Monday, December 09, 2013

    Youth Ministry Pin-of-the-Day: Christmas Tree Prayers

    Here's a simple idea to use as a worship experience this Advent season with your youth or as part of your group's Christmas party fun. 

    Invite your youth to use their creativity and work together to fashion a Christmas tree of prayer. This idea, really developed for school children (why the most creative ideas often for kids?), simply uses an equilateral triangle. 

    Once you've made a template, trace the triangle shape on green card stock and cut out enough for each person to have one. Provide participants with a variety of art materials and scraps to decorate their piece of the tree however they like. In addition, ask them to write, draw, or in some other fashion include on their piece the names of persons and places in the world they would like to include in prayer. Finish by taping the triangles together (some pointing up, some down) to form a beautiful Christmas tree of prayer and hang it on the wall. Perhaps close the activity by inviting each person to share those they have included in prayer. 

    Monday, November 25, 2013

    It's Here! New Advent/Christmas Ebook for Youth Ministry

    Just in time for the Yuletide season, our newest ebook More Creative Youth Ministry Ideas for Advent and Christmas is now available. 

    This 50-page text (a sequel to our first Advent/Christmas ebook, still available here) is a collection of creative ideas to help you and your youth experience the seasons of Advent and Christmas (and Epiphany, too!). In addition to featuring a few of the ideas from this site, newly edited, this text includes mostly new material written especially for this resource. You'll find ideas for yuletide art projects, prayer stations, Bible study, church-wide events, social media experiments, Christmas-themed games, movie night ideas, and more. All for only $3.99.  You can download a sample here


    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.
    Merry Christmas and thanks for your continued support of Rethinking Youth Ministry!

    Wednesday, November 20, 2013

    Have You Heard of the The Year of Two Thanksgivings?

    For some of us, one Thanksgiving day with the crush of relatives and stuffing of our faces is enough. Imagine if there were two Thanksgivings. Well, one year there was!

    To make a long story short (you can read the longer version here), in 1939 President Roosevelt was being pressured by some retailers to extend the Christmas shopping season in order to boost the economy. At the time, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday of November, and that year there were 5 Thursdays, making it particularly late in the month. So Roosevelt decided to move it back a week, from the 30th to the 24th in order to create a longer holiday shopping season (who knew that just some 70 years later the Christmas shopping season would extend back before Halloween! -- thank you K-mart!)

    Despite the objections from some calendar manufactures (who had already printed 1940 calendars, now with the wrong Thanksgiving date) and food distributors (who would have to scramble to get holiday food to stores a week early) the date was changed -- at least on the national level. But almost half of the state governors (most of whom were Republicans -- Roosevelt was a Democrat) refused to observe the new date and declared Thanksgiving would remain on the 30th. So for that year, all across the country, families celebrated Thanksgiving on two different days.

    Share this story with your youth.  Invite their reactions.  Ask: What do you think about the fact that they couldn't come to a mutual decision about when to give thanks? Does it surprise you that part of the debate was political?  What would it be like to have two Thanksgiving days? What if every day was Thanksgiving? How would that change the way we observe the holiday? How could we show gratitude to God every day? 

    This last question is the most important. Why not invite your youth to get into groups of 2 or 3, give them pen and paper and 2 minutes to generate as many ideas they can for showing gratitude to God on a regular, ordinary day (at home, at school, with friends and family, in public). Have groups share and compare their ideas. Finally, compile the lists and send them out to your youth, challenging them to see how many acts of gratitude they can make part of their daily routines.

    Wednesday, November 06, 2013

    Video: Teens' Selfless Act of Compassion for Teammate

    The middle school football players in this video do something that is pretty unheard of in our competition-driven culture -- they placed compassion and respect for the most vulnerable among them ahead of "winning the game."

    I recently preached on the topic of "life after death." I suggested, using the story of the prodigal son, that for Jesus "life after death" was not primarily about the death that happens at the end of life but rather the death that occurs in the midst of life. It is the death that happens when we are cut off from community, when we have no "family," no identity -- when we are "dead" to others. New life happens when we are called by name, drawn back into community, given a family to belong to and come to know our true identity as beloved. 

    This video reminds me that part of our ministry to youth is to help them understand their role in Christ's mission to create life out of death -- to create community where all are welcome.

