Posts Tagged ‘youth ministry’

I did very little studying in high school and backed into a history minor in college. I took the two required courses and discovered I loved the teachers in that department. So I signed up for more.  By the time I started to acquire study skills I was halfway to a minor. As a result, I know just enough history to make me dangerous.  Deep dives in some areas, pretty sketchy in others.

My knowledge of St. Patrick and/or the Irish is pretty  limited.  I know enough to understand that our culture wears green on March 17.  I have a Celtic prayer book that I sometimes use.   And I know that the Irish club soccer team from Lexington, KY I often played against in the 80s and early 90s tended to play in the air instead of the ground, even thought they were not particularly tall.

Beyond that, I have been intrigued by Thomas Cahill’s book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, but not enough to read it cover to cover.  And I have really appreciated Dr. George Hunter’s book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Win the West…Again.   This one I have read several times.

To oversimplify Hunter’s thesis, he suggests that we live in a culture closer to the Celtic world (spiritual, but without knowledge or awareness of Christ) rather than Rome.  As a result, St. Patrick’s community-based, relationally driven discipleship along the way to evangelism will be more effective than the proclamational evangelism that precedes discipleship that developed due to persecution in the Roman world. 

Let me quote from the preface of his book…and tell me what you think about what he is saying and how it might impact youth ministry in 2012.

The Church, in the western world, faces populations who are increasingly “secular” — people with no Christian memory, who don’t know what we Christians are talking about.  These populations are increasingly “urban” — and out of touch with God’s natural revelation.”  These populations are increasingly “post-modern”; they have graduated from Enlightenment ideology and are more peer-driven, feeling driven, and right-brained than their forebears.

These populations are increasingly “neo-barbarian”; they lack “refinement” or “class” and their lives are often out of control.  These populations are increasingly receptive–exploring worldview options from Astrology to Zen–and are often looking “in all the wrong places” to make sense of their lives and find their soul’s true home.  

Many Western church leaders are in denial; they plan and do church as though next year will be 1957.  Furthermore, most of the Western church leaders who are not in denial do not know how to engage the epidemic numbeers of secular, post-modern, neo-barbarians outside (and inside) their churches.  Moreover, the very few who do know what to do are intuitive geniuses who cannot teach others what they know (or charismatic leaders who cannot yet be cloned).”

Any thoughts?  Is he on the right track? I really respect this blog’s audience…what thoughts, questions or insights are you willing to share?

For years I challenged the kids in my youth group to compete with me….to try and outpick me with their own March Madness bracket.  Anyone who did better than I would get a free meal with me at a fast food restaurant of their choice.

It wasn’t that I was all that good – althoughI did okay.   (I am a college basketball fan – a long-time member of Big Blue Nation! I grew up in central where people learn their basketball before they learn to talk.)   It just didn’t matter. I got to share an experience with a bunch of students for the month of March. It had legs to continue year after year. Bragging rights were a big deal. Sometimes the most unexpected people won. Posting the bracket copies on my office door created a lot of traffic on Sundays.

And every time I lost, I won. I got to take a student to dinner….and they got to brag about it.

Selection Sunday is tomorrow. Feel free to steal the idea and change it to fit!

One local news story today was about Transcanada’s decision to build an oil pipeline from Cushing, OK to the Gulf Coast.  Are you bored already?  Hang on.

As with every news story there are multiple lenses through which to view the story, but the one that caught my attention had to do with the most immediate impact on my wallet.  Apparently there is an oil glut in storage in Cushing due to inadequate distribution.  And so I am told for the time being, our cost at the pump continues to be artificially depressed.  Of course, once the logjam is broken and adequate access exists to the oil, others will be able to enjoy the product and the price will equalize.

Of course, thinking about oil made me think about youth ministry!  Recently I have been pondering again the expectation in Scripture for the whole community of faith to be involved in passing the faith to the next generation.  (Actually, if the truth were told, I think about this all the time.  All.  The.  Time.  Just sometimes I think about it in fresh ways 🙂

In my context, I have an amazing church with unbelievably talented individuals.  Come to think about it, that’s the only way it has ever been in any of the four churches I have served.  Must be something about the people of God.  But I have at times struggled for volunteers.   (I don’t like the “v” word…but I’ll use it for now for clarity).   And even now, as I am in the trenches with some wonderful people….not all of my community is involved in reaching the next generation in ways they could….and even would want to!  And while there are valid reasons at times, at other times the reason is very much…. me.

Now some of you are racing ahead.  You have seen similar scenarios and are making a list of why a youth pastor may not have enough volunteers:  He has too much pride to ask for help.  She has her identity wrapped up in performance.  He thinks its about getting others to join/help “his” program.  She is intimidated.  He is overwhelmed.  Her life experience is limiting her vision.  Well, all of those have been true at some point and can sometimes still be lenses through which I may operate.   But there are moments of breakthrough and growth as well.  For example, our youth just pulled off an amazing event for over 700 people that took months of preparation and was made possible not so much by staff, but by this community of faith pulling together.

