressive Christian readers who may be wondering if this book is for them, let me say that Tim is decidedly more on the evangelical end of the scale than I am and I found the book thoughtful, insightful, and full of practical advice.  It's a quick read and organized in such a way (lots of lists!) that it would be easy to adapt Tim's ideas quickly to fit your own youth ministry setting.

    Saturday, April 02, 2011

    Video: On Robots and Youth Ministry

    As a robot fan, the creations in this video are just simply amazing and even beautiful.

    As one who serves youth in the Church, I was struck immediately with how this video offers an analogy of God as creator, Christ as the one who propels us on "the way," and the Spirit as that which continues to push us to grow and change.  Can you spot all these in the short clip above? It might make an interesting visual illistration for your teens.

    I'm not a trinitarian in any literal sense, but I do like the way the concept of Trinity suggests that God, at God's core, is relational. Considers the "relationships" in the video above that allow these "creatures" to do what they do.  Your thoughts?