    Thursday, October 24, 2013

    Scary Youth Bible Study: Fear!

    Halloween is the season when we seem to enjoy being afraid. But what does fear mean when applied to the life of faith? This Bible study takes at look at the theme of fear in the gospel of Mark.

    Jesus Walks on Water

    Goal: To help the youth continue to develop their ability to read biblical texts critically and creatively.

    Text: Mark 6:47-52 (see also Matthew 14:22-33, John 6:16-21)

    1) Youth will explore the story of Jesus walking on water as found in the gospel of Mark.
    2) Youth will consider what the story might be saying when seen at face value.
    3) Youth will discuss other interpretive approaches to the text.
    4) Youth will share how this story might be meaningful for us today.


    This section in Mark opens with Jesus encountering the people in “a deserted place.” Through what appears to be a miracle, food is provided for all those present, and Jesus teaches them. Then Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray.  Sound familiar? To a first century audience, the echoes of the Exodus story in this passage from Mark would have been loud and clear. Like Moses, Jesus gathers the people in a deserted place, provides them food, and then goes to the mountain to pray. The metaphorical message is clear: Just as God was present in the life and ministry of Moses, so the power of God is present in this man Jesus.

    But the parallels don’t end there. Next, Mark tells us that Jesus sends the Disciples out in a boat to sail to the other side of the sea. The Disciples find themselves battling high winds and it is Jesus who appears and calms the wind and the waters – not unlike Moses commanding the waters of the Red Sea to part for the Israelites.

    Again, these literary parallels would not have been missed by a first century audience. Just as God commanded the waters and winds of chaos in creation, and just as God worked through Moses to part the waters of the sea, in the same way God’s power is now at work in Jesus. It is worth noting that for first century people, water was a common symbol of Chaos, destruction, of the powers and principalities that threatened to rule the world. And so God’s presence is often depicted in a calming of those waters of chaos – Job speaks of God as “the one who trampled the waves of the sea.” (Job 9:8)

    So here we have the disciples, out on the water (for the second time, actually, in Mark’s gospel), straining against the winds and the waves. In fact, Mark suggests that they are so preoccupied with their struggle that Jesus intends to “pass them by.” In the midst of the chaos of the waters, they see Jesus coming toward them – not skating on the ice, not stepping on stones, not wading at the shore – for to describe the story that way would be to miss the whole point. Jesus, walking on water, is right there in the midst of the storm, in the thick of their struggle and troubles. He doesn’t call out to the disciples to meet him on shore where everything is nice and calm! He goes to meet them – in the very midst of their fear.

    The Lesson:

    1) Opening: Invite the youth to think about to when they were little children. Ask: What sorts of things were you afraid of when you were little? Are you still afraid of any of those things? What are you afraid of now? Share that today we are looking at another strange Bible story, this time from the gospel of Mark. Mark’s gospel has a lot to do with fear. In fact, the book ends with Jesus’ death, the male disciples running away in fear, and the women who discover the empty tomb also running off in fear, telling no one of what they saw. It might be interesting to see what Mark’s theme of “fear” and “Are you afraid to follow & trust Jesus?” plays out in today’s story.

    Wednesday, October 23, 2013

    6 Simple Halloween Ideas for Youth Ministry

    Whether or not you actually observe Halloween as part of your youth group program, you can still engage in some fellowship around seasonal activities connected to fall. Here are a few suggestions to get your creative thinking started: 

    1) Chalkboard Pumpkins - Here's a great alternative to the mess of carving pumpkins that you'll just have to throw away in a few days. Working outdoors, cover pumpkins with two coats of chalkboard spray paint. Allow 24 hours for them to fully dry. Next, divide your youth into small groups, provide them with some chalk, and challenge them 1) to answer pumpkin-related trivia, requiring them to write their answers on the pumpkins, 2) to draw on their pumpkin the best likeness they can of the face of one of your youth leaders, or 3) Have a pumpkin design contest. 

    2) Pumpkin Brooming - Provide participants with sturdy brooms and one pumpkin each. Enjoy the fun as they use the brooms to race the pumpkins from one end of the room to the other. For added challenge, set up an obstacle course for them to manuever through with their pumpkins.

