There's something different about us...

Yesterday, walking downtown to pick up a friend of mine, who's in town for Urbana 06, I ended up behind a bunch of young adults from the same conference. I walked with them for a half-block or so and then one of the guys in front called back, "Hey, guy in orange!" (I was wearing orange, duh!) "Do we know you?"

"No," I said.

"Well, we do now." That started a pretty cool conversation; who we all were, where we worked, which ministries we wanted to be part of. And I thought how cool that was, that these people were willing to start talking. And I firmly believe that's one of the marks we need to be building up in our youth; a readiness to meet new people and become their friends, even in short doses like my walk between the parking place and the hotel.


Heaven is a place where batteries are included

Heaven is a place where batteries are included.

Slot A always matches tab B.

All the boltholes are completely threaded.

Heaven is a place where gas stations don't sell gifts, so you're never tempted to give less than your best.

Anyone else in the spirit tonight?


Christmas in Michigan

Happy Christmas, everyone! I'm in Michigan-- it was a big surprise for most of my family that I flew up, and I'm enjoying a few days seeing some friends while I'm here.

Hope God grants you safe travel, good gifts, and loving folks to surround you this season!


What do we think?

Is this guy taking seriously Jesus' command to go into all the world and make disciples, or is he risking his job and reputation unnecessarily?

Talk in Class turns to God, Setting off Public Debate on Rights (NYTimes)

Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.
“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”


The Brand-Name Giving Plan

I've been having a running discussion with one of my students about what he should put on his Christmas list. He has all the basics covered-- the ipod, the video game chair with built-in speakers, a new belt, but mostly, he says, "I just want people to give me money."

By now he should have figured out that I'm not going to help in the way he thinks I should. I keep giving him alternative ideas. "Why do you have to have more than three things on the list?" I asked.

"Well, I have a lot of people to send it to," he told me.

"So tell them to surprise you."

"That wouldn't work out very well." (in my mind, I replaced this with "Then I'd never get what I really wanted.")

"So tell them to give the money they would have spent on your gift to give medical care to orphans in the Third World."

"I don't think that's a very good idea." (He'd debated against it at a tournament, he told me, and won.) "Besides, how much are you giving to the orphans?"

He had me there, actually. My Christmas list at that point did not include medical care for Third World orphans. But I wanted to see if there was a way to make that kind of a gift. For me, it would be simple enough to budget the roughly $20 it costs for that kind of care through World Vision, but I had another goal in mind. I wanted to develop a way to challenge my students to raise that support as well.

This is the basic outline. Make a list of all the things you buy every month that are brand-name or designer-made. Search diligently, with Magi-like intensity, for a generic brand of the same product you can live with, and figure out the difference between the two. Each time you make a purchase, substituting the non-brand item, put the money you save in an envelope and at the end of the month, or whenever it adds up to the right amount, send it in.

Can anyone see refinements that need making to this idea or similar plans that might catch students' attention?


Nine days, they tell me...

Here's what I was thinking about Christmas last year, back when the RYW blog was brand new (been going for a full year now): Did We Kill Him Because He Cried?

And something far less reverent, but still illustrating in some small way the hope this season brings: a video to "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses, a song I just heard the other day, I think for the first time.


Here's why I'm gone...

I've been sick, is the reason, and away from the Internet connection at my office, so this blog has been slow. Here's a couple of things to check out: The first is a piece by Mark Shea, from his blog, about how belief is shifting toward Christmas being a Christian holiday first, and a pagan holiday second, in response to the Christian celebration! Tip of the hat goes to my dad for linking this over to me.

"For the fact is, our records of a tradition associating Jesus' birth with December 25 are decades older than any records concerning a pagan feast on that day.

[T]he definitive "Handbook of Biblical Chronology" by professor Jack Finegan (Hendrickson, 1998 revised edition) cites an important reference in the "Chronicle" written by Hippolytus of Rome three decades before Aurelian launched his festival. Hippolytus said Jesus' birth "took place eight days before the kalends of January," that is, Dec. 25.

Tighe said there's evidence that as early as the second and third centuries, Christians sought to fix the birth date to help determine the time of Jesus' death and resurrection for the liturgical calendar—long before Christmas also became a festival."

The second is a recipe for my mother's party punch and remarkable get-better beverage, of which I am drinking large quantities, partly for the bolus of vitamin C, partly for the sheer liquid joy that makes my throat feel nicer, but mostly because it's something I don't make very often.

A can of orange juice
A can of cranberry juice
A can of lemonade
A 2-liter bottle of ginger ale.

Pour a third of each juice concentrate, add three cans of water and a third of the bottle of ginger ale, into a pitcher. Shake it, stir it, whatever; drink it when it's as fresh as possible.


A Story from Bethlehem

We took our group out to St. Charles, to Harvester Christian Church, for their Journey to Bethlehem event, last night. I rode out with one of our church school teachers and his six-year-old daughter. One of the features of this event is that all the volunteers, even the parking lot attendants, are in character.

So we pulled up to the driveway to the church and spotted a shepherd at the entrance, waving people in. "Look who's standing there!" Bill said to his daughter.

She looked out at him from the backseat and said "God?"


Why I want to be a children's minister

It's not only that younger kids believe the things you tell them (which is both an upside and a downside) it's also that they're so much more willing to say exactly what they mean.

At Advent Family Night on Sunday, I was talking with a few kids who were making Nativity scene felt boards, and said I thought it looked really easy. "Then why don't you make one?" said one little girl, who was having her dad cut out all the pieces.

I said I would, but I didn't really want to. So I kept talking, and hoped she'd forget. A few minutes later, the same little girl looked up at me and said "Well, hurry up and do your thing!"

So here it is. I'm not much for perfect inside-the-lines stuff, but I think it turned out all right.


Pros and Cons of tech in ministry

This morning I have a confession that will not surprise anyone. I want to announce that I am a tech-addicted youth minister. As we were working on next year's budget, I made a short list of things to pick up should mysterious money be left in any odd corners, and all of them, from an updated cell phone with a Bluetooth headset, to the new Nintendo wii (for the sixth graders, strictly for the students!) were tech items.

After this year's NYWC, I came home all fired up about MediaShout, which as a program truly is all it promises, and using videos in our youth events. Our little Canon digital camcorder comes to all the events, and the next day the youth minister spends some time splicing and editing to make quick highlight reels for the next Sunday, to show all the folks who weren't there what they missed. When other churches join us for events, they get copies of the videos too.

In a lot of ways, tech is a good tool. But it can also be a distraction. When I'm stuck on a video problem, or surfing through iTunes trying to find the perfect soundtrack to go with a clip, a lot of time goes by, and it's easy (for an often hyper-focused person) to push everything else on the list further down. So what are the pros and cons of tech in ministry?


Youth know tech. They've been surrounded by it their whole lives and are fascinated by it. Learning it myself gives me a connection to students and a way to offer them ownership of the ministry.

Tech (especially video) appeals to visual learners. It's an effective way to drive the message past filters the teenage mind uses to screen out things they can't interact with, and thus aren't relevant.

Tech can (believe it or not) save time. Just one website, Bible Gateway, lets me find the Bible verses I need for talks and studies when I just know a few words of the quote. Mapquest (Google Maps, whatever; not trying to be exclusive) gets me where I'm going without digging through the paper maps myself.

These, of course, are just a few.


