Archive for the ‘youth ministry’ Category

ministry sledding

this is a list of all the things God involved me in in the past week:

  • the ending of a mission project
  • the inception of a new mission project
  • a new local connection in youth ministry
  • four new books that each had something it it that felt like it was there specifically because I needed to read it right then
  • the “end” of a very challenging conversation that offered me some clarity on the overall situation
  • the discovery of a an amazing leap forward in education (Digital Ethnography- KSU) that has loads of implications for youth ministry
  • memorized a new story
  • started a “Covert Ops” Christmas project with my volunteer team
  • wrapped up a middle school service project
  • filled a gymnasium with Straw
  • picked up a good book for a friend in ministry just at the right moment
  • toured a school for the blind and severely disabled in order to form a partnership with them and our high school group
  • created seven scarecrows with a bunch of 11-14 yr olds to investigate how they(the kids) are images of God
  • had a terrific conversation on the same topic with high school kids on understanding the opposite gender
  • sent an organization the details they needed in order to get their kids collecting gifts to give to people who need some extra help this holiday season
  • made plans to put two local youth groups together for, hopefully, the first steps in an ongoing relationships

I wish I could say I had some part in how any of that happened but, there’s no way I could do all that. It all just kind of landed in my lap without my realizing it was there and when I turned around and looked back at the week- it was like sledding-  I got this great run downhill with little flecks of cold stuff flying in my face and the wind and red cheeks and the laughing and hopefully that tree isn’t coming up too fast because this is SO MUCH FUN!


Book Review-Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry

I just read a book called Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry by a guy named Andrew Root. If nothing else I have to thank him for raising my reading level by a few grades just through being able to say I read the entire book and looked up a lot of words….and I have a degree in English(that’s like saying I went to college to spcifically to learn to read)

The book made good points about relationships, especially in youth ministry, being about the relationship, not about “earning” the right to influence the other person. That was already on my radar but it was good to  hear some reasons why spelled out so specifically by someone with more education and a better vocabulary than I have. And, unintenionally, Root steered me toward reading Bonhoeffer again. I’ve read him before but now I have a little more concept of his context and everything he had to say makes a lot more sense.

The thing that’s really worth wrestling with coming out of reading this book, though, is how to help the volunteers I work with internalize some of the ideas. One of the basic volunteer “needs” is a concrete idea of their role. To say “your role is to be create a reliable, deep realtionship with a kid; sharing the place they are and standing up for them when they can’t do it themselves” is not exactly concrete-it’s not like it just happens with every kid who walks into your life. Also, to provide programming that includes realtional opportunities is pretty easy but to provide THAT kind of in-depth work, on a regular basis with three different age groups and several different programming opportunities presents a significant challenge.

The book deserves at least a second read. It had some complicated diagrams I’d like to understand more fully, and I’d like to see where he might be going with it as an overall appraoch. I like/work toward/agree with the idea of teens being full members of their congregation with everything being available to them AND with youth-oriented programs being available to adults as well. It’s a complicated dynamic-messy as all getout-but it seems more in line with being fully human. Root’s book is pretty strong on that point-acknowleding the humanity in all.

to be or not to be (normal)

Have you ever felt not-normal and wanted to be normal?

Sometimes, actually quite often right now, I want a normal job, with regular hours and expectations. I want to the ability to talk to the other parents at my kids’ activities and feel like we’re living on the same plane of existence.  

But, then, at the same time you’re thinking yeah, I just want to be like everyone else, you also know you’d never be able to live that way? It’s just that it seems easier somehow, to float down the same part of the stream the rest of the world is floating down. What’s with that, exactly?

Layer that on top of constant thoughts that somehow I can do ______ better, more creatively, more sensitively, etc. but I don’t care enough to try. I think I should care. I’m expected to care. Why don’t I? It would just be so much easier to be doing something where it doesn’t matter if I care.

