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?