Tech can be a crutch that I hide behind when I haven't really prepared properly. It's easy to throw up flashy, meaningless video, knowing it will catch kids' attention, when what I really want to do is pretend I spent more time working on the lesson than I actually did.

Tech can isolate me from my students. When I go to a place using better tech than I have, my first reaction (which I sometimes, to my chagrin, allow to be the only reaction) is to run home and spend however long it takes making my setup shine just as much. It's a keeping up with the Joneses thing, but it means I'm not out finding students and living truth into their lives; I'm in my office tinkering with my computer.

Tech can make the church seem just like any other place my students go. If I'm using tech and excluding silence, candlelight, the Eucharist, other things the church has that are unique, I'm ignoring the raw power of God's story to change lives, and relying on "relevance."

I'm not going to give up tech, but with anything so labor-intensive and two-edged, it pays to keep both sides in mind.


NASA plans permanent base on the moon

"While the Bush administration and NASA have spoken in general terms about plans for a return to the Moon, followed by human spaceflight to Mars, the lunar outpost plan is the first time officials have proposed a permanent presence.
”We’re going for a base on the Moon,” Mr. Horowitz said. “It’s a very, very big decision.” (Photo from NASA's Earth Observatory)

Let's dream big for a moment, fellow servants of the Word-- what's your biggest, brightest, most spectacularly out-of-this-world goal?

Personally, I would love to be the first youth minister on Mars.


Good Read: Workplace Chaplaincy

Talking to my mom the other day, she suggested that airports during the holidays would be excellent places to minister, providing care packages and other practical services to travelers who might be stuck, worried or otherwise in need.

With that in mind,
this article caught my eye this morning, in the New York Times. Workplace chaplains are apparently becoming more popular, turning out to be less expensive than traditional employee-assistance and counseling programs, and creating "faith-friendly" workplaces. Paralleling the military model, these chaplains are not expected to evangelize, but to serve employees of all faiths and help meet their needs.

"Companies tailor the chaplaincy program to their culture. Cardone Industries, a Philadelphia company that refurbishes auto parts for resale, draws its chaplains, almost all lay people, from its employees. Other corporations, like American LubeFast and Herr Foods, contract with an outside company like Marketplace Chaplains to provide chaplains. Some, like Tyson Foods, which started its program in 1999, have their own chaplains, 127 of them at about 250 of the company’s more than 300 plants in North America, said Allen Tyson, the company’s head chaplain, who is not related to the founders of the company."


Complaints Choir of Birmingham

I think this is a neat idea-- a complaints workshop that collects what's wrong with people's lives and makes them into a choral piece. All church councils should go through a process like this, to get them used to saying things out loud, for one, and for another to be able to laugh at the things that turn out not to be important later on.


Should have seen this one coming

Talking with a student (who's home sick from school) this morning, he sent me a link to this story, a CBS report on teenagers not getting enough sleep. It's pretty standard stuff; he was pulling the story for a debate project, and we started talking about how schools need to move their start times so their students' bodies can sleep and wake at their natural times, rather than forcing awakeness to get to school early.

I pointed him toward a couple of sources I knew about but then had to run to staff meeting. "One more thing before you go," he said. "I think church should start at noon... you know, so I can get enough sleep."

When there aren't any lines to read between

...people will create some...

DENVER, Nov. 28 — Peace is fighting back in Pagosa Springs.

"Last week, a couple were threatened with fines of $25 a day by their homeowners’ association unless they removed a four-foot wreath shaped like a peace symbol from the front of their house... Mr. Trimarco said he put up the wreath as a general symbol of peace on earth, not as a commentary on the Iraq war or another political statement."
Come on, folks, if peace on earth was good enough for the angels...


Sometimes we hear the Gospel...

...and sometimes we are the Gospel.

I walked into church yesterday and ran into two students who I see every week. One's first words to me were, "Can I borrow your car?"

"No," I said. "Why?" Students ask this all the time, for whatever reason. I've got my answer very well-rehearsed.

"So-and-so isn't here, and I want to go get him." She actually used his real name, but I won't.

"Great," I said, pulling out my car keys, "Let's go."

So we went. We got lost, and we played on a skateboard (while we waited for so-and-so) and we almost went to McDonald's for breakfast, and we got back just in time to get some Jesus and get to class.

So-and-so didn't hear the sermon, but what he knows is that people at church notice when he isn't there, and that makes us miss him, and that makes us do something about his absence. I didn't hear the sermon either, but four of my kids got to see that I will reach out for them even if reaching into their lives interrupts mine.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers of the RYW blog! I hope you're all having a great and relaxing day.

I can hear you thinking "Relaxing? Is he serious?" Well, I'll share two things that should help. The first is the email I sent to the church school teachers this week with their lesson plan:

"I hope you'll get some rest. In fact, go to your to-do list right now, cross something off and replace it with "Rest and be with God." It's vital that we relax so that we're at our best when God needs our attention."

And the second is this recipe for pizza sauce, either for a turkey emergency or the aftermath of the world's biggest shopping day, tomorrow.

1 15-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, any brand
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon shredded or ground parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons pizza seasoning
I clove crushed garlic

Put all the ingredients in a blender and pick a button. When it's smooth, put it in a saucepan and simmer for 90 minutes.

Happy Thanksgiving, blessed children of God!
(Photo is hard rolls for 35, my contribution to dinner tonight!)


Interesting parallel here

The day after I post about students' dress in (and out of) worship, this article in the New York Times, on doctors with the same basic problem and how it affects their performance, or at least how their performance is perceived by their supervisors and patients.

"Every day, it seems, I see a bit of midriff here, a plunging neckline there. Open-toed sandals, displaying brightly manicured toes, seem ubiquitous.
My observations may partly reflect the city in which I work, Miami, a subtropical place known for its racy clothes. But colleagues who practice elsewhere report that they, too, have seen medical students and young doctors show up for clinical work in less-than-professional attire.
'Poor choice is not regional — I’ve seen it everywhere,' said Dr. Pamela A. Rowland, a behavioral scientist and director of the office of professional development at Dartmouth Medical School, who has studied the impact of physician clothing on patient confidence. 'It always surprises me when there are dress codes for staff but not for physicians.'”

Someone whose name I can't remember said that the church is the only organization that exists specifically for people who don't yet belong to it. For their sake, let's suspend judgment of people's clothes until we've had the chance to look at their hearts, because when we find out what they really need from us as the body of Christ, chances are we'll lay aside all the external issues. If there's one thing Jesus' choice of disciples should teach us, it's that our performance has nothing to do with how we look.


Purpose-Driven Beard

I grew my goatee so my face wouldn't look embryonically young, but these guys have a cause-- men's health!

"Movember (the month formally known as November) is a charity event held during November each year.At the start of Movember guys register with a clean shaven face. The Movember participants known as Mo Bros then have the remainder of the month to grow and groom their moustache and along the way raise as much money and awareness about male health issues as possible. Movember culminates at the end of the month at the gala parties. "

Theology Tuesday: A theology of dress

On Sunday morning, as I was walking up to the altar for Communion, the usher looked at me as I went past and whispered, "See me after church!" Now, immediately after communion each week, I run down to the gym to get set up for the flood of kids who gather after the service for fellowship before class, and as soon as that was done I went up looking for the usher. And couldn't find him, of course. I went home, then, without knowing what he'd needed to see me about.

He just left my office, and now I know. Apparently, on Sunday, a few of my students were hanging out in the Great Hall, and their mere presence was affecting the dignity of the whole church. (The fact that the whole church couldn't see them, only folks who weren't in worship, which is an entirely different issue, isn't good for theology and won't be covered here except for this eyebrow-raise.)

