Posts Tagged ‘youth ministry’

My 30s were an incredible decade for me, bursting with fruit and influence and opportunity. The ripples of that decade continue to bring me joy almost daily.

If I look back to my 20s, they were hard but rich as I sank my roots deep in the Lord and in understanding a relational, discipleship approach to youth ministry. Fruit from that decade continues to encourage my heart as well.

My 40s have brought opportunity and fruit, but they have been really hard years, punctuated by pain. Some of the pain has been needed pruning. Some has been my own failures and disappointment. Some has been disillusionment. Some has come from standing up, sometimes alone, to wickedness. Some has been the violent storms of others lashing out as they worked through their own issues and damage. And some has been the dismissive indifference of those who think that going gray means becoming irrelevant.

This morning I was thinking all these things and asking the Lord if I could just skip the rest of the 40s and begin my 50s early. And He seemed to say, “Read Psalm 92.”

Before I quote from Psalm 92, let me say that I have asked the Lord in recent weeks to give me an image for this season of our youth ministry. I have received the word “Refresh” and the picture from Psalm 1 of the tree planted by streams of living water that brings forth fruit in its season. That is my context for reading Psalm 92 this morning.

Psalm 92:12-15. “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him.'”

Staying fresh and green with God as my Rock…

This morning I am teaching Confirmation class to some fifty 6th graders. So of course, I was thinking about basketball ūüėČ

That much is normal. What is not normal is that I was thinking about North Carolina basketball….in a positive light! Some of you won’t understand, but members of Big Blue Nation (University of Kentucky fans) are raised from birth to understand that the Tar Heels are the enemy!

How did I get there? This morning’s class was on our doctrinal distinctives. I was thinking about how we are often able to see because we stand on other’s shoulders. For example, John Wesley brought to the church an understanding from Scripture of God as a loving Father, but standing on the shoulders of others helped him see. Luther and Calvin are examples of those who had gone before and given great insight to the church.

And so I was thinking about Dean Smith, past coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Dean Smith is credited with so many innovations we now take as normal:

  • Huddling at the free throw line before a free throw attempt
  • Pointing a finger at the guy who made the assist
  • Giving the “tired” signal to the coach when a player needs a rest
  • Using multiple defenses in a game
  • Using the point guard to call out the defensive sets
  • And perhaps the most infamous, the ball control offense. Dean Smith managed to make the game so boring by effectively running the four corner offense that the NCAA instituted a shot clock to speed up play.

The kind of basketball that I and countless other fans love today – that of aggressive, fast-paced offense would not have been possible without Dean Smith’s extremely effective use of the rules of that day. In fact, it occurs to me now that when Kentucky wins their 8th National Championship on April 2nd, they may owe a sort of a debt of gratitude to Dean Smith!

I stand on the shoulders of more people than I can count. My dad’s integrity and humility. My mother’s hospitality and passion for the overlooked and the outcast. Dr. Kinlaw’s preaching. Jeff Blake’s encouragement. Hule Goddard’s mentoring. Rev. Slone’s teaching. Annamarie Hamilton’s grace. And on and on. I did a Facebook post once mentioning many who had invested in me…and on whose shoulders I stand to see.

Whose shoulders do you stand on?

And this may be another whole post, but while Dean Smith changed the game for the better…the final result looks like nothing he envisioned. As others stand on my shoulders and on yours, can we let them improve on what we have created even when it feels like dismantling? Looking back, how do we learn from those who went before to allow others to come after?

I see that people from five countries checked in on this blog in the last seven days. ¬†But since Suzanne Collins’ series on The Hunger Games has now been translated into 26 languages, I feel pretty safe in saying this pretty broadly: “You and I have been hearing about The Hunger Games for quite awhile now.”

Here in Tulsa and all over the U.S., people are camped out waiting for the midnight premiere to begin.  What are they waiting to see?

  • A cultural event (ala Avatar, Twilight or the Lord of the Rings)?
  • A film about teenagers killing one another?
  • A new teen romance?
  • Something more?
As uncomfortable as I am with a movie that normalizes teens killing one another, this movie promises to provide some rich opportunity for important conversation.  (If you are going to this film just for the entertainment value, I really hope you will check yourself and reconsider!)

I want to call your attention to three websites have done a great job setting the table for us to “plunder Egypt” on this film.

The first is Julie Clawson’s blog with the great article found here: ¬†

Julie’s insights are sharp. ¬†To restate them in my own words, ¬†I particularly appreciated her thought that this film event may create a unique opportunity to discuss oppression and and injustice in a context that has not been demagogued or dismissed yet. ¬†I also enjoyed her highlighting the irony of making a film that fights against the exploitation of teens as objects while objectifying and exploiting the young teen movie stars of the film. ¬†Julie has a book out on The Hunger Games and the Gospel. ¬†I have not read it, but I’ll bet it is worth a look.

The second website is  Put together by Asbury Seminary, it promises to be an outstanding collection of blogs and posts.  J.D. Walt and others in the Seedbed Team have created a conversation guide for the Hunger Games ready for digital download.  It appears to be free.  Check it out here:

This last one (from Relevant magazine) focuses on community and faith as possible discussion points.

I’d love to hear your thoughts over the next couple of weeks as you engage with this film and with the young people in your sphere of influence.

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 ūüôā

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!