    3) Mummy Wrap - Divide into groups, have them each select an "it," and provide each group with several rolls of toilet tissue. Shout "Go!" and see which group can be first to completely wrap their "it" person in the toilet tissue. If you don't like the mummy reference, pretend you are reenacting the Lazarus story. 

    4) Night Bowling - Just drop some glow sticks into 12 water bottles (with the water still in them), screw the caps back on, set them up like bowling pins, grab a ball, wait until dark, and see who can be first to get a strike!

    5) Hell House - Though I don't suggest you actually take your youth to one of those Christian hell houses, you can spark an interesting discussion by watching together the documentary "Hell House" and talking about the particular approach to evangelism it depicts. (Note: I happen to think the kind of hell houses displayed in the film are a terrible idea but it is a great documentary). 

    6) All Saints Prayer Stations - Halloween is really just a precursor to All Saints Day when we remember those of the faith who have gone before us.  Consider inviting your youth to participate in an All Saints worship experience by adapting some of the prayer stations found here

    Wednesday, August 14, 2013

    The Gospel According to Ashton Kutcher?

    Well, maybe not the gospel, but his acceptance speech at the Teen Choice Awards might be a great discussion starter with your youth about what really matters in life.

    Tuesday, July 30, 2013

    What's Wrong with "Man of Steel?"

    Thinking of using the new Superman film "Man of Steel?" as a discussion starter with your youth? You might want to consider the real message of the movie.

    First things first: I love a good action movie. I still think "Speed" is one of the great films of all time, with its minimalist dialogue, hammy acting and non-stop action.  I'll add to that list "Unstoppable" and "Source Code" as the kind of simple plot/simple characters/action-packed movies that I love. Hmm. I see a pattern here. All those films are about moving vehicles out of control.  But I have to say that "Man of Steel" is a train wreck of a different sort. 

    And it's not primarily because it lacks the charm and wit of the Christopher Reeve "Superman" of the 70's -- which it does -- and it's not primarily because it is so needlessly loud and noisy -- which it is.  No, what really bothers me about the film is that our hero, morally upright Superman, who always does what is right, chooses to solve the main conflict of the film (spoiler alert) by killing the villain.  

    In the history of Superman, it has been a steadfast rule that Superman does not kill. And in the few exceptions where he has, the writers have been careful to show Superman as remorseful  and conflicted over taking a life. Not this Superman. He spends the last third of the movie in a fight with the villain, destroying most of the real estate of the city (and killing how many innocent bystanders in the process?) and then the best solution he can find to end the conflict is to summarily execute the bad guy.

    What is really shocking about this is the fact that the film studio is intentionally marketing this movie to churches and youth groups, inviting them to compare Superman to Jesus, referring to Christ as "the original superhero" and providing sermon notes and discussion guides to show how the Superman story is really just a metaphor for the Jesus story.  And many youth groups and Christian bloggers have apparently jumped on that promotional band wagon, perhaps believing that if Jesus himself were here today, he too would be pummeling others in the name of truth, justice and the American way. 
    Of course, there are all kinds of possible allusions between Jesus and the character of Superman, but have the filmmakers and the Christians using this film for educational purposes missed the glaring contradictions between Christ and Kal-el?  

    When did the church start forgetting that Jesus was a man of peace, adamantly opposed to violence against others?  When did the Church forget that Jesus inspired a movement which was strictly pacifist for its first 500 years -- until it was co-opted and corrupted by the violent Constantinian empire? When did we forget that the Jesus of the gospel believed "standing your ground" meant giving complete fidelity to caring for those in need, not proclaiming one's right to commit violence? I have to believe  if Jesus were here today he would cradle the Trayvon Martin's of the world in his arms while challenging the George Zimmerman's of this world to seek a path away from violence and toward peace.

    How is it that we often have so many images and portrayals of Jesus in our churches that are such polar opposites and so different from the man we find in scripture? Is Jesus as "man of steel", using fists to solve the world's ills, really the spiritual guide we want to share with our youth? 

    (By the way, perhaps you want to use "Man of Steel" to argue against the film's and the studio's theological take. If so, the "How it Should Have Ended" video above might just come in handy!)

    Saturday, June 08, 2013

    We Are the Martians Now

    Ray Bradbury once wrote a book entitled The Martian Chronicles. In it he tells the story of an Earth about to be ravaged by a nuclear war. One small family, in an effort to escape the impending holocaust, leave the planet in a small family-sized rocket for a new home on Mars.  The parents, not wanting to worry their young son and daughter, tell the children they are simply going on a family picnic to Mars. If they are lucky, the father tells them, they might even see some Martians!

