Thursday, December 22, 2011

    Merry Christmas from Rethinking Youth Ministry

    Someone Came in the Night from Sam Billen on Vimeo.

    Wishing all of you a merry and peaceful Christmas season.  (Music from the above video and more free Christmas music available on the album "A Light Goes On" which you can download for free here.)

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Image of the Day: Subversive Advent Art

    This mosaic image was created by teen and adult artists at my church this past Sunday using paper pieces torn from Christmas ads and Christmas sale catalogs we'd been collecting for the past month. 

    The idea was to take things that symbolize the commerciailization and secularization of Christmas and use them to create a sacred Advent icon.  The inspiration for this art piece can be found here.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Youth Leaders: Give Yourself this Free Gift

    Fellow youth workers: If you haven't already thought of a gift to give yourself this Christmas, I would heartily recommend that you download (for free!) the album of Advent and Christmas music by Sam Billen (and friends) entitled "A Light Goes On."  The music is spiritual, lyrical, comforting, fun, restful -- all the things we really should be gifting ourselves in this often hectic season. Merry (almost) Christmas.

    A Light Goes On‘s artistic roster is pretty impressive, including musical and visual contributes from the likes of Half-Handed Cloud, The Tenniscoats, Timbre, Dan Billen, Danny Joe Gibson, Beau Jennings, and of course, Sam Billen himself. If you’re looking for some original holiday music to listen to, or an alternative to the packaged Christmas muzak that fills stores and shopping malls this time of year, then A Light Goes On might just be the thing for you.
    The website for the project is pretty cool, too.  It includes artwork, videos, and a chance to listen to all the songs online.  

    Teen's YouTube Cry for Help

    My latest essay at Patheos reflects on this heart-breaking video of 14-year-old Jonah Mowry, a victim of bullying, and the Advent message of hope that has come about since the video went viral: 

    I wonder what the teens in our own communities are waiting for this Advent season? What changes do they desperately need to know and experience so that they might fully receive God's gifts of hope, joy, peace, and love at Christmas? Many of us become so caught up in the nostalgia of Christmas that we fail to see Advent as a time to look ahead, not backward, at the potential for God's love to heal a hurting world. What many young people need is not necessarily the often too-sweet message of an "all is right with the world" Christmas season, but rather the radical message of Advent that God can make a change in our broken lives.  

    You can read the rest of the essay and share your thoughts here

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Advent 2011 Ideas for Youth Ministry: Greeting Card Mixer

    Try this mixer at an upcoming meeting in Advent or for your youth group Christmas celebration.

    Recycle the images from the front of last year's Christmas cards (or get a cheap box of greeting cards from the dollar store) by removing the back and cutting each image into 2-4 pieces (depending on the size of your group).  As teens arrive for the meeting or party, hand each a random piece from one of those greeting cards. Some time during your gathering, invite teens to find the other persons who have the matching pieces to the one they are holding. With those groups sitting together, read off one-at-a-time a list of questions for them to discuss.  Suggestions might include:
    • What is a favorite toy you received for Christmas as a kid (and do you still have it!)?
    • What are you hoping to get this year?
    • What gift are you excited about giving?
    • What funny or special tradition(s) does your family do together this time of the year?
    • Who are you particularly concerned about, praying for, grateful for this Advent season?

    Video: Mr. Bean's Nativity

    In this video, Mr. Bean adds some new characters to the traditional nativity and disturbs the peace for the baby Jesus.  A nice illustration, perhaps, of how the noise and activity of this season often threatens to distract from the real story.  Oh, and it's also pretty funny.

    Friday, December 09, 2011

    Still Available: Advent & Christmas Ebook for Youth Ministry

    There's still time to grab a copy of our latest ebook, Creative Youth Ministry Ideas for Advent and Christmas. You can check out a sample from the ebook here.  

    In addition to offering some of the material scattered about this blog new edited and neatly repackaged into one ebook, you'll also find new ideas never before published on the site.  This 66-page ebook includes Bible studies, games, discussion starters, art projects, song studies, and more.  All for the small price of $1.99.

    PLEASE READ THESE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY BEFORE PURCHASE: To get your copy of the ebook, click on the "Buy Now" button below. Once you make your purchase, don't close the final PayPal window. Look on the middle of the page for the  link "return to" Click it and you'll be taken directly to a page where you can both view and download the ebook immediately. Download problems or questions? Just contact us at and we'll help. 

    Your purchase will help us to continue providing quality youth ministry resources on this site. Thanks for your support and happy holidays!

    Wednesday, December 07, 2011

    Advent 2011 Ideas for Youth Ministry: Coldplay's "Christmas Lights"

    Coldplay's "Christmas Lights" offers a path to help teens explore the deeper questions of Advent.

    Opening: Prepare in advance a  string (or more) of Christmas lights all tangled together in a bundle. Challenge your youth to  untangle the bunch in one minute or less (while showing care not to damage the lights!). Increase the challenge by having them work together with each person keeping one arm behind their back. Afterwards, invite the group to think about how this activity might represent how some people see their lives this time of the year. While so many people are celebrating and the radio tells us this is "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," for some (including perhaps a few of your youth) this is a season of brokenness, doubt, and hopelessness.  Help your students identify where that brokenness might be manifest in their schools, your community, the world. 

    Digging In: Read together Mark 1: 1-8.  Reflect on John's call to repentance. At its most basic, the word "repent" really means to "turn around," to head in a new direction.  John was challenging people to get ready for the coming of Jesus by reorienting their hearts toward God. Help the youth to consider what was going on in the ancient near east at the time that would have made John's declaration of the coming Kingdom of God so attractive (e.g. Roman occupation, oppression, poverty). Ask: Are there any similar situations going on in the world today?  Where might there be people who really want to believe that God's justice and peace is almost here? 