My husband says I think too much. Probably, he’s right. How do you stop thinking, though? I heard somewhere that women have a thicker corpus callosum. It’s the band of tissue between the two hemispheres of the brain which allows the hemispheres to communicate with each other. Apparently, what this means is that women are better multitaskers. Which, logically, means wwomen think about more at once. So, biologically, I can’t even rely on myself  to shut my brain down -I have to think and think about lot of things at one time. (currently I’m wondering if the laundry is dry, while I’m trying to figure out how to explain this and deciding what dinner is going to be)

So, exactly how does one stop thinking and start caring? Or live in the tension of being outside the normal while being in the midst of it?

So, you think you want to be in ministry?

Every year, one topic comes up in the ministry I work in: changes and the future. Granted, they’re teenagers so many of them don’t have much Past to work with yet. But, they spend a huge amount of time worrying about and planning  out their futures during their junior and senior years of high school.  There is no explaining to them that they cannot determine every single thing that’s going to happen for them for the rest of their lives. They believe, completely, that deciding what college or other path they’re going to take after high school is the last and biggest decision of their lives. (really, it’s pretty much the first, big decision they have ever had to make, but hey, they think they’re going to be old when they’re 28, too.)

So, Nick the Geek from the Stuff Christians Like blog came up with this quick, little ministry compatibility test to determine what type of ministry God’s going to call them into…because all youth group kids have to go into vocational ministry, donchaknow. Check it out.

Kid Magnet

I play a stupid MMOG (massively multiplayer) online game. It’s really dumb thing to waste my time on but therapeutic in it’s way. I just wander around the online world doing meaningless things and completely disconnect from whatever is going on in real life for a little while. When I log off I feel like I’m ready to tackle meaningless real world things, like doing the laundry or driving a kid to an activity or whatnot.

In these games you can chat with other players. If you need something you can trade or ask for help or say hello. I always reply to players who talk to me at least to be polite but I don’t interact with anyone regularly. It would conflict with the reasons I’m playing in the first place. However, from time to time I need help and if someone offers it, I accept and usually a “friend request” follows shortly after. It seems a little rude to accept help from someone then decline their friendship, so I accept those requests. Most of the people playing are kids and, as such, like texting lingo, can’t spell and/or have a limited vocabulary. It’s annoying to try to chat with them. Besides, adults hanging out on online games to chat with kids is just plain creepy.

That’s all background for this next bit of a story.

I was playing one afternoon and I had gotten into a patch of trouble with a scorpion that was kicking my butt. Another player came up and asked if I needed help. I wasn’t too deep in so I declined, but the player said he’d hang around in case I changed my mind. Most kids don’t do that. They have their own things to do and some are offended when they offer help and you don’t take it.

Sure enough, I needed some help shortly, so the other player (who, surprisingly, did hang around long enough for me to dig my own virtual grave) stepped in and helped me out of my situation with the scorpion. I thanked him and went on my way. He followed along for a little bit and kept chatting and asking questions. But the questions used real words, instead of text, and he was pleasant and intelligent to chat with. The inevitable occurred and he asked if I would add him as a friend. I did.

I trudged off through the desert leaving the town and it’s resident scorpion behind and this guy kept following me and talking. Really, by now, they’d usually be long gone. This guy though, was teaching me things about the game that were helpful, so I didn’t really think about it. After a while, my new friend, we’ll call him Archie, taught me to use this chat feature so I could talk to more then one person at a time. It was more pleasant than stressful and I almost regretted losing touch when I had to log off of that session.

So, the next day when I came back to the computer, my friend Archie was on again. He immediately started a conversation and also introduced me to another well-spoken, pleasant conversationalist friend. After a little while Archie logs off and leaves me with his friend who we’ll call Pooh. Pooh is much more socially chatty. He doesn’t just stick to the game; he talked about books, mostly fantasy stories that are inline with the game and school. He talked about how excited Archie was to have “recruited a girl into the clan”-lingo for somoene you make friends with, who will continue to talk and work with you in the game. Apparently that “girl” is me.