What was affecting the dignity of the church was the way these kids were dressed. Apparently the boys' pants hang down too far, and the girls' shirts go up too high. And it's bad for the dignified image of the church. And it's my job as the youth minister to stop it.

That's the setup. Now for the theology. As usual, there is Scriptural support on both sides. When Samuel anointed David king of Israel, God's word was "Don't look at his outside, because that's not what I look at. I know what's in his heart." But in the NT, there's a story about guests at a wedding banquet. The host had gone out into the alleyways and dark corners looking for guests, because the original guest list all made excuses, but the one guy who showed up without a proper wedding suit was thrown out.

What's a poor youth minister to do? God wants people to come to worship because that's our highest act as humans, connecting with God who made us. Jesus seems to have told us many times that the dignity of the church wasn't the main thing; in fact, those who focused on dignity and appearances were keeping themselves away from God, because serving God means getting down and dirty with people who need help.

The deepest question in all of this is "Does my outer self show the condition of my inner life?" Will a close relationship with God convict me of the need to dress perfectly when I come to God's house, or does that friendship allow me to be comfortable walking in, grabbing a beer from God's fridge, and crashing on the couch to watch "CSI" with my Creator?

The answer that I've come to after wrestling with it every Sunday morning at the ironing board, is that a church in right relationship with God comes to worship ready to work. The clothes we wear should reflect our willingness to go out and serve God's people after being strengthened by His word.

Which to pick

No apologies for the hiatus I've been inadvertantly taking here at the Rookie Youth Worker, I'm getting ready to move to a new apartment, and the stress-o-meter between that and all the events we've been putting on at CSMSG stays high. Yesterday afternoon I went up to Starbucks on Hanley and Wydown to troll for students, since it's just up the street from one of the schools where a lot of our kids go, and I purposely brought no real work along, just the Leonard Sweet book "Out of the Question, Into the Mystery" which is about maintaining relationship with God, and I highly recommend. Today, therefore, I feel muchly relaxed and able to get once again into the meaty issues of faith with a new segment which I 'll call "Theology Tuesday."

In an effort to keep myself accountable to writing this blog, I'm working up a sort of programming schedule, so you'll know what to look for on certain days of the week, and be able to post irate comments (in the love of Christ) when I fall short.

Theology Tuesday works just like it sounds-- on Tuesdays I'll post about theology. Are you ready? Good.



Sunday our middle school youth group baked cookies and stuffed boxes for our college students' first care package. We've got it in our goals that eventually the college folks hear from us every month, and this year as a step toward that we needed to get these boxes out.

I'm all about giving kids hints about things to write, especially to people they don't know really well. When we did soldiers' Christmas cards last month, I started including examples of things to write on the screen. The tradition continued this time with a few example notes, funny ones that I intended to be a launchpad for these kids' imaginations.

"Dear ______," one began, "God loves you even if you get an F." This one I told them straight out was just there for fun, and they were good about not using it. But the next two were favorites, showing up on almost all the postcards.

"Dear ________, we hope you're having a great year. These cookies will make you smarter. Love, the youth group at CSMSG."

"Dear _______, these cookies are to help you get through your exams. They have all the answers on the bottom. Love, the youth group at CSMSG."


Good Read November 13th, 2006

Since I work in a parish with a school that shares our building, this story, in the Christian Science Monitor, caught my eye:

"In Britain, families to go church so kids can go to school"

One-third of the state-funded sector - 7,000 schools - are faith-based. Most are Christian (Roman Catholic or Church of England), many of which date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, when churches provided the only free basic education available to poor children.

When the schools are oversubscribed, admission is often governed by regular church attendance and energetic parish involvement. Some schools even require parents to get a document from the local priest attesting to their attendance and commitment. For parents like Allen, a bit of time helping at the Christmas bazaar or hosting a coffee is infinitely preferable to consigning her daughter to a bad school.

"It's been a really great way of getting into the community and getting to know people," she says. "You'll find very few people who get their kids into the school and then disappear."

Apparently folks who don't go to church aren't all that happy about it, saying that the church schools' real mission is to convert people and grow church memberships, but on the bottom line this is very much Jesus-style evangelism-- a way to meet a real human need (good education) and expose each person to faith at the same time.

They don't always say what you want them to...

The middle school students were just starting to flow into the gym yesterday for our second round of their youth group when I saw one of them on the phone. Her dad had dropped her off five minutes before and I was mingling around and saying hi to everyone while a few of my favorite YouTube videos were going on the screen. Since I'd never seen anyone else's phone work in our gym, I took a step over to ask how good the service was, and overheard this:

"There are weird people here, will you come and get me?"


Because it matters when you do

In a previous parish, one of my students was trying to convince me to give blood, when her high school was sponsoring a blood drive.

"They don't need my blood," I said. "It's only one pint anyway."

"Do you vote?" Alexis asked.

"Of course."

"Why? It's just one vote." She had me.

In honor of election day, when we proudly celebrate (with stickers, even) how we can each be part of the political process, I offer this list of other things we should all do, because it matters if one person does.

Pray. Jesus promised God is listening, even to one prayer at a time.
Tithe. Preventing your stewardship chair from worrying is a ministry all its own.
Give blood. Yes, they need a lot. But you can always make more.
Recycle. It's easy. No excuses.
Vote. Or quit complaining.
Volunteer with the youth group. Shameless plug there.
Write a letter to the editor. Someone will read it. Something will change.
Ask "How are you?" and make time for the whole story.
Start an honest conversation with someone from another faith.
Open your eyes in the morning and say "Thank you, God." Do it first, before you get distracted.

Not even sure what to say about this...

Today, I was working on the DVD of CSMSG's parenting seminar from this past week, and needed new DVD discs, so went over and bought some. This is a photo of the box.

Notice the claim the company makes for this particular line of discs. They have "100% shatterproof cases." The speed of the disc isn't important anymore, or the quality of the material, just the shatter-proof-ness of the case.

The case is made of paper. Light cardboard, actually. So of course it won't shatter; cardboard doesn't do that.

I think this is on the same level as a church that evangelized by sending letters to all the neighbors saying "You are pre-approved for Heaven!" True, yet still somehow misleading.


A Quote

I had a conversation about everything with one of my students last night, and toward the end of it he said the following:

"I know God's perfect and all, but I think He could have done a better job about some things!"

I was so proud of him. Proud of his candor and the weight on his heart that led him to think about how the world might be made a better place.


What did this mom do right?

CSMSG hosted a parenting seminar last night with Mark DeVries of Youth Ministry Architects. The topic was "Stacking the Stands for our Kids." Essentially, surrounding students with adults who care about them so that even when parents aren't seeming to have any traction in a kid's life, that kid can't go far without running into another adult who has his eternal future in mind.

One of the points that came out of a discussion on the movie "The Horse Whisperer" was that when moms are in trouble, they call Robert Redford.

Actually, that was a joke Mark made while talking about the movie. The point was in a story one mom told. "This student I teach," she began, telling us about a 12-year-old boy, "never really let on what he was feeling until one day we were working outside. Then, as we worked, he started to talk about all these things that were going on in his life, and I thought, 'I never knew he felt all that.'"

"When we got in the car to go home," she went on, "I realized I was going to have to learn to shoot baskets."