    "But Father, "says the little boy, "There aren't any Martians left. They all died off a long time ago."  
    "Not all the Martians," says the father.  "Not the kind we're looking for."

    As the day goes on, the family ends up picnicking beside a pond and the children anxiously ask again when they might see the Martians. The father tells them "They're in the pond. Go and see for yourselves."  The children look down into the water but are confused. "There's nothing here. Why, we just see ourselves. We just see our own reflections."

    "That's right," says the mother. "You see...we're the Martians now. Whatever we are...that's what Martians will be."

    When we work with youth in the Church, part of our challenge is to grow in their understanding of what it means to claim the identity "Christian." We can make up all the definitions in the world, quote scripture and reference church history, but when it comes right down to it, whatever WE are, that's what Christians will be.  When we let others know we are Christians, they will define "Christian" at least in part by watching the things we do and say.  Youth who take on the identity of "Christian" for themselves need to know the responsibility that comes with affirming that publicly.

    My "go to" scripture passage when trying to give teens some sense of what it means to me to follow Jesus is Luke 4: 16-21 in which Jesus clearly lays out what he understands his mission to be, grounded in the scripture of his own tradition.  Why not challenge your youth to name their own "go to" scripture for what they understand the mission of Christianity to be and then invite them to see what it would be like to live that verse daily as if they were wearing an "I am Christian" sticker for all to see?

    Friday, May 03, 2013

    Video: Powerful "To This Day" Anti-Bullying Project

    From the poet: "My experiences with violence in schools still echo throughout my life but standing to face the problem has helped me in immeasurable ways. Schools and families are in desperate need of proper tools to confront this problem. This piece is a starting point." - Shane 

    Learn more here.

    Friday, April 26, 2013

    Youth Ministry Pin-of-the-Day: Affirmation Mugs

    This idea gets passed around on Pinterest a lot, probably because it is so simple and so cool. 

    I think this project would make the perfect gift from your church or youth group to give to your graduating seniors. Just get some plain white mugs from the dollar store. Let everyone write an affirming message to the person on the mug with a sharpie (and, if doing a lot of these, be sure to write the person's name on the side or bottom of the mug).  Then, you bake the mugs in the oven for thirty minutes at 350 degrees and "Pesto!" -- the writing is permanent and you have the perfect gift for your graduates to drink coffee, tea or cocoa from as they start the next step in their journey of life and faith.

    Read more about this idea here and check out all my Pinterest pins on youth ministry, creative prayer, and more here

    Thursday, April 25, 2013

    YouTube Faith: Week 3

    This is part three of our series of resources developed to be used with a mixed group of youth and adults, discussing issues of faith through the lens of various videos discovered on YouTube. We are intentionally drawing from both religious and secular videos.  Part one is here. Part two is here.

    Week Three: What is the Meaning of Life?

    Share: What is life all about? Is the answer different if you are a Christian? Has anyone figured it out? This week we look at how the world of YouTube has tried to address that question.

    1. The Meaning of Life - Dan Is Not On Fire

    • Do you relate to Dan’s experience of “permanent existential crisis”?
    • How important is this question of “meaning”? Dan treats it humorously – does that seem like the right approach?
    • Dan says that the answer is “do whatever you have to do to be happy”? What do you think about that? Dan says "There's way too much fun and joy in the world for anyone to waste their time or their life doing something that makes them unhappy."  What would you say to him about this? Does your thinking on this change depending on what a person might say makes him or her "happy?"

    Share: Dan seems to be having fun with the question of existence. But for others, this is a much more serious consideration – especially those who have a lot less time to figure it out. As you watch this next video, think about how your answer might change if you were forced to come to your conclusions against a ticking clock:

    Thursday, April 18, 2013

    Would You Be Willing to Be Gay for a Day?

    What would it be like for you to experience a day from the perspective of a gay teen?  Would you be willing to find out? If you are a gay pastor or youth leader, you already know what it's like. Everyone else: keep reading.

