Friday, January 27, 2012

    Youth Ministry Book Give-Away: Belieber!

    Could the Christian faith of Justin Beiber have a lasting impact on teens of many different faiths?

    At the risk of becoming the resident expert on Justin Bieber at, I was recently asked to do an interview with the author of the new book Belieber!: Fame, Faith, and the Heart of Justin Bieber. Writer Cathleen Falsini, award-winning journalist and nationally syndicated religion columnist, explores the phenomenon of Bieber's celebrity and the ways in which his faith intertwines with all that he does. I asked Falsini to reflect on Beiber's influence with Christian and non-Christian teens alike:

    Falsini: I've heard from hundreds of fans around the globe via Twitter and email since I started working on the book. I've heard from Jewish kids in Israel, Muslim teens (both girls and boys) from the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Indonesia. I've heard from Buddhist and Shinto fans in Japan, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Catholic kids in South America, the U.S., all over Europe and into the former Soviet Union. They're all intrigued by his faith—even if they don't share it or come from a different faith tradition—and want to know more about it and his story. It's extraordinary the reach Justin has and the barriers that he so naturally and with great love crosses all the time. And then, the most moving to me are the kids I've heard from (including a few I know personally) who say that the way Justin expresses and lives his faith has made them reconsider faith—and God—for themselves.

    You can read the entire interview here.

    Like a free copy of Falsini's book? I'd be happy to gift the copy sent to me by the publisher to one you intrepid youth ministers who want to read more on Beiber's faith or perhaps you have a teen in your ministry who is a big Bieber fan. Either way, to enter the give-away, simply leave a response on this post (or respond by email to and answer the question: Which pop star/musical group was most influential on you as a teen? Contest ends at midnight Tuesday Jan. 31 and the winner will be announced here on Feb. 1. 

    Update:  The randomly selected winner of this book give-away is Cheryl who shared that her teen musical influences were Stevie Nicks and Pat Benetar. Cheryl, please contact us with your address so we can ship your book and thanks to all who commented on this post! 

    Thursday, January 26, 2012

    Inviting Teen Response to "Why I Hate Religion" Viral Video

    What are your teens saying about the viral video that critiques Christian hypocrisy?  We offered our youth a chance to share their thoughts and the results definitely surprised us. 

    This past Sunday we engaged our senior high youth in a spirited discussion of Jeff Bethke's viral video "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus." Most of them had already seen it (and some even responded to the video in writing as part of my essay on the video at Patheos). Our leader Jenn set up the discussion by printing out different sections of Bethke's spoken word poem and posting them at various places around the room. After viewing the video, the teens divided into small groups and took time to move about the room, reading the words and jotting down on the posted papers their reactions, underlining ideas they liked, or adding comments to lines or phrases they found confusing or troubling.

    Afterwards, we gathered together simply to discuss where we thought Jeff got things right and where he may have misrepresented the Christian faith (or, at least, our understanding of the faith).  

    To our surprise, these progressive Christian teens -- the kind often criticized for having a "believe whatever you want" attitude about religion -- demonstrated real passion as they shared both what they liked and what really rubbed them wrong about the video. They collectively agreed with the video's assertion that saying you are a Christian is very different from actually living like one.  They also had no trouble accepting that there is plenty of religious hypocrisy in the Church. But they felt that the video's assertion that Jesus was anti-religious was simply wrong and a misreading of scripture and history.  They argued that the poet fell into the trap of overgeneralizing to make his point.  Is the Church messed up? Sure.  Has wrong been propagated in the Church's name? Yes. Are there phony Christians? Plenty.  But these are all critiques of how we practice Christianity -- not the religion itself (And, in all fairness, I don't think the poet was criticizing the faith but rather how people practice it but his words were painted with too broad a brush and thus easy to misinterpret).  

    Where our youth really felt Jeff missed the mark was in his focus on personal salvation without concluding with any talk of what it means to live as a Christian.  Where, they wondered, was the part of the poem that proclaimed that our freedom in Christ inspires us to live lives of practicing justice, working for peace, helping the oppressed, speaking out against intolerance, and welcoming the stranger?  Where was the part about what we should be doing as Christians?  Had the video been less focused on personal salvation (a sort of "me, me, me" Christianity) I think Jeff would have had more fans in the room. 

    Christian apologetics are about as scarce in a progressive Christian youth groups as civility in a presidential debate. But last Sunday night that's just what our teens were doing, whether they knew it or not.  So what happens next? Well, our youth decided they wanted to make their own video. Not exactly a response to the "Why I Hate Religion," video but more their own message about what faith means to them and their lives.  I think, perhaps, this is the sort of response Jeff Bethke was hoping for all along -- to get people talking about Christianity in ways that matter. 

