Wednesday, October 31, 2012

    "iPad" Prayer Idea for Youth Ministry

    Try this iPad-inspired idea for offering youth a way to focus on prayer wherever they go.
    I recently shared on our Pinterest page the idea above for creating a "crafty" version of an iPad screen. The site that gives steps for creating this simulated iPad intended it to be used as a greeting card. I think it could be easily adapted into a prayer experience for youth. 
    They could create these together as part of a group meeting, each person making their own. Perhaps talk about the need to take time each day to "unplug" and focus on being present with God in prayer. Under each flap on the simulated iPad screen the teens could write words or ideas to help them focus on people and places to pray for or offer thanks.  Another option might be to cut out images from magazines to glue under the flaps.  Let them be inspired by the icons as they think about what they want to pray for on a daily basis.

    Monday, October 29, 2012

    Question of the Day: Why Church?

    At the recent Rethinking Youth Ministry event I led in Boulder, a question came up that any person leading ministry with youth in mainline and progressive churches probably needs to ask on a regular basis. It's a question we pose in our book Missional Youth Ministry: Moving from Gathering Teenagers to Scattering Disciples:
    "With all the energy we expend trying to attract youth to our churches with flashy and entertainment-centered programming, perhaps we've forgotten to ask why we want all of these teenagers there in the first place. More importantly, perhaps we've failed to offer our young people a strong, compelling reason to be at church beyond lock-ins and weekend retreats. What do we say if they ask us, 'Why come to worship? Why be a Christian? What difference does it make?'" (p. 22)
    What do you think?  For those of us who don't see eternal salvation as the central issue of Christianity, why do we want youth to be part of the Church and the faith? For those who do see salvation as the primary motivator for being a Christian, is there something more to following the faith than simply maintaining one's salvation?

    Should You Take Your Youth to a "Hell House?"

    In recognition that Halloween is almost upon us, I'd like to share one of our more popular posts from a few years back entitled "Top 10 Reasons to Host a Christian Hell House:"

    Hosting a Christian Hell House is all the rage right now with youth ministries across the country so I thought I'd share the top ten reasons you should consider hosting one yourself:

    1) It's the perfect way to scare people into joining your church and youth group!

    2) Can you think of a better vehicle this time of year for spreading Jesus' message of judgment and condemnation?

    3) By hosting your own scary event in your church,  you can show teens that. . .

    Ok. Who am I kidding? I can't come up with ten good reasons for hosting a Hell House. Heck, I can't even come up with three good reasons. More to the point, I could suggest a hundred reasons why this approach to evangelism is harmful not only to Christian youth but to the whole Christian cause of sharing the love of God through Jesus Christ. But don't take my word for it. See below just a smattering of comments from YouTube about the above trailer for a documentary depicting one church's year-round efforts to create their own "Hell House:"

    "These people are the epitome of all that is corrupt, dark and hopeless about the church and its bastardized beliefs"

    "Christianity is indeed all about fear."

    "Ah, the age old technique of terrifying people into submission. It's worked so well over the years and has resulted in so many people finding the kind of peace you can only get by brushing everything under the carpet."

    "ok let me just say im not an atheist, and i discriminate when it comes to personal beliefs. but dont they know that people shouldnt be scared into believing that there is a god? for them to "convert" they should go in willingly, because they feel its right and not out of pressure. this is just sad and disgraceful."

    Is this really the sort of reaction that we believe will open people's hearts to the Christian faith? To paraphrase one of the YouTube commenters, wouldn't it be better to host a "Happy House" where we portray Jesus' teachings about forgiveness, love, charity, peace, and justice? I realize those sorts of things aren't as sexy as screaming demons, bloody deaths, and violent shootings, but was Jesus' ultimate message about love or about a violent damnation that some think awaits the non-believer?

    And just as a final footnote -- I find it ironic/funny/sad that the cost of salvation is a cool $10 for those who want to attend the hell house of the church in the video clip above. All Jesus asked of Zacchaeus was a sandwich.