    Next, watch or listen to Coldplay's "Christmas Lights." 

    This tune tells of a broken relationship at Christmastime:

    Christmas night, another fight
    Tears we cried a flood
    Got all kinds of poison in
    Poison in my blood

    I took my feet
    To Oxford Street
    Trying to right a wrong
    Just walk away
    Those windows say
    But I can't believe she's gone

    When you're still waiting for the snow to fall
    Doesn't really feel like Christmas at all.

    Invite responses to the song. Ask: Why do you think Coldplay would create such a melancholy song for Christmas?   Who do you think could relate to this tune? Why does it sometimes seem, even in the middle of December, that  it doesn't really feel like Christmas at all? 

    Ask: The song talks of "waiting for the snow." What else do you think people in need are waiting for this Advent? 

    Post several large sheets of paper around the room.  At the top of each, write one of these words: school, family, city, country, world. Invite the youth to take time at each sheet of paper to write down what people in need in those contexts are "waiting" for this Advent season.  What might be on their Christmas lists this year? (e.g. peace, a new job, health care, less crime in the neighborhood, enough food, end of war, etc)

    Reflecting & Responding:  By the end of the song there is a glimmer of hope ("Oh Christmas lights Light up the street / Light up the fireworks in me / May all your troubles soon be gone / Those Christmas lights keep shining on"). 

    Ask: What do you think the Christmas Lights represent in the song? Who might the Christmas Lights represent? Invite the group to consider how we might have a part in the prophet Isaiah's call to "Prepare the way of the Lord, [and] make his paths straight."  How might each of us reorient our hearts toward God, in specific and tangible ways, in the coming year to help bring a measure of God's Kingdom of Peace to those around us?  Provide each youth with paper and pen and ask them to write a short letter to themselves committing to specific ways they might do this in 2012.  Seal the letters in envelopes with the student's name and plan to mail them to them in mid-January.  Close in prayer. 

    Advent 2011 Ideas for Youth Ministry: 9 Unintended Advent Songs

    I've been watching a series of posts on Twitter with the hash tag:


    They've generated a good list of songs that, while not intended for Advent, carry an Advent theme.  Some are listed below (including a few of my own additions). I imagine you can think of others.  These might be helpful in illustrating an Advent lesson in the coming weeks, using in a prayer station, or simply to help focus a moment of worship with teens. Additionally, you might challenge your youth to reveal their thoughts on the meaning of Advent by suggesting their own nominees for an "unintended Advent Song." A final thought: Provide the lyrics or recordings of each tune and challenge your teens to discern which lyrics or themes speak to the season of Advent. 

    The Waiting - Tom Petty ("The waiting is the hardest part/Every day you see one more card/You take it on faith, you take it to the heart/The waiting is the hardest part)

    People Get Ready - The Impressions ("People get ready/There's a train a-coming /You don't need no baggage/You just get on board")

    Love Rescue Me - U2 ("I stand at the entrance to a new world I can see")

    Saturday, December 03, 2011

    Advent 2011 Ideas for Youth Ministry: Out-of-the-Box Jesus

    This Advent idea for youth ministry comes from a really great blog I recently came across entitled Creative Theology, authored by Callie, a United Methodist youth director.  

    Callie created a great lesson for Lent entitled "Letting Jesus Out of the Box," and I think it could be adapted as a great Advent experience as well. As this is the time of year we wait to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it's a great opportunity to have youth reflect upon how they understand this one for whom we wait.  What image of Jesus speaks most meaningfully to them. Which image of Jesus challenges them?  Provokes them?  Encourages them?  

    Callie challenged her students to contemplate how they see Jesus and this is how the lesson evolved:

    On Monday afternoon, while cleaning out the Sunday School closets of the Youth Wing, some of the youth and I ran across the big party box of the game Apples to Apples. (If you’re unfamiliar with the game, click on the link to read wikipedia’s version of the rules…very briefly, it involves matching nouns and descriptive adjectives). So, during our Wednesday night Bible study, we put Jesus at the center of the game. (The youth informed me that there is apparently a Bible version of the game that may have been more immediately relevant, but we used the real game). I scattered all of the green cards — the adjectives — around the floor, and asked the students to find the word that best described Jesus. We discussed their choices, and then went on to read some Bible passages that showed some conflicting images of Jesus: i.e. the meek and mild moral teacher vs. the conquering king of Revelation. After each reading, the youth were invited to pick up a new card.

    One thing I’ve learned about my role as a youth director: every week, I get to learn, teach, and experience the lessons, all at the same time. By the end of the game, I had collected cards that said “Revolutionary,” “Rare,” and “Stunning.” My answers surprised me, as they were different from the cards that I thought I would choose.

    But that was what the lesson was all about: expanding our image of Jesus. Too often we put Jesus in a box and never let him out (like Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights, who insists on praying to little baby Jesus in a manger). But that’s no way to treat the Son of God! 

    You can read more of Callie's creative ideas at her blog

    Thursday, December 01, 2011

    Advent 2011 Ideas for Youth Ministry: Facebook Advent Calendar

    Try this simple idea to share an online Advent Calendar experience with your youth via Facebook.

    I've been monitoring a hashtag search for the word "Advent" for several days now on Twitter and have discovered that for the vast majority of people out there the season of Advent really means enjoying the fun of Advent calendars.  These calendars, however, don't count up the days of the Christian season of Advent but rather count down the days until Christmas, starting not with the first day of Advent but rather December 1.  Well, when in Rome...

    Why not simulate an Advent calendar experience for your youth via Facebook? If you already have a way to message your teens as a group, each day you could post a scripture verse related to the biblical stories of Advent/Christmas or perhaps offer a simple devotional, a one sentence prayer, a photo to stir the imagination, or a quick idea for observing Advent.