    This year the Day of Silence falls on Friday April 19. This is annual observance when students choose to remain silent in their schools for one day to show solidarity with LGBTQ teens who are silenced every day by being kept in the closet through intolerance and fear.  I participated in this day in seminary years ago and it was a powerful experience that even included a worship service held completely in silence.  

    Of course, the Day of Silence is not without its controversy, particularly for those who feel participating in the event might (God forbid!) send the message to gay teens that they are loved, accepted and affirmed. But wherever you place yourself within that debate, I think that blogger Kimberly Knight is really on to something when she suggests that straight persons try becoming "gay for a day": 

    What do I mean by this? Well, this is a bit of a challenge for my straight friends. Those of you with boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands or wives – for the next 24 hours, imagine that the one you love, the planet around which your heart is in orbit, is someone you can not openly acknowledge in any conversation – anywhere. When you are at work, do not talk about your boyfriend or husband. When you are at lunch, don’t mention the Friday night date you are looking forward to. When you are grabbing that mid-morning coffee, don’t talk about your weekend plans with the wife....So here it is, a challenge – be gay for a day. Really, really – I invite you to give this a try. For 24 hours beginning on the morning of Friday, April 19 live your every moment as if the people you love are just friends, roommates, strangers.... (Read the full post here.)

    Participating in what Kimberly is suggesting has nothing to do with whether or not you have problems with a person's sexual orientation. But it has everything to do with whether or not you believe that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Being willing to spend a day in the other person's shoes is a step away from treating LGBTQ teens as an "issue" and toward treating them as individual children of God.  Of course, "being gay for a day" isn't going to let you really see what like is like living in the closet anymore than sleeping on your church parking lot for one night is going to teach your teens what it is like to be homeless.  In fact, the power of both of those experiences is in helping the participant to become aware of how little they know of what life is like for the "other" and that so often we are willing to pontificate and share our absolutist opinions and beliefs about something we have no knowledge of first-hand (and in some cases never will).

    Update: You may be interested in this piece about a young blogger who dared to suggest that the Church's inflexibility on the welcoming of LGBTQ persons is causing young people to leave the Church in droves.  In response, the church camp where she would had been employed this summer promptly fired her.  

    Monday, April 15, 2013

    Youth Ministry Pin-of-the-Day: Hand Prayers

    Here's a thoughtful idea for helping your teens pray for each other or to encourage your congregation to pray for your youth.

    This latest find from Pinterest comes from the blog by Pastor Lisa. The idea itself is simple: have a person trace their hand and then pass that along to someone else. Each time the receiver places their own hand into the person's hand print, they stop and pray for them.  I could see this as a great creative project with youth, encouraging them not only to trace their hands but also filling the hand print with words, images, drawings, symbols, and so on that relate to the things in their lives for which they need prayer.  When everyone is finished, trade around the hand prints and each person takes one home, committing to regularly pray for the owner of the hand print.  A related approach might be to collect the youth's hand prints and distribute them to your elders or other adults in the congregation who would be willing to regularly pray for the teen whose
    hand print they receive.  Pastor Lisa also suggests other approaches:  

    Praying for a sister congregation.
    Praying for students away at college.
    Praying for those who are imprisoned.
    Praying for your local firefighters, police officers, or city officials.
    Praying for a mission team while they are away.
    Praying for those who are home bound or nursing homebound.
    Praying for those who are in the midst of long treatments or recovering from surgery.

    You can read the full post here and check out all my Pinterest pins on youth ministry, creative prayer, and more here

    Monday, March 25, 2013

    YouTube Faith: Week 2

    This is part two of our continuing series of lessons developed to be used with a mixed group of youth and adults, discussing issues of faith through the lens of various videos discovered on YouTube. We are intentionally drawing from both religious and secular videos.  Part one is here.

    Week 2: What is it all about? Figuring out God, Jesus and Religion

    1. Kitten vs. Two Scary Things

    Views: 7 million

    • What do you think is going on in that kitten’s head? Is it playing? Does it feel threatened? Do it have a clue what’s on the bed?
    • Think about how we’re like that with religion sometime – especially when it comes to trying to figure out what Jesus and God are all about.
    • What are we clueless about when it comes to religion?
    • What aspects of God do we find unsettling?
    Share: Let’s take a look at one young guy’s attempt to figure it all about. As you watch it, think about the argument he makes about the following Jesus vs. being part of a religion.

