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. 

    Monday, August 29, 2011

    Are We Practicing Fast Food Youth Ministry?

    Fast food restaurants know how to manipulate the teen brain in order to sell burgers and fries. Do we sometimes resort to  the very same tactics in youth ministry?

    In my latest essay at Patheos.com entitled "Fast Food Youth Ministry,"  I consider the connection between fast food marketing and the ways in which we market church to teens:

    Perhaps it's not surprising that our fast food restaurants long ago discovered that the quickest way to a teen's heart is not through her stomach but through her brain. We can just chalk it up to good business and savvy marketing. But I sometimes wonder if the Church uses these same tactics in a way that undermines our own efforts to offer teens an authentic, transparent, and mature experience of the gospel.

    Case in point: How often in youth ministry do we attempt to lure youth into our churches with those things the brain craves? Yes, there is the requisite junk food—the pizza and chicken nuggets and chips and soda heaped on tables at just about every youth gathering. If it works for the fast food joints, why shouldn't we use it, too? But of course we don't stop there. We intuitively know that the brain craves novelty and distraction and so we throw in promises of entertainment as a way to entice teens.

    You can read the entire essay and share your thoughts here. You might also want to read this interesting article that takes the discussion in a different but related direction.

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Create Your Own Outdoor Labyrinth

    Walking a labyrinth can be a great opportunity for helping your youth focus on the journey of faith.

    With most of us getting ready to kick-off a new school year in our youth ministries, why not spend some time with your youth focusing on the journey of faith -- both the journey of the past and the journey you are about to make together into the future?  The labyrinth is an ancient Christian spiritual tool for aiding individuals in meditation and prayer.  In many ways, it symbolizes the walk of the journey of faith.  We enter a labyrinth with a prayer or question offered up to God. The journey into and out of the labyrinth provides time to offer thanks for those who have walked with us on the journey of faith thus far and to seek guidance from God's Spirit for the journey ahead.

    If you aren't lucky enough to serve a church that already has a labyrinth, it's pretty easy to make one of your own. Labyrinths can be painted onto canvas or taped out on a floor with masking tape. But one of the easiest methods is simply creating an outdoor labyrinth using a few stakes, a piece of rope, and some biodegradable spray paint.  You can see in the images below the outdoor labyrinth we created at camp a few weeks ago.  It took about 30 minutes to finish.  The full directions can be found here.  Ideas for how to use a labyrinth with your youth are here and here.

    Monday, August 08, 2011

    CULTURE WATCH: Should You Be Watching MTV's "Teen Wolf?"

    MTV has a hit on its hands with their new and darker version of "Teen Wolf."  But is it worth watching? 

    For my latest column at Patheos, I took some time to check out this new ratings winner from MTV and was surprised at what I found:

    Here's a shock: MTV is actually capable of producing a television show that is not obsessed with sex, drugs, pregnant teens, and the bad behavior of twenty-somethings living in New Jersey. While recent MTV productions such as "Skins" and "The Hard Times of RJ Berger" failed to find a substantial audience even among younger viewers, their latest offering titled "Teen Wolf" is a bona fide hit and is based (primarily in name only) on the 1980s movie starring Michael J. Fox. . . . It's not hard to see why this series is playing well to younger MTV viewers. U.S. culture right now is enjoying a preoccupation with books, movies, and TV shows exploring the lives of a host of supernatural teen characters from werewolves, to vampires, to wizards with telltale scars. Even as some Christian commentators knock this brand of entertainment for immersing teens in the world of the occult, I can't help but think that the attraction is something much simpler and more innocent.

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