This mom did two things right, and they're important ones. She let a conversation happen where the student was comfortable, for one. She realized that her adult way of working out problems (talking about them, when talking about them was the whole activity) wasn't going to reach this student, who needs some third object to focus on in order to open up the deeper side of his brain. And she decided to adapt herself so she could meet the need in his life for someone who would listen, not insist that the child adapt to her style or talk to her next time on her terms.

Parents, when you hear someone say something like this and it's new to you, give it a try. It works. Not always right away, but play some ball and squish some bugs and you're practically in. Youth ministers, find out where this lady lives and go recruit her for your congregation, because she's figured out what it takes to get kids to open up, and put it into practice in her own life.


Cross-Pollinating training

I ran across this article this morning, on airline pilots helping to train medical professionals.

"...some doctors balk at the rote quality of the procedures, claiming that they are unnecessary and undermine their authority.
“I had one surgeon tell me that checklists are for the lame and weak,” said Professor Helmreich of the University of Texas.
Even the most recalcitrant tend to come around, however, when a safety check catches one of their mistakes, possibly saving a patient and preventing a malpractice suit."

What field could youth ministers cross-pollinate with to improve our training, or offer improved training to another field?


Prayers, please.

"When the Devil comes to me in my bed and reminds me of my sins, I say to him, 'Yes, I know, but now I am trying to sleep, so go away." --Martin Luther

The first time you hear the little voice in your head saying "Isaac, your life is a lie," you can say back, "Don't start with me." The second and third time, when it also says "Why would they [my students] believe you anyway," and comes with a bunch of small, annoying misfortunes (forgetting supplies, getting lost, being late, losing volunteers at the last second,) it's easier to hear, and more tempting to listen to.

Jeanne Mayo has a great article in the "Youth Ministry Basics" column in the brand-new issue of Group, dealing with common distortions that get in the way of ministry, and the first thing she reminds us all is that we're not alone, that we all hear the same accusations. That must mean we can help each other.

Please pray for me, and I'll do the same for all of you.


Sunday Poll on Saturday

My answering machine says I have back-to-back soccer games this morning, and it's true... on the calendar, anyway. Neither game happened, although I went to both fields, starting when the sun was barely up! (Okay, that's a little exaggeration. I sat in the car and listened to Car Talk, which I never get to hear live, and that redeemed the time, although seeing the kids play would have made the morning.) I guess the fields were squashy because we've spent a week under rain, and while I think mud would make soccer more fun, I'm not in charge (and freezing cold mud might be less than pleasant.)

So instead of watching soccer games, I read a couple of stories about soccer games, and both are worth a look:

This article is about the "Silent Saturday" trend, where parents are not allowed to coach or cheer from the sidelines, in the interest of keeping games non-violent.

"In Naples, Fla., a straight shot across the Everglades from Weston, parents were told they'd draw fines every time they opened their mouths.
"We got parents coming up to us, saying, `Here's $35, $45. I know I'm going to say something,' "

And this is a commentary piece on the Snack Parent. While I think it should have been funnier, it's not really intended as a Dave Barry-type treatment, but a serious call to action.

"Are none of us reading about the obesity of our young people? Do you think it helps their well-being that after every sporting event our children gorge themselves Fall-of-Roman-Empire style on extra calories, extra sugar, extra hydrogenated fat? I recently sat down with Annette O’Neill, a registered dietitian and bona fide nutritionist, and asked her, “Do you think it’s a good idea for our kids to have Cheetos and Kool-Aid after a sporting event?” Her response: “Uh, no.”

That story brings me to my poll question. In the past two weeks, we here at CSMSG have had no fewer than four events that served pizza. We always end up with too much of it, and the youth minister doesn't always want his fridge stuffed with day-old Dominos. Is anyone using healthier food than pizza in youth ministry events? How does it work? Do you cook? Do parents? Do the youth? Do you not feed people at all?


How'd you find me?

I've been doing some work on Myspace, since all of CSMSG's students are there, practically, and Brian Schulenberg was completely right; you can be amazed by poking through the friends lists of your students! I put up a quick profile and started digging for students to see what they're up to and give me another angle to let them know what's going on and that they are being prayed for.

The most common response I'm getting back is "How did you find me on here?" Apparently they assume I'm old. Now, the truth is that they're all connected on each other's profiles, so all I had to do was get friended by the first three, and then the doors opened up for me to get in and find folks.

At the same time, the question is good and bad. Bad because it shows me that these kids still do think they're unfindable on Myspace, which is the biggest danger, but good because it lets me keep up the image that I know everything. Which is a tradition passed to me by my youth minister, who was quite proud of it.


Kansas City Star Article

A tip of the hat to Out of Ur for finding this story in the Kansas City Star. "Church's Challenge: Curb that Criticism"

Here's the point:

"Thou shalt not whine.
This past summer the Rev. Will Bowen challenged his Christ Church Unity congregation to go 21 days straight without complaining. Then he added sarcasm and gossip to the shalt nots.
To help everyone remember, he gave each a purple elastic wristband.
The rules were simple: If you complain, you have to switch the band to the other wrist and start over. This was on an honor system."

The whole story is worth the read. The pastor says there's a process you can go through to become complaint-free, and the first step is becoming aware that you complain.

Okay. So far this morning I've complained about traffic (everyone for some reason wanted to get to work this morning and I was near the end of the pack on Kingshighway); about my flu shot (it's useful, but not fun, even with a baseball bandaid and a rootbeer flavored sucker) and, going back a little farther, about having to get up.

Maybe I'll call for one of those purple bands.


While it's fresh in my mind

Just came home from our first middle school youth group night, and realized that I had actually said, on tape and out loud, to a student, the following: "I get to send you home in 20 minutes. Have as many cupcakes as you want!"

That's just about as good as what another student said to me yesterday: I was advising time to listen to God, and was interrupted with, "That's how you act about your future wife, Isaac. You need to go out there and find women!"

I will be doing the "I love my job" dance for months on those two comments alone...


A lost post...

Scroll down about three entries for a lost post from earlier this week, that stayed in the drafts file rather than making it out to you, the reader!

The World Series makes me happy!

It's the Tigers and the Cardinals, baby!

Detroit and St. Louis start game 1 of the Series tonight, and I can't lose, since they're both sort of my teams!

It's not entirely fair to pray over a baseball game, but I'll be hard at work, trying to give the Cardinals a little divine advantage...


Gum Tree video

This is one of the most touching ideas I've seen for a while. Bravo to this guy for creating this kind of adventure for his son.


Why a non-trip isn't enough

Last year in Nashville, during a missions-focused lunch with Jim Hancock and Rich van Pelt, I heard this idea for the first time.

"People who work or live in places where we lead mission trips would rather have the money we spend on the trip directly than the week of work by students we can bring them."

Since all of us are becoming more aware of the stewardship required of us, in money, time, natural resources, etc. this idea is getting more and more play. The numbers are pretty large; in another parish I served, the mission trip took $11,000 in fundraising to pull off. Reading through any of the alternative-gift catalogs (places like World Vision and Heifer Int'l, for example) you can see that $11k is enough to make a pretty sizable difference in someone's life, sometimes even beating back poverty and illness for an entire village.

So the idea of gathering money and sending it in lieu of workers has a lot of merit. But like all ideas that live at the poles of a discussion, it's not good enough.

Neither, of course, is short-term missions, by itself. We're finding that out every year as some kids have their lives transformed, and others look the whole week through the lens of the water park trip at the end, or the chance to be in a strange new place and explore it a little. One week of missions, while intended as a life-changer, more often affects the week before and after the trip, and then tails off again.