    Are You Caring for the Introverts in Your Youth Ministry?

    In my experience, many pastors I meet fall at least somewhat on the introversion side of the personality spectrum. Their introversion allows them to cultivate many of the gifts helpful for effective ministry: the ability to listen deeply, encourage introspection, and lead others without the need to take center stage. 

    Conversely, most youth ministers tend to be extroverts (you may disagree but I'm just sharing what I've observed over several decades working with youth ministry colleagues.) Considering the energy it takes to work with teens, it makes sense that many youth ministers are outgoing, enjoy being around large groups of people and have a high tolerance for noise and commotion. In fact, they might even thrive under such conditions which may explain why so many youth ministries are centered around programming that involves large group activities, wild games, lock-ins and road trips.  

    But it's important to remember that at least some of the youth in our ministries are introverts -- those individuals who tend to give of their personal energy to others and can be quickly tired out when being with a group. These teens need opportunities for small group experiences, silence, rest, quiet prayer, and the permission to opt out of high energy activities when they need time away from the group.  Think back over your last few youth gatherings. Have the activities been primarily aimed at the extroverts? What opportunities were included for quiet reflection, one-on-one interactions, or low-key activities?

    This article suggests several helpful examples of things not to do if we seek to be more sensitive to the introverts in our ministries.  I particularly like this one: 

    “Since you’re not doing anything...” Sitting quietly and staring into space is doing something. It does not mean I’m waiting for a nice chat."

    For a more thorough study of the qualities and needs (and special gifts) of introverts, check out the texts The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.

    What about you?  Introvert? Extrovert? (Not sure? Take the quiz.) How does your personality type affect your ministry? How do you attempt to meet the needs of both personality types in your youth ministry? 

    Wednesday, March 13, 2013

    YouTube Faith: Week 1

    My doppelganger (henceforth referred to as Barry, my twin brother) is developing a new multi-generation study for our church centered around videos discovered on YouTube. This study is for teens as well as adults who are interested in joining the teens as fellow learners and mentors. 

    The plan is to view several YouTube videos each session as a jumping off point to discuss issues, questions, challenges, doubts, and ideas about the Christian faith.  We'll post a new YouTube faith lesson each week and look forward to your feedback. 

    Youtube Faith:  Week #1

    • What videos/types of videos do you usually ike to watch on Youtube?
    • How often are those videos related to politics, religion or social justice? 
    • Have you seen any videos about Christianity?  What did they talk about? Were they positive or negative?
    Explain that over the coming weeks you are going to explore together topics of spirituality, social justice and Christianity, all through the view that is created by this one channel:  Youtube 

    Share: Let's start by looking at one specific Youtuber's unique view on what Christianity is all about: 

    1. Tyler Oakley: Christianity in a Nutshell:


    • What's your reaction to Tyler Oakley's description of Christianity? 
    • Did you find it funny? Accurate? Misleading? 
    • What would you say to Tyler about his video and his interpretation?
    • If this was someone's first intro to Christianity, what sort of picture do you think they'd have?
    Share: Let's check on this next video from the Soul Pancake Youtube channel-- as you watch, think about what connection, if any, this has to your understanding of what Christianity is about, beyond cosmic zombies (re: a reference to Tyler's video): 

    Friday, March 08, 2013

    Lent Ideas for Youth Ministry 2013: Prayers of Michel Quoist

    Ever been challenged spiritually by prayers written by someone else? I've been experiencing just that recently while reading through a book of prayers written by Michel Quoist, a French Catholic priest and scholar who died in 1997. 

    His 1956 text Prayers of Life (written when he was 33) reads like conversations between us and God, touching on the most basic and gritty elements of every day life rather than being lost in lofty, intangible spiritual ether. 

    From a working class background, Quoist spent much of his early pastoral career as a youth chaplain and he remained committed to working with youth and young adults throughout his life as a priest.  This commitment may explain why his written prayers still speak so vibrantly to the way young people often are so sensitive to the vast needs in the world around them yet also struggle with the tension between the call to serve and the comforts of our consumerist culture. Take for example this prayer excerpt (which I've updated slightly for more inclusive language):

    Lord, why did you tell me to love all people?
    I have tried, but I come back to you frightened.
    Lord, I was so peaceful at home, I was so comfortably settled.
    I was sheltered from the wind and rain; I would have stayed unsullied in my ivory tower.
    But, Lord you have discovered a breach in my defenses.
    You have forced me to open the door of my heart.
    The first came in, Lord. There was, after all, a bit of space in my heart.
    I welcomed them. I would have cared for them as my very own little lambs, my flock.
    You would have been pleased, Lord; I would have served and honored you in a proper and respectable way.
    Until then, it was sensible.
    But the next ones, Lord, the others – I had not seen them, they were hidden behind the first ones.
    There were more of them. They were wretched; they overpowered me without warning.