Ok, so now at least I have some idea that these two, however nice to talk with are “in school” and assume I am as well. It’s taboo to ask for ages online, but players often as how long somoene has been playing. Also, there’s no rule about offering to give information on your life-situation; you just can’t ask for it. 

I am leery of crossing boundaries, so I wanted to make sure these guys understood that I was not necessarily what they assumed. In talking with Pooh, I discovered that the two guys gare friends and attend the same school. I asked Pooh if he wanted to have a little fun with Archie the next day. He is up for pretty much anything, so I told him I’m a youth worker and that I’m 39 and have four children. There was just enough pause in the chat that I know I would have LOVED to have seen his face! However, graceful as always, his response was “Cool! Like with a youth group at church?”

I have a neighbor who I have known for years. She has three daughters two of whom I know quite well. A couple years ago she dubbed me “the Kid Magnet” because every time I walked in her house the girls immediately came downstairs to talk. Whatever that magnetism is, it works through computers, too.

I really thought the two guys on this game would pretty much drop contacting me once they knew about me. I was wrong. If anything they’ve gotten friendlier and more widespread in their topics and offering and accepting help. They play games with each other through me and have sort of included me as the third member of thier set. Granted, I made sure they could check on my being who I said I was by visiting the website of the church I work for and one is much more cautious than the other with giving away real life details. I repeatedly remind them not to tell me things after one of them trips up. I do know their ages and they’re not as old as I imagined, obviously, but beyond that I’ve promised to forget any other details about them if they mess up. They’ve never told me anything critical or information that someone could use to hurt them.

I play this stupid game to relax and disengage from real life. Since I talk to young people every day for work, and live with a couple you’d think that playing the game might just morph into more work time. And I think it could and probably will down the road. I know a few kids from my youth group play. But in the meantime, I enjoy chatting with these guys because they are thoughtful, intelligent and funny, just like I’d enjoy talking to my real life friends. They’ve reminded me of two things, God’s gotta have something to do with this youth ministry thing because I can’t hide from it anywhere and that the relationships I have with my family’s teens, my students and these guys really aren’t about anything other than enjoying some time together. It’s not about earning anything, expecting anything or being entitled to anything from them but because we communicate well and are willing to be a part of each other’s lives, even when we don’t live up to each other’s expectations.

When is a Frog not a Frog?

The Space trilogy by C.S. Lewis. I’ve read them before; a long time ago and had forgotten how much I like them. I’m through Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. I really love Perelandra, but I was talking to a friend who said he prefers Out of the Silent Planet by a longshot over the other two. To each his own, right?

I’m not sure why these books aren’t as popular as some of this others- Not the Chronicles of Narnia because they have that appeal to children, along with adults. These are definitely more adult oriented, but they also combine Christian philosophy within the story. Perelandra in particular is a largely about a faith struggle, so it lends itself to considering the puzzles of living in the shadow of the Fall.

The other writer I’ve enjoyed that has the same manner of writing the argument into a fictitous setting, is Brian McLaren. The difference with his works that are written that way is that the story’s purpose is the philosophical discussion whereas Lewis’ writing is a story that, by it’s nature, has to wrestle with the grander questions. Making assumptions would take away from his story.

Out of the Silent Planet is an action movie. Quick moving, lots of input, lots of characters to draw the readers’ attention. Perelandra is, I’d guess purposely, the opposite. Few characters, lush descriptions, little sense of physical danger excepting one section. There’s a last book (it is a trilogy after all) but I’m not through it yet, so that review will have to wait.