The one lens that has been getting my attention lately is to examine the bottleneck created when a limited number of people (sometimes as few as one in a church) are  enlisting/recruiting/empowering etc “volunteers.”  I’ve got a lot of thoughts.  But this is long enough already.  And I want to hear from you.

Let’s cut to the chase:

  • What do you do…or have you seen done….to empower a community of faith to reach young people in powerful, intentional ways?
  • What do you wish youth pastors could/would do to help free or empower you and others like you?
  • What are some actions/unintentional attitudes that stifle the community or create a bottleneck among the people of God?
  • What are some of the best ways to strengthen partnerships between birth families and families of faith?
  • What else needs to be said about this issue?

The Winding Road is Jeffrey Jensen Arnett name for the period from the late teens through the twenties.    Arnett sees emerging adults (as he calls them) identifying three  cornerstones for becoming an adult:  accepting responsibility for yourself, making independent decisions , and becoming financially independent.  If he is right, then a bit of consensus is beginning to emerge for an cultural “marker” that would identify adulthood.  Years ago, I saw a study that looked at close to 20 possible markers in our culture (everything from driver’s license to voting  to marriage).  The question was asked “When in our culture are you considered an adult?”  The winner was financial independence….with only about 17% percent!

If you have crossed that threshold already, when did you consider yourself an adult?

Tomorrow I am part of a panel at a local high school to talk to parents, teachers and other friends of adolescents about staying connected to teens as they move along  this “winding road.”  You, reader, are a rich resource.  I have already listened to my college students and my  children.  I have reflected on what I have learned through study and experience.  The crowning piece would be to add your voice to my preparation!

Now or later, your thoughts on the following would be appreciated:

  • What should parents do/not do to stay connected with their teens?
  • How do parents keep the bond strong while making space for Arnett’s three cornerstones to be established?
  • What are some of the best ways for the faith community to support families?
  • What is the role of doubt…and failure…and risk?

Thanks in advance for joining the conversation!

There will always be a disconnect between players and coaches….and referees.”

One more sports related post (at least for now!)  I spend a lot of time in a gym this time of year.  This past Saturday, having coached two games already, I was attempting to watch one of our high school teams and one of our junior high teams tackle undefeated teams at the same time on parallel courts.   Watching with me was a former standout college athlete with sons on each court.  And all around us was the buzz of complaining about a ref in the previous game.  The parents had plenty of evidence.  But it was his tempered wisdom in the quote above that stood out among the others.

I wrestle with how to think and feel about referees every season.  I appreciate the good ones.  A lot.  And pray for grace for the others.  Grace for them and grace for me.  I really do. I think they have a really important job in our culture as they choose how to model ultimate authority in a given situation.  Power trip or velvet brick….gracious teacher or earning a check?  Whether they serve…and how they play their role has a lot to do with how many young people learn about how to handle authority.

My younger brother was the head ref in a soccer league in high school, so I got to hear the yelling and the complaining that came in over the phone every Saturday.  The buck stops at the top.  Some people called every week.  Somehow, their child was always the one with the raw deal!

I refereed for my brother, so I knew first hand of the abuse that comes on the field as well. But I have also been on the other side (I won’t tell you how recently :-)), coaching in games where the official was lazy and rarely got into position, where I had to call a timeout to get my bleeding player out of the game, and where officials took retribution on fans who were rude by calling imaginary calls on their players.  I have been the ref who groaned inside when I saw particular parents arrive….and I have been the coach who realized that the game would be an uphill struggle well before the tip-off.  And I have been the coach who was chewed out by parents for not defending their sons and daughters against unfair calls.

My friend had a lot of pragmatic wisdom.  And the big picture is that a blown call mostly doesn’t matter…even in the pros…even when the ref decides the outcome of the game instead of the players.  But I still find myself wondering questions  like:

  • Where is it appropriate in life to fight for justice?
  • When should you offer grace to an authority that is obviously in over his/her head?
  • When should you turn the other cheek?
  • As a role model, am I teaching strength under control or a form of tolerance…..justice or self-righteousness?
  • What happens when I model allowing an injustice to stand?  What about when I offer grace in the midst of failure?
  • When does the game become bigger than the players?
  • Can I really compartmentalize my players from the game?

My questions go on and on….every season, every year for more than a quarter century.   My mom and dad had the courage to pull me out of sports completely for a year in middle school to help me gain some perspective on this issue.  I grew a ton that year.  But I still have questions.  The lessons of sport transcend the game.  And we never stop teaching theology.

I wish that I had internalized much younger that life is not fair….but God is good.  That is my default and yet, I struggle with passivity that seems to me no virtue, but compromise.  As you can see…there are few issues that matter much to me about which I feel more conflicted.

Does anybody feel my pain?  And how do you work through the issues of sport….and coaching….and refereeing?  Of justice and mercy?  Of being right and doing right?

When I moved to my first youth ministry position after college, I was pretty green and eager.  After our first Sunday evening worship, several teens came up to me.  “It’s a tradition for us to take the youth minister out for pizza.  Want to come?”