    I shared this and another related Quoist prayer with our youth recently and they really responded to the language, the imagery, and the challenge inherent within the simple words.   These prayers could certainly be used as a regular way to open or close your weekly time together, as part of a night focused on prayer, or even as an outlet to encourage your teens to work together to write similar prayers that focus on the reality of God in their daily lives filled with bus rides and textbooks, sports, music rehearsals, after school jobs, dating and fears about the future.  

    Perhaps most helpful for Lent, Prayers of Life could be used to connect youth with Jesus' own 40 day struggle in the wilderness to discern what God was really calling him to do and be.  In addition, the text includes an entire section entitled "Prayers on the Way to the Cross," complete with scriptures and meditations to lead your group in an exploration of the last days and hours of Jesus' life.

    Quit Taking Your Kids to “Service Projects”

    The following is a guest post by Aaron Kirkpatrick, youth minister in Little Rock, Arkansas:

    I love teaching our teens to serve. Over the years, service has become ingrained in our group’s DNA, and our teens serve hard. They are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty, and they are regularly challenged to press through their comfort zones when they are serving in the name of Jesus. Numerous teens have told me that the most impacting things they have experienced in our youth ministry happened when they were serving, and a few of our teens have even chosen career paths after an experience serving someone changed their worldview. So when I tell you to stop taking your kids to service projects, I am absolutely NOT telling you to make your teens stop serving. I’m asking you to consider reframing your service in a healthier way. 

    It should be obvious, but every service opportunity must have a human component. There must always be someone who benefits from your service, or else you’re wasting your time. If your teens visit cancer patients at the local children’s hospital, the human element is obvious, but even cleaning graffiti off an overpass, picking up trash at a local park, and painting government housing projects touches people in the name of Jesus. You don’t clean up the park for the park’s sake: you do it because it will benefit the children who play there. You don’t clean an overpass for the sake of the concrete, you do it because it blesses people on their daily commute. This is true every time you serve, and it’s important for your teens to understand who they are serving and how their service helps others. When we talk about doing a “service project” though, we immediately put a stumbling block between our students and what we want them to accomplish and experience.

    A project is a job. A project is an assignment. A project is something that must get done, regardless of whether you actually want to do it. Cleaning the bathroom is a project. That fifteen page paper your seniors have been putting off doing is a project. My honey-do list is full of projects. But we’re calling our students to serve people, and people are not projects.

    When we refer to these times of service as “service projects” we immediately cheapen what our teens are doing, we limit the ministry our teens will do, and we hinder our students’ ability to be transformed through the experience of serving. At best, our words frame their service in terms of what they do instead of who they touch, and at worst they cause our teens to view people in an impersonal way that removes the love and compassion that is at the heart of Christian ministry. 

    So the next time you call your teens to serve, find a more positive way to discuss what they’re doing. In our ministry, we have started referring to times of service as “service opportunities” because an “opportunity” is a positive thing that you don’t want to miss. This puts everyone in the right mindset from the moment they are asked to serve.

    When it’s all said and done, any time a teenager serves, it’s a win. But if we, as youth workers, help our students frame their service in a way that clearly places the highest value on the people we serve, our students will come away with a deeper appreciation for the work they accomplish and the lives they touch, and they will be more likely to jump at the chance to serve again in the future.

    Aaron Kirkpatrick has been leading the Chenal Valley Youth Group in Little Rock, AR for seven years. He is passionate about relational ministry and connecting with teens outside the walls of the church building. This has led to countless hours at basketball games, plays, recitals, Sonic parking lots, Minecraft servers, and anywhere else teens are congregating. When he needs to recharge his creativity, you'll find him haunting a local Starbucks, Panera, or Baskin Robbins. You can follow Aaron on his blog and catch up with him on Twitter .