Youth need to take these trips so they can see what life is like for people who need our service, and get the fire in the belly to do something about the conditions we're called by God to address. And people in the areas we serve need continuing support (either directly or through missions groups that work there year-round) to make sure the effect on their lives lasts more than a week too.

We'll accomplish much more with a lifestyle of missions than with a trip a year. Part of our preparation should be raising money to help the people we're going to serve. The work itself is another important part. And the third, ongoing part, is working with students, one-on-one or in small groups, to decide what they'll do about what they've seen. The result of this lifestyle will be better conditions for people who need them today, and a generation of students who see their entire lives as mission trips tomorrow.

A step in the right direction

According to this story in the New York Times today, parents, both married and single, are spending more time with their children.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 — Despite the surge of women into the work force, mothers are spending at least as much time with their children today as they did 40 years ago, and the amount of child care and housework performed by fathers has sharply increased, researchers say in a new study, based on analysis of thousands of personal diaries.

This is the kind of study we need to see more of-- I can imagine the researchers sneaking into windows and digging under pillows to find diaries to analyze. It's a step in the right direction for sure-- now that parents have been caught paying attention to their kids, let's slip some devotion books into those diaries too!


Writing to the need

Up in Michigan, I worked with a pastor whose congregation included a retired Bishop. In a preaching class, Pr. Jon told us that the most common preaching question people asked him was "Don't you get nervous with the Bishop in your congregation?" He always answered "No," because the Bishop had himself spent years preaching and knew the pressure pastors were under to come up with a sermon every week. What made him nervous, he said, was seeing a new person in the back row on Sunday morning. "What brought that person here this morning, and will this sermon speak to that need?"

Last night we held our first high school youth gathering, called DropZone. Going along with our JUMP theme for the year, we decided to name the group DropZone because after leaping out of the airplane, or into a commitment of faith, the next important thing you need is a safe place to land. So our youth group's name is "DropZone-- a safe place to land." I'd decided not to go easy on anyone with the first meeting, or have much fluff in it at all-- I wanted the idea of our mission as Christians to come out strong, so our project was learning about hunger and poverty and how we could help to solve them, and I spoke on the Great Commission.

The two phrases I think are really important from that passage (Matthew 28:16-20) are "but some doubted" (vs. 17b) and "And I will be with you always." (vs. 20b) The first phrase doesn't leave anyone out of the mission; it says that perfect faith isn't required to follow Jesus, just a pair of good shoes and the willingness to do what Jesus does. The second phrase reminds us that we're not alone, that there's nothing to be afraid of, and no excuse for not going along. The whole passage is like a classified ad for a job with Jesus, and the headline says "No experience necessary-- on the job training will be provided!"

I had a conversation with a student last week about doubts. And when I came across the "but some doubted" note in Matthew's Gospel, I felt the Spirit move through it and grabbed on. It was something I'd never considered important before that reading, but I couldn't get away from that insight. And that same student came up to me afterward and said "That's exactly what I'm struggling with. Did you do that on purpose?"

When we hear about a need in our ministries, we need to speak to that need. It's not just one student who's having it; that one was just brave enough to bring it up.


Birth of a ministry (that leaves my thumbs sore)

I started text-messaging a bunch of my students today, first thing as I got into work and put away all the stuff from the Austin conference. Just a quick note letting them know I was praying for them and that they should have a great day. And what do you know? One of them texted back to share some heavy thoughts. Which led to a real phone call and will lead to a lot of prayer and a face-to-face in short order. The message only took me a second to send, but I was blown away by how fast it started to work. This meeting youth on their turf thing has some promise, (the youth minister realizes way later than everyone else!)

Brian Shulenberg had a lot to say about that in his seminar "Why Myspace, Xanga, Facebook, and Blogs are Changing all the Rules in High School Ministry." It's not that becoming savvy with technology and interactive whatnot will give me an open door into every one of my students, but it'll crack the window with one or two more.

The main thing youthworkers need to be, this seems to say, is flexible. We can't afford to pass any new medium by without giving it a look, (although with the amount of work that takes, we'll also probably be praying for a lot of new Betamax-type things that don't go anywhere.)

In the meantime, all the students I have cell phone numbers for are now in my little Nokia, and I have a new way to pass the time at red lights-- sending out these little electronic pats on the back to help them through!


On your way out...

...get some barbecue!

Even in the airport, I have to find good food, so just now my dear friend and colleague Marty C and I stopped at the Salt Lick BBQ in the Austin airport for brisket and beer. This place does a fantastic job; the brisket and turkey were both tender, smoky and juicy. The house sauce is thin and tangy and they serve coleslaw, beans and potato salad, and soft bread to go along with the main course. The beans were just a little sub-par, but since I'll be in a small metal tube with other people who need to breathe for the next few hours, that's not a bad thing.

So stop by the Salt Lick stand on your way out of town, for one last taste of Austin!

NYWC Austin: Last Morning

Like most disciples, I'm not ready to go home. I'd love to build a booth on this mountaintop, out of leftovers from the exhibit hall, and live here basking in Jesus' glow from the convention forever. The only problem I can see with this is that my grocery budget would be obscene.

Am I ready go to home? No. Do I have to? Yes. So what will I do when I get there?

I will believe that God has the power to do even the most miraculous things I can think of, and even more since I can't, without the Spirit's help, even think of most of them.

I will remember that youth ministry is way bigger than me by myself, and I will ask for help.

I will take time to sit and listen, to God and to my peers and students.

I will teach my students to use the Word, to know it, and to interact with it, and they'll all carry highlighters for the good stuff.

I will stop praying like a wuss.

I hope.

I could sure use some help with these pledges. Would you all pray for me? I'll do the same for you. God's got a great plan for us this year-- let's hold each other accountable for taking part in it as it's revealed.

Father, I pray for your whole church, and for my friends who minister with students. Pour your power on this world and refresh us. Help us remember your prophets, your teachers, and your Son, who have all felt what we feel and worked where we work. Let us see enough of your plan that we can know what you would have us do, but not so much that we rely on our own work to accomplish it. Be with our students and grow them into the strong disciples you've planned them to be. Be with our families, our spouses (and future spouses, please) and all who care for us and keep us healthy. Help us to lavish time and love on them so they know how much we appreciate them. Your Kingdom come in all its perfection, and let us see it. Amen.


Make sure you eat!

I keep running into people who are skipping meals, so I have a couple more suggestions. Both of these have been recommended by fellow youth workers and tried by the Rookie.

Breakfast and lunch both today came from Java Jive on Fifth, the coffee shop at the corner of the Hilton Austin Hotel. That's sort of a gimme for food, but both the cheese Danish and chicken Caesar were tolerable, there was jazz playing and I got to eat outside and read a book and people-watch. For the map-aholics among us (points at self) it's 500 E. 4th St., 78701

For dinner, about six of us made our way to the Mongolian Grille, at 2nd and Jacinto. In fact, from the south doors of the convention center, you can nearly see the building, directly across the street from P.F. Chang's. I was nervous about dinner because the last time I went to one of these places, I managed to mess up my own dinner pretty badly. See, Mongolian BBQ means, for the uninitiated, you pick your own ingredients and sauces and they cook it in front of you live. Which is cool, but I don't know anything about sauces for Chinese food. The neat thing about the Mongolian Grille here in Austin is that they have a whole set of recipes for sauces you can make that work, and I followed one. So it was great. Mongolian Grille is at 117 San Jacinto Blvd., 78701

If anyone's in need of lunch tomorrow, or sticking around, check them out!