I agreed and asked if I could invite the senior pastor as well.   It would be good to get them enjoying each other.  “Sure,” they said.  “She can be our guest as well!”  We had a good time.  And kids came out of the woodwork to attend.

Toward the end of the evening, my senior pastor was waxing eloquent on some topic.  Kids began to shove money and bills toward me.  “Here’s for our pizza.  We gotta go.”  I engaged with them to say goodbye, but not with what was being put in my hand.  When everyone had cleared out except the senior pastor and I….and the topic began to wane….I began to count the money.  I had in my hand about 16 dollars and bills for over $100 worth of pizza.

And no wallet.  Since I was being invited as a guest I had not run home for my wallet.  I turned to the senior minister, “Well, I’ve been had. You can either loan me the money or I’ll be here all week doing dishes.”  She paid.  And extracted her repayment from me by using me as sermon illustration fodder from the pulpit for weeks to come.  I was never sure.  She may have been in on the whole thing.

Just for fun…..youth ministers, how have you been pranked?  The rest of you, what have you done to your poor (and perhaps deserving) youth minister?

“It takes a greenhouse to nurture the souls of young people – a greenhouse formed by adults who want to know God. A young person’s faith is best tended by a variety of relationships within a Christian community.” Mark Yaconelli   

My mentor has said for decades that there are only two things necessary for youth ministry to take place.   Adults passionately in love with Jesus(1) who choose to authentically love students with intentionality and appropriate vulnerability(2). 

Research by Search Institute demonstrates that every student needs 5 caring adults in their life.  Adults who know them by name and love them unconditionally. 

How do/should these truths change the face of “normal” youth ministry?  What difference do/should they make in the choices we make with our time in our families?  How does/should this change our response to the teens within our sphere of influence?

I’m in my youth ministry classroom at Oklahoma Wesleyan early this morning, waiting for students to begin arriving.   Actually, I was…but here they come…I’ll finish this later.

I was reflecting again on one of my favorite passages to preach on – Psalm 78.   It is a great passage about passing the faith to the next generation. 

Toward the end of the Psalm, King David is referenced as a shepherd who shepherded with skillful hands and integrity of heart.   Skillful hands.  Integrity of heart.  

What does that mean to you….and what should it mean to these young, aspiring youth pastors? 

I’d love to hear your wisdom…and I will share it with them!

Yesterday I watched the movie Inception again.  A masterful movie on many levels!

I was struck by how little responsibility Cobb takes for the problems he creates. Although deeply wounded, he is talented, driven, confident in his own ability….and so any problems he encounters must be someone else’s fault!  I found myself wondering if people younger than me saw that as a real issue….or if they saw it as normal and appropriate. I started to ask my college kids, but they were not interested in waxing philosophical in the middle of a movie!

Of course, I resonated with the mantra (repeated at least three times) of “taking a leap of faith or becoming an old man, full of regret, waiting to die alone.” Who would ever choose the regrets?!?   I made a few current applications in my head about my own life and remembered with pleasure the mantra my friend David B. and I had in college: “Has this been done before? Let’s do it. College is made of memories!”

But mostly, I got caught on the interplay of what was dream and what was the real world.  And caught by the picture of those who daily escaped the real world to dream…and the one old guy who appears to say that dreams are reality and who are any of them to say differently.

What is real? Where is the “real world?”

I grew up in a very small town. My peers couldn’t wait to get out into the “real world.” I went to a Christian college. Many chafed and complained about being in a bubble and not in the “real world.”  I went to Seminary with professional students while I worked blue collar jobs. I definitely felt many of my classmates were in an ivory tower and not in the “real world.”  And for the last 26 years, I have worked with students and families that are often happy to compartmentalize their faith…to spend an hour a week to get recharged before going back into the “real world.”

But I agree with C.S. Lewis, that we are living (at best) in the shadowlands. That which is real we do not yet fully experience. And I believe living in the Kingdom is reality….the rest is a dream state, or even a voluntary sedation that keeps us from reality.

Do you agree? If you do, how do you keep connected to the real world. How do you help others experience reality?

My friend Mark Riddle asked my staff the other day, “What have you postponed saying no to so that you could say yes?”  Chew on that one a little bit.  I have been for about three weeks.

The question was a catalyst for me.  I won’t bore you with all the details, but over the break I began to prune.  I chose an area of my life and began.   No more basic cable (why do I need local channels?), no more home phone (time to join this century!), no more station wagon (that extra vehicle costs even when you are not using it) and so on.  I’m just getting started.  I expect to be pruning for awhile!

What do you think?   I’ve lived all my life a kind of Carpe Diem kind of guy…only I like to think it has been Carpe AEternitas!  I grab the opportunity….move strategically ahead…not really in a type A ambitious sort of way, but to genuinely invest in others.  But I don’t think I have developed well the skill (or is it a spiritual discipline?) of saying no.  And I am beginning to suspect that all my yeses have in fact resulted in more nos than I have realized along the way.

I look forward to saying some powerful “Yes”.  But first, I have some catching up on “No” to do.