    UPDATE: To read the viewpoint of a someone who has actually been through a number of these hell houses, check out youth worker Jason Huffman's post here

    Thursday, October 04, 2012

    Great Deal on New Youth Ministry Text: "Hollow Faith"

    "What if we decided, in our churches, to enter into the real world together? What would it look like in our student ministries if we stopped playing the nice and bubbly Christian game and began to ask the difficult questions, to live in the uncertainty and not avoid contentious matters but embrace the complexity of them? from "Hollow Faith" by Stephen Ingram
    I am in the midst of reading the excellent text Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffith, Facebook and the American Dream Neutered the Gospel, a response to the National Study of Youth and Religion.  This brand new text comes from the recently-launched publishing arm of the Center for Youth Ministry Training (CYMT).  Stephen Ingram, the author, is Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury UMC in Birmingham, Alabama.  I've had the privilege of working with Stephen at one of CYMT's youth ministry think tanks and he is clearly one of the best progressive voices in mainline youth ministry today. Though I will be posting a full review soon, let me just share that this text offers a no-holds barred critique of the sort of cultural Christianity that we have, for too long, allowed to transform the teens in our ministries into luke-warm followers of the faith (at best).  Thankfully, Stephen offers not just a critique but a way forward that calls us to risk engaging in a more radical and, in many ways, ancient form of Christianity with our youth.

    I'd of course love to have others reading this book so we can all join in on the conversation with Stephen. To help you in that endeavor, CYMT is offering readers of Rethinking Youth Ministry the opportunity to purchase Hollow Faith (and other CYMT resources) at a 20% discount by following this link. But wait! There's more! CYMT will also give you a free Kindle Edition of another new resource -- Raising Teens in an Almost Christian World -- if you'll post a review of Hollow Faith on Amazon and email it to

    Wednesday, October 03, 2012

    5 Low-Tech (But Personal) Ways to Connect with Youth

    It this age of social media, staying in touch with our youth via email is now consider archaic.  Facebook is yesterday's news and texting only allows for the simplest of messages.  Want to really be cutting edge?  Go "old school" on your youth and reach out to them with something they probably would never expect: the personal touch.  Rather than hiding behind social media, try making contact with some of your youth each week through one of these low-tech options:

    1) Phone Call - Why not select a few of your youth each week and surprise them with a quick phone call?  You might be able to tell a whole lot more from the tone of their voice than you ever could reading a tweet.  Just take a few minutes to check in on them and let them know you were thinking about them.

    2) Affirmation Letter - Show you really know your teens. On a regular sheet of paper, write a student's name down the left margin of the page in large letters. Use each letter to write out a word or phrase that describes that teen's best gifts and qualities.  Another option is simply to write their name in the center of the page and then surround that name with all sorts of positive words to describe them.  (And, if you like to doodle like me, consider adding a little piece of original art to the page!) Next, just stick it in an envelope and mail it, no message necessary because the affirmation letter will say it all.

    3) Visit - At my last church, I actually took time at the start of my ministry to do home visits with all of the youth.  To be sure, some of the teens (and their families) were shocked and a little suspicious about why the youth pastor was visiting them at home.  No pastor had ever done that before!  But what a difference it made to just drop by for 15 minutes and see those teens in their home environment. If home visits aren't convenient, take some time to meet one-on-one with your youth at a local coffee shop or restaurant. 

    4) Pray - Keep a prayer calendar with different students' names written on each day of the month. Take time each day to stop and pray for a few of your youth, focusing both on why you are grateful for their presence in your ministry and how you might be called to help them in their walk of faith.

    5) Prayer Postcard - When you finish praying, simply write out a quick postcard letting the teen know you prayed for him or her and drop it in the mail.  Trust me -- it will make a difference in their lives to know they are connected to you and God through prayer even during their busy weeks at school.

    Any other low-tech ideas to share? 

    "Take What You Need" Prayer Station

    Just saw this on Pinterest and thought it was a great idea. It could be adapted and used for a prayer station or just something your youth could make and tape up at school, at church, at home...even on a telephone pole.