Habits of the Just

There was an episode of something years ago where one of the characters wanted to get a handicapped parking sticker for his car, so he could park close to stores during the holiday shopping season. To make sure he'd get the pass, he described himself as having nearly every disease and disability there was. And he got busted when the city parking inspector wanted to meet him in person, because he'd never heard of anyone who was that sick.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his excellent book "The Tipping Point" notes that crime rates in New York City went down sharply after the mayor decided to have the police department crack down on turnstile-jumpers and grafitti artists on the city's subway. Beginning with incredibly small things caused huge changes. The little things gave hope to the law-abiding, who became more active in keeping things hopeful, and shamed the lawbreakers.

We've just heard from Sharon Kohn, who's in charge of operations for International Justice Mission. We've been confronted with a huge reality (for example, the 27 million people in slavery today, more than any other time in history) and Christ's command to us to get out into God's world and work with Him to help heal it.

I'm both inspired and terrified at what God asks of us in seeking justice. I proudly and happily buy fairly traded coffee-- that's easy. The church where I work supports shelters and food pantries and donates supplies to help the poor in St. Louis-- we can do that without going any farther than our building. But I've never rescued anyone from slavery, or gone to the Third World to rescue children forced into prostitution. It's been years since I even wrote a letter to the editor. And I'm scared, honestly, of a lot of those things and what changes they would mean in my life.

As usual, there's more to justice than I'm ready to take on by myself.

But justice is a system that starts, a la Malcolm Gladwell, with the smallest things. We can think about justice once a year when a speaker shows us faces and tells us tragic (but ultimately victorious) stories, or we can keep justice in our minds all the time in the way we handle the details.

I'm telling myself that it's petty and won't matter, but justice begins at the handicapped parking space. In other words, it begins by making sure that people with needs have access to the things that meet them. Justice is not forgetting about elderly people who live in nursing homes with little contact from their own families. It's making sure soup kitchens and shelters have the food and manpower they need to serve their clients. It's losing our fear of people with mental illnesses and caring for them. It's challenging our middle school students to love their nerdy classmate (aka neighbor.)

What justice needs to grow is a tipping point, when so many of us are doing so many little things that we can't avoid the hope they give us, and start living, as Sharon Kohn put it, like we believe we are God's plan for justice in the world.


More Austin Landmarks, edible and otherwise

This city, the "live music capital of the world," just blows me away. Today my food budget did not take much of a hit, as I slept in, skipped breakfast to make gen. session #3 on time, then went to a free lunch and a free dinner sponsored by various folks.

Lunch was at Stubb's BBQ, hosted by Indie Community, a group that collects musicians, speakers, and the resources to connect them to churches and other venues. My dad sent me an email this morning that closed "You're in Texas, son. Eat barbecue." Stubbs put out chicken and beef sandwiches with a house sauce, potato salad, and spicy beans. Great basic Texas food; the place is really neat too; there's a big stage out back for visiting musicians, and a roof deck, which I'm starting to think is required by Texas building code!

At dinner, Marty and I visited St. David's Episcopal Church, for a youth pastors' dinner hosted by the Diocese of Texas. The church is a really exciting place; the other event the dinner was for was a fundraiser for their youth ministry's connection to Malawi, where the church is getting ready to send its second pilgrimage. They served barbecued chicken and beef brisket, coleslaw, potato salad, and peach cobbler with ice cream. If anyone's looking for a close (walking distance, easily) worship service in the morning, they have seven of them, starting at 8am. The "Bells of Joy" performed; they're a long-established Austin gospel group-- in fact, the first black gospel group to sell 1 million copies of a song. It was called "Talk About Jesus" and one of the members who was the band then, in 1951, still sings with them. St. David's address is 304 E. 7th St. 78701 (7th and Jacinto).

And I'm on my way, later tonight, to a place recommended by a couple of youth ministers I met at dinner, called Koriente. It's a Korean restaurant started by a mom who didn't want to cook, so wanted to take her kids out to eat, but couldn't find good food. (This must have been a while ago.) They're a small, inexpensive place with a huge flower garden and, according to their website "are one of the only Austin restaurants to offer free parking!" Koriente is at 621 E. 7th St., 78701.

Here's your delicious fix of Austin for today!

NYWC Austin: Day 3

Rollie Martinson, one of youth ministry's (as we know it today) pioneers, spoke to us this morning at the general session. He had good and challenging words about creating disciples and avoiding the youth minister's cult of personality, and on the overarching problem facing all of our churches today; a way of thinking (and practicing) called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Watch this space for more posts on that.

I sat and listened, and thought about something even bigger.

Rollie Martinson was a mentor for my high school youth minister, a guy named Daren. Daren is the reason I'm a youth minister today; something about his life drew me in until I walked into his office one day and said, "I want to do what you do." He took me alongside him and helped me learn what he did, even coached me through my first job interview with a parish.

Daren was a big fan of Rollie, so in a lot of ways Rollie has affected my ministry path all along.

And today he encouraged and challenged me, and all of us here, the way he encouraged and challenged Daren, the way Daren encouraged and challenged me. It's a very neat circle to find myself in.

None of us are truly doing ministry alone. We are part of a continuum that began when "youth ministers" were parents and priests, following God and listening to the prophets. We're walking in step with those folks today, in a sort of apostolic succession that comes from all these generations of ministers sharing God's love and power.

I've been sitting and trying to add another sentence to that, and nothing fits. Thank you, God, for Rollie and Daren and Jim (and Jim and Jim) and all these guys I'm sitting with right now, because we carry an ancient honor from You.

Sneak Peeks

Mark Oestreicher announced last night at the end of the second general session that Youth Specialties is launching a website called YS Underground, which will be a home for downloadable Bible study material, graphics, video, and things like that. The advantage is that there's no shipping costs and only seconds of wait time for the downloads; prices are much lower than buying a whole book, and when you only need that one perfect item to complete the program you're working on, this is the place. Well done, YS! Can't wait to see how this collection will grow.

We also got a first look at the new NOOMA video, from Rob Bell. It's volume 14, called "Breathe," and I'm really impressed (having not worked with these videos before) with the quality of the production and the earnestness of the narrator. At the same time, the message feels fuzzy, and I wonder (probably I'll give one a try with my group to check) if it has the solidity to live up to the promises the series makes.

And to close this morning, I have a service I'd like to suggest to Marko and the YS team. You all give such great advice at the beginning of the conventions-- sleep in, don't go to everything, skip a general session, pick a seminar you disagree with, and walk out of bad ones; ask out that cute girl next to you. When we go home again, we'll miss your sweet voices telling us those sweet things that keep us healthy for this one weekend. There should be some kind of a phone number we could call and hear that message again, when the church council is wondering why "we don't see enough kids here," the accountant is denying our NYWC expenses because spas don't count as ministry, the senior pastor's kid took up smoking and our dogs are looking like they might run off or die at any moment (it's a country music reference, since I'm in Texas!) Then, it would be great to call and hear "You are more important than your program!" again.

Photos from NYWC

Mike Pilavachi speaking, Hawk Nelson singing, and the work of Mike Lewis the Jesus Painter.

Austin Sights and Eats

Two more Austin eateries to report on today, within a few blocks of the convention center where NYWC is being held.

Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches; there's a tiny little storefront place buried between two huge buildings three or four blocks down 6th St. I'd eaten there before, but forgotten. Not because the food isn't great; I had a roast beef sub and chips; great basic lunch food, and this is another place where the staff has to have fun, so it's entertaining to wait for the sandwich. The one I stopped at is at 515 Congress Ave, Austin TX 78701.

For dinner, we found a place called the Iron Cactus. Marty and I ate up on the roof deck, and one of the neat things (because 6th St. is all restaurants and clubs) is that on the roof, you can see the roof deck of another one across the street, where they have not only live music, but a big movie screen where we're told they show football games and the occasional movie. The waitstaff makes fresh guacamole at the table, which is great, and they're fun to talk to. We tried both varieties of the house salsa (neither completely hot), the Santa Fe Skewers (shrimp, beef and veggies grilled and served with rice and lime butter) and the Salmon Caesar Salad. Iron Cactus is at 606 Trinity St, 78701.

Austin's restaurants make me do the "I love my job" dance!

NYWC Austin: Day 2 Part 2

Where to start? This has been such a full day, I can't even decide what to post about tonight. So, here's a bit of my stream of consciousness about what I've heard today.

On the David Crowder Band leading worship: Only Crowder can be Crowder. But in worship, we can all be Crowder-like.

Buster Soaries' quote: "I don't work with teenagers much anymore. People ask why, and I tell them it's because I keep getting older and they always stay the same age." The serious thought this triggered: so all departments need to be such good friends that we can track students, and stay in contact with the ones we connect with, from children's ministry to youth to young adult to campus ministries to their adult lives. How can church departments, and various congregations, become good enough friends to make that happen?

Watching the incredibly varied crowd of youth ministers walking out of sessions: All together, we have the talents, personality and common interests, to connect with every student on earth. How much of a travel budget would I need to bring everyone else to my church to prove it?

Hearing Mike Pilavichi's quote, "These aren't disciples at all... they're just consumers!" I thought, "I bet that's my fault." Mike goes on, "And then thought, 'who made them that way? I made them that way.'" I about fell out of my chair: "I guessed he was going to say that! And we're both right!"


NYWC Austin: Day 2

As always, there's a smorgasbord of workshops to take here in Austin, and my stance against human cloning always gets shaken by lists like this, because I want to take them all. So each year I pick a theme, to help me decide and make sure I get as much as possible out of them.

Last year I picked "best practices" and went to a bunch of workshops on administration or staying un-sued. This year, I'm working on learning better speaking and teaching habits. Late Night stuff looks amazing too; theology with Tony Jones, middle school ministry with Kurt Johnston, special concerts and lots of worships throughout the day.

This sign is in the lobby of the Hilton Austin, where Marty and I are staying. When I saw it, I said "Marty, let's go to that conference instead!" But I think we made the right choice in sticking with YS!

Nearly time for first general session!

While You're in Austin...

I hope there are some regular Rookie readers down here in Austin this week, and while you're here, I've found a couple of places that I'll highly recommend.

Moonshine Grill is where I had dinner tonight; it's a fantastic place literally around the corner from the convention center (in fact, you can see the convention center parking structure from there) and there's a waiter named Kyle who's a hoot and also knows the menu inside and out, and can guide the new visitor through it. Our group sampled the calamari, artichoke and spinach fondue, jalapeno hanger steak, chicken almondine, crusted snapper, and barbecued chicken. Moonshine is at 303 Red River St., Austin TX 78701

Amy's Ice Cream isn't far away either, at 1012 W. 6th St., Austin TX 78703. They're famous for handmande ice cream, mix-ins (like Cold Stone, but with a lot more enthusiasm and charm) and the antics of the staff as they make the ice cream. The best trick we saw was the guy behind the counter putting the ice cream cup on the brim of his hat, then flipping a second scoop up into the air and catching it in the cup.

Give them both a try!


NYWC Austin: Day 1

My dear friend and colleauge Marty C. and I arrived in Austin, TX about noon today, checked in at the hotel and wandered across the street (Marty to the cabdriver: "How close is the Austin Hilton from the Convention Center?" Cabdriver to Marty: "Close enough you can throw a rock at it.") to register for the convention.

As usual, it's a wonderland. The bookstore alone could take up most of my time, and watching the exhibit hall getting set up makes me truly excited to see how all the booths look and what they're offering. And walking through the halls and across the street and into the elevator and getting the little smile and nod from my fellow youth ministers (the one that says "I love it here too, buddy...") is a gift from God.

I've just come from Day One of the Critical Concerns course on media in ministry ("Digital Discipleship") and my first thought on leaving the room was "I need more stuff... more wonderful stuff."

After thinking about it, I had a much more helpful thought. It was "Yes, I can."

Yes, I can reach deeply into the stacks and piles of media that are out there overwhelming us all every day, and dig out things that will connect with my students, make them laugh, get them talking, send them home on a high note from our program.

Yes, I can reach out to an individual student with a "birthday card" video, or a quick text message before a big test, or podcast the retreat talk for the students who couldn't make it. Yes, I can make the video from the mission trip or the ski weekend or the fall kickoff look good, so they help draw people to our program, where we point them beyond the screen to Christ.

And yes, I can teach those students to work with the media themselves.

More than that, yes we can (as adult leaders) learn these new things.

One of the things that makes events like the NYWC most valuable is the number of times we can sit in a room full of our peers and learn to say "Yes, we can!"

Father God, bless this gathering in Austin. Grant us rest, away from our everyday. Let us put down our sins and our worries for the congregations we serve, knowing You are still there watching over them. Fill us with your light and let us hear your laughter while we are together here. Amen.
I'm on the way to Austin, TX, sitting in the Dallas airport (not a terribly inspiring place, about a 6 on my personal 10-point scale of airports) and thinking about the news that's been on screens around me all morning. Allowing enough time to go through airport security and then discovering no one else did the same gave me plenty of time to get caught up on the headlines today.

Most of them were about the recent set of school shootings and their aftermath. They ranged from simple reports on the funeral services for four of the Amish girls, to commentary on school safety in general and a proposal by someone in state legislature who proposed allowing teachers, principals "and even janitors" to carry guns. All of the stories illustrate a problem that, while not unique to youth ministry, tends to pinch ministry staff the most because of our determination to get into schools and meet our students there.

CSMSG's fall parenting seminar features Mark DeVries, who's speaking on "Stacking the Stands for our kids." Paul Hill, in "Frogs Without Legs Can't Hear" and various seminars he does based on that work, offers "AAA adults," (for Available, Authentic and Affirming.) I'm sure at the NYWC conference I'm on the way to, I'll hear at least one other term and method for the same thing. It boils down to "surrounding kids with caring adults." When we do that, they're never (as close to never as we can manage) out of sight of a good example, someone who can be the signpost they need toward the right thing, or the honest struggle to find the right thing.

Which, of course, requires a great deal of trust. Parents need to be able to trust the adults their children see every day, students need to be able to trust their teachers and youth workers, and adults working around youth need to be able to trust each other. Every time something horrific happens, that trust cracks. When three such events happen in a week (and as one reporter commented, there were actually six school-violence-related events, but "some of them just don't make the headlines anymore.") our whole society suffers.

The obvious prediction is that youth ministers, especially new ones, will have a progressively harder time getting themselves into schools, which has rarely been easy to begin with. I'd be upset about this all by itself if it weren't for the farther-reaching consequences of this breakdown in trust.