What Lewis really does well, as far as Story goes, is that he understands that the conventional assumptions we make can be challenged in the context of the Story intself. It’s not necessary to pull the questions out of the context, like we usually do in children’s Sunday School classes up through the adults’ sermons and lectures. If the Story has something to say, Lewis seems able to tease it out within the story itself. He doesn’t treat his readers with condescention, as if they are unable to figure out the point; so often we feel like we have to explain the story. If the story is worthwhile, can’t it stand by itself? Why do we feel such a need to dissect it and pull out the innards? Do you remember in High School Biology when you dissected a frog? it was a frog, but then those kids tear it to shreds and, really, if anyone took a look at what was left afterward, how many would know that it had started as a frog? How would our audiences know there was ever a Story there to begin with, if we insist on deconstructing it to prove our point? Sometimes, when you kiss a frog you get a Prince-what if we dissected the wrong frog?


Tying up loose ends

I’m working on finishing up several books. I got bored with a few of them in mid-read and put them down, to start looking at something else. That doesn’t mean the books were not worthwhile. I’m just easily distracted by the tempting back cover Read Me! sales pitch. I think I’m currently mid-stream on six different books which is well outside my informational absorbtion zone. So, I’m going to try to finish each one and write it up within the next two weeks.

I had two adult (gasp!) volunteer staff meetings this week to tie up the end of the year, evaluate where we stand in both our high school and middle school ministries. (Can I take a second to say how much I adore my volunteers before we move on? They’re amazing!) The high school meeting was good, the two rookies were understandably shell-shocked by what they heard from their kids in small group during the year and also felt like they “weren’t doing enough to teach anything”. Since that’s not the expectation for their role, it’s great to be able to tell them they’re doing a good job andthey can relax because teaching isn’t part of what they’re there to do. They are there to be with the kids in the crap of life. They all went out from the meeting realizing the others all had a similar experience and felt that it really good to find out that it matters to their kids that they showed up, listened and pointed at God each week. Nothing was out of the ordinary. They gave me some things to consider as the direction of that ministry for next year shifts away from this pit of a fundraising year and things roll on.

I just potentially wased a paragraph of your time. The middle school meeting recap is much more worthwhile reading. It’s a jumping off point for some good ministry in the future and also for some good ideas about the practical use of narrative in youth ministry.

The first half was similar to the high school team meeting. Then I asked a question: what are the topics or principles that you think our middle schoolers should have had some experience with in our ministry in the three years they spend in middle school with us? They started out trying to answer, but then just blew off the question and we talked about middle schoolers as an age group and related it to what we had done and if it had worked or not. We had a very organic conversation- things bubbled up from each of us through our differnt roles as parents of middle school aged children, middle school youthworkers, and middle school teachers.

We had tried reading Prince Caspian to the group for the last few weeks of the year. We didn’t finish the book; it was a lead up to going to the movie when it released. They loved that beyond anything any of us had imagined. Then we got into some of the activities we tried over the course of the year that had worked well for the kids-none of the silly game kinds of things came to mind, but the times we asked them to plan the lesson and the times when they had to work together to build (or wreck) something did. None of this is ministry altering news on one hand, but on the other hand-why try things that don’t work? The kinds of lesson plans and games that our team thinks are easier to run, or will get our point across to them were the ones least likely to work out. The risks we took, the open-ended experiments and the times when we did nothing more than read a good book out loud were our most memorable nights. The whole conversation was simply energizing.

After I came home, I took a good hard look at everything we mentioned working out well with the middle school students. All of it was narrative in some form.  Everything.  We read a story to them. They invented their own lessons based on scripture passages-they all chose something narrative to explain their ideas about the passages and refrained from explaining their point. I’m assuming they thought their message was loud and clear through their storylines. (and, no, none of them was assigned a parable), they invented music videos, commercials and told stories every time they were asked to come up with their own ideas. We had a progressive meal event where they moved from one place to another. They turned it into a quest in search of dessert!

If my 11-14 years old students know, intuitively, that a great Story exists out there they can take a part in, why do we adults work so hard to tease out the meaning for them? Maybe it’s time to let them tell us the Story for a while. We may find out that we don’t have it down as well as we think we do.