    One final note: Jeff has received much support and a great deal of criticism for his video. I think some of this is owed to the slick production values.  Had he simply shot this with a web cam in his bedroom, it would likely have gone unnoticed by the masses. He recently shared his thoughts on the debate surrounding his message and offered a humble response to what he was attempting to accomplish and what he might do differently were he to remake the video. 

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    Great Youth Ministry Idea: Giant Block-Stacking Game

    Here's a super-sized game with lots of youth ministry potential for community-building.

    We've posted ideas in the past about creative ways to utlize block-stacking games like Jenga for community-building and educational purposes in youth ministry.  It just never ocurred to us to try those ideas super-sized!  But Ian at Youthblog has inspired us to do just that with his group's game that utilizes the big blocks by stacking them with your feet! There are places on the web you can purchase the over-sized blocks or your could make them yourself? The larger size playing pieces open up new possiblities for inviting youth to write on or decorate the blocks as well as increase the possiblity for using the game to develop team work skills among your youth.  Of course, it might be better to play this outside or in a wide open indoor space and you'll want to make sure you think carefully about the size of the blocks and the height of the tower so if (when?) it comes crashing down no one gets too serious of a knock on the head!

    What is the Future of Youth Ministry?

    What issues will have the most impact on your youth ministry in the next five years? The next ten years?

    I was honored last week to participate in a Lily funded Youth Ministry Think Tank hosted by the excellent Center for Youth Ministry Training in Nashville.  The gathering included a pretty amazing group of youth ministry academics and practioners such as Mike King, Mark DeVries, Kenda Creasy Dean, Stephen Ingram, Dori Baker, and Mark Matlock, to name a few.

    Participants in the 4th annual Lilly Laboratory Think Tank
    Our challenge prior to arriving in Nashville was to consider the question: "What cultural or theological issues will youth ministry be facing and responding to in the next five to ten years?"  Each participant wrote three white papers on this subject and those papers formed the bulk of our conversation and discernment over the three-day event. You'll be hearing a great deal more from me on the think tank's work but at present my brain is still spinning with the sheer volume of information, ideas, questions, and challenges that came out of the group's efforts.  For now, I simply want to share with you in brief the three relevant cultural/theological issues that I identified as impacting the future of youth ministry, encourage your comments, and invite you to propose your own responses to the think tank's question. (Update: I also encourage you to check out this post by think tank participant Stephen Ingram on the issues he identified. They are definitely the ones that resonated the most with me of all those submitted).

    Issue 1: Increase in the influence of Post-modernity on Teens

    Summary: The challenge for many of us, throughout the theological spectrum from evangelicals to progressives, is that we increasingly will be encountering new generations of adolescents raised in a thoroughly post-modern culture. These young people are being shaped by values that include open-mindedness over certainty, tolerance and diversity over exclusivity, and a willingness to see Christianity as but one of a multitude of valid religious choices.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2012

    Most Important Youth Ministry Story of 2011

    Looking back now, it would seem the most important youth ministry story of 2011 wasn't really about youth ministry at all but its implications for those who work with youth in the Church are enormous.  The scandal at Penn State brought to light once again the critical importance of establishing proper and consistent boundaries for adult-youth interactions in schools, clubs, sports teams and, yes, even youth ministries.  I think this all boils down to two important questions:

    1. Does your youth program have a policy that mandates that no adult is to be alone in private with a teen?

    2. Do you allow exceptions to that rule?

    I regularly lead boundary training workshops with youth ministry, church,  and camp staffs. By far the most important rule I argue must be part of any safe church policy is the "two adult rule." Simply stated, there must be two adults present with youth at all times -- no exceptions.  Oddly, this is the one rule that participants in these workshops often have the most difficulty accepting.  Without fail, someone will always argue that there must be exceptions to that rule.  The most common exception: "We follow that rule when the youth and adults are opposite gendered but not if they are same gendered." In other words, it's okay for a male youth leader to be alone with a guy but not a girl, or vice versa.  My response:  Take a look at the Penn State scandal. Take a look at what has happened in the Catholic Church. How well did that policy work out for them?

    If you start allowing exceptions to the two-adult rule, you open the door to a host of difficulties. In particular, you send a clear message to pontential abusers that there is a hole in your safe church policy that they can exploit...and often the would-be abuser is the last person you would suspect.

    Developing and maintaining strict boundary policies in our youth ministries shouldn't be about protecting ourselves from litigation or making our work easier.  In truth, isn't it really about honoring our youth as children of God who deserve to be protected and treated with the utmost care and respect?