In general, what students need is to be exposed to a wide range of adults, beginning with parents and parents' friends and expanding to school, work, people in elected office and the whole community. They need to have the practice, while growing up, at learning to work with adults, since no generation ever has the world all to itself.

But in general, what they get, especially in the crackdowns and paranoia that invariably follow tragedies in the schools, is isolation from many adults, to avoid the few predators. Instead of the multigenerational community we dream about, we end up with tribes based on age who band together and glare at each other.

Doing ministry is not going to get any easier until Christ's return. So what do we do in the meantime?

1. Invest heavily in student leaders. Teach them to minister to their classmates, and how to bring trusted adults closer to their peers.

2. Be visible in schools at all public functions-- sports, music, drama, the usual roundup. At these events, spend lots of time with parents. Ask to be introduced to the parents' friends. Meet the coaches, counselors, teachers and administrators (who, by the way, administer, and do not administrate.)

3. Be proactive in knowing the adults we bring into our programs. There's no excuse anymore for not doing background checks, people! EVERYONE-- Church School, youth group volunteers, ministry team leaders, needs to be checked, and to be interviewed in person. Use your gut, and your research. This is to keep the students we love in Christ safe.

4. Realize that parents are our friends-- and act like it. Don't antagonize parents, partner with them. Care about their lives too. Talk to them when they answer the phone when we call for their children. Give them tools to understand their children, since it's their job to begin with.

5. Be there when the bad stuff happens. Duh. And continue the "ministry of presence" when things are going great.

6. Live in prayer for our students and teach them to do the same. God has a plan for this whole mess and we are not to enter any part of it without asking how we fit.


It seemed like *such* a good idea...

"Let's get our teachers more involved with each other, and with the lesson plans," we said early this year, and started plotting how we could use the church website to get our teachers talking and preparing. We're using the lectionary, so this week's lesson is on divorce and what Jesus taught about it.

Today I sent the link out to a couple of folks who are stepping in for this Sunday to help out the regular teachers, and got back an email from one: "Having an ad on the site is no big deal, but it seems passing strange that this particular ad came up on the page for this week's lesson plan on marriage and divorce."

It was this photo. Today the youth minister is embarrassed. The slogan doesn't exactly shriek "COMMITMENT!" does it?


Concertina for Cellular Phones

Yes, that's right; a piece of music has been written and successfully performed using cellular phones and a symphony orchestra at the same time, according to this article in the New York Times.

Apparently the hardest part is making sure the audience members know how to make their phones ring on cue. The director of the Chicago Sinfonietta says he got the idea in the airport, noticing how many people were talking on cellphones.

“I thought, ‘Darn, if you can’t beat them, join them,’ ” Mr. Freeman said. He approached several composers, including Mr. Baker, 74, who is also director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.
“My first inclination was to ask him what he was smoking,” Mr. Baker said. But the idea appealed to him. He struggled for five weeks on how to reconcile diametrically opposed elements — an orchestra and cellphones — and came up with the idea of having onstage cellphones with his own themes, and a division of phones in the hall.
But the audience participation was key. “It was a way of giving people control at a concert,” he said. “I’m hoping people will see the comedic element, but more importantly, that maybe you can have fun at a symphony concert.” The piece was also a recognition that cellphones “are not going to go away,” he said.

Okay, praise band leaders--it's your turn! How many songs at your next youth worship have a place for cellphones, which you know those guys in the back are using the whole time anyway?


Sunday Poll (on Monday, sorry!)

I love it when this happens, but unfortunately it also illustrates a dilemma.

One of the parents who served as a greeter for our students yesterday sent an email this morning that included this thought: "I had to turn down several middle school students who wanted to sign up for a [high school] service project. Can we ask someone to plan an event at the same place that the middle school students can do?"

Here's the question: I tend to set up a calendar so the younger students have some events that they hear about before they're old enough to do them, as a way to build up anticipation for them. But there's also some value in having parallel programming for them so they have the same kinds of experiences as the older students and start building them up as a lifestyle.

When you're working on a calendar, do you program the same kinds of events for both middle and high school students; do you plan one set of events they can do together; or do you have specific events that are just for each age group?

NYWC To-Do List: The Rest

Okay, I've been away from the screen (today's main post covers why) and realized I need to put my NYWC to-do list in one post.
It's almost time for the National Youth Workers' Convention in Austin, TX, hosted by Youth Specialties-- what can I do today to get ready?

Eight Days: Read through the Youth Specialties website and decide which books and resources I must have. Begin pre-writing notes for receipts to explain why each one is vital and why the church's Stewardship campaign this year should support my book habit, rather than the repair of the church roof.

Seven Days: Borrow a ginormous Texas-shaped belt buckle from Andrew M so I can fit it with the locals.

Six Days: Start a pool with the readers of the Rookie Youth Worker to guess which odd instrument the David Crowder Band will be featuring this year.

Five Days: Start an all-jalapeno diet so I can appreciate the rich diversity of Tex-Mex food.

Four Days: Practice the guitar for 13 hours so that even though Group Magazine recently busted the myth of the perfect youth worker (goatee, guitar and God) I can still pretend to be one. There's got to be someone at the convention who still believes!

Three Days: Buy sample sized everything. For two reasons: one, to carry it onto the plane without any hassle, and two, I'll be in a new town where no one knows me-- I can finally see if Axe body spray works the way the commercials (and my middle schoolers) say it does, without worrying the church council.

Two Days: Print new business cards to take with me. Debate whether the title line should read "Shepherd of Souls" or "Deputy Jesus."

One Day: Get no sleep. Give all clothes the sniff test to make sure they're not too gross (hey, just came off a big weekend here; lots of ministry, little laundry). Find chargers for laptop, digital camera, cell phone, Palm Pilot, and electric razor. Put all chargers in a bag and hide them so all the gadgets can die on the second day. I'm not there to work, after all!

FIRST DAY OF NYWC! Get on a plane early in the morning, fly to Austin. Attend Critical Concerns Course to justify spending whole year's education budget, then let the relaxation/networking/sharing of war stories begin!

Thank you, Youth Specialties, for hosting the convention each year! You guys rock!


NYWC To-Do List: 7 Days!

Just 7 days to go until the National Youth Workers' Convention in Austin... what can I do today to get ready?
  • Borrow a ginormous belt buckle in the shape of Texas from Andrew M, who collects them, so I won't look like a total tourist when I get to Austin.

The Rookie's LIbrary

What I'm Reading:

"Why We Buy" and "The Call of the Mall" by Paco Underhill (describing himself as a "retail anthropologist," Underhill examines motivations for shopping and geography that makes the optimum sales experience possible. As a culture junkie, I'm fascinated and tempted to study anthropology.)

"Cool Comfort" by Marsha E. Ackermann (it's a history of air conditioning and why we love it so much; at the same time, there are a lot of odd and jarring details about the reasons such a system was ever invented-- grab the book!)

What I'm Hearing:

Leonard Cohen, "I'm Your Man" Album

Sanctus Real, "The Face of Love" album

Carbon Leaf, "Love Loss Hope Repeat" album

Scriptures I'm using for talks this weekend:

Acts 8, Philip and the Ethiopian Official ("how will I know unless someone explains it?" for Confirmation class.)

Passages from 2 Samuel (how King David worshipped God in every moment, also using Brother Lawrence's "Practice of the Presence of God")

Best Question from a student:

"How religious will it be?" (talking about the 9th grade lockin)