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)


NYWC To-Do List

8 days to go until the National Youth Workers' Convention in Austin, TX-- what can I do today to get ready?

  • Surf through the Youth Specialties website and check out the books to buy when they're on sale at the convention... pre-write notes for receipts showing how each book is ABSOLUTELY VITAL to our youth ministry and why this year's Stewardship campaign should be focused on letting the youth minister collect the entire YS publishing line, instead of fixing the church roof.

"I can't afford it? I can't afford it? You can't afford me not having this book! Without it our kids are doomed... you hear me? DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMED!"

Science and Death: One Christian's Response

On this November's ballot here in Missouri, there's an initiative to fund a serious amount of stem cell research. Proponents are focusing on possible cures for scary diseases that we all fear we'll have some day. Opponents are claiming that the measure (Amendment 2) will make Missouri (recently cited as the state with the nation's lowest gas prices-- I spotted 1.99 this morning at my QuikTrip) the new den of Dr. Frankenstein, cloning up a storm. And while people on both sides misunderstand their own terms (for example, when I say cloning, you think of putting Michael Jordan in a machine, pushing a button and out comes another fully grown Michael Jordan, which doesn't happen) there are some serious issues to be considered.

So I was very grateful when CSMSG hosted two speakers to discuss the issue of stem cell research and human cloning; one from the scientific community (Dr. William B. Neaves of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research) and one from the religious/philosophical side (Dr. Robert P. George, of Princeton University and the President's Council on Bioethics.)

Neaves spoke for the amendment and the research. He noted that the most common objection to embryonic stem cell research is that it destroys human embryos, which if left alone become small humans. But this isn't as serious a problem as we all think, Neaves went on, because in normal human reproduction, a much higher number of potential humans, in the form of eggs and sperm cells, die naturally, and a similar number are lost during the many attempts necessary for a successful in vitro fertilization, a process most peolple have grown used to. IVF was Dr. Neaves' analogy through the whole talk, and he frequently reminded us that when it was new, people had equally strong objections to it as they do now to the idea of stem cells.

George approached the issue from the moral and spiritual side, though he said up front that he didn't in fact speak for God or completely know God's will. For some in the audience, since they'd come expecting to hear what God's will was, this was a disappointment, but Dr. George quickly moved into his own territory. Of course eggs and sperm cells die naturally, he told us, but when they're living in their parent bodies, those cells are only parts of the original body, not new entities in themselves. But as soon as the two cells combine in the mother's body, they become a unique, new organism-- an embryonic human person, with complete and unique DNA and a complete and unique life path. And since that new life is not any longer just a part of a parent body, but a life of its own, he deserves the same protection and reverence that we hold for a fully-grown human person.

The largest question we can ask, considering how many enterprises (abortion, war, the clash of religious ideology, event politics) are trying to justify or normalize death on one side to preserve or improve life on the other, is this: Can anything that causes death, no matter of who or what, truly be in accord with God's will?

The Biblical evidence is clear on both sides.

  • In the beginning God made living things and called them good. He warned his new creatures "Live life joyfully; just don't do this one thing (sin) that will cause your death. It's clear God wanted His people to live.
  • But as the Hebrew people became a nation under God's especial care, they were often told "Go into this land or that land and kill everything there, because those people will kill you and scatter God's people if you don't." In fact, more than one king lost his anointing because he failed to kill enough.
  • Jesus told us "I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly." On several occasions, Christ and later his disciples raised people from the dead.
  • But in order to save our souls, it was necessary that Christ's body die. On the other hand, God also gave Jesus his life back.

In our parish we've had several notable funerals in the last couple of months. Families in our youth program have lost grandparents and parents, and I've been to several of the services, and once again I've noticed that Christians are called to think differently about life and death. We are called to love life of every kind. We are also called to lose it; that's part of our destiny. But that loss for us does not have to be a source of fear or panic, because it is not the end of the story.

Much of the furor stem cell research is causing is because the world is preoccupied with death. If all you have is this one brief lifetime, after all, (as those without Christ believe) you feel powerfully drawn to extend it however that's possible. And since humans are both sinful and selfish, extending my life at the expense of one that may have never really begun (as the proponents of the research will try and convince) doesn't seem that high a price.

Science is part of our system, and a gift from God, but it is not the be-all, end-all. Death is part of our system, and a consequence of our not being able to make perfect choices, but it is not the be-all, end-all either. And I do not fear it, although it makes my heart beat a little faster just to type those words.

For the record, I am opposed to embryonic stem cell research and any other form of scientific life-extending that destroys human lives, however small or undeveloped. Our mission as Christians is much different than the scientific community's, although we can work together on many issues. Our job is to spread the Good News in such a way that the fear of death is unnecessary. Our job is to create a system that respects life from its very beginnings to its eternal end, that relishes every stage of our own lives, and that welcomes rest in Heaven when we have spent the time God gave us in service to our fellow humans. I don't need a day beyond what God has decided to grant to do that.


What's In a Name?

Our rector walked into my office the other day and called me Justin, as he began to compliment me on the youth kickoff this past Sunday. Now, last time I checked, I'm Isaac, and I know who Justin was-- the youth minister before me. This has happened now and then, mostly with parents, and it scares me every time. Mostly because people who worked with both of us assure me we're completely different.

It made me think about names and how important they are to the people who own them. And how it's a no-brainer to remember people's names. But that made me think of a silly rule I had a while ago. The rule went something like this:

If you see someone and do not know his/her name, there is a limited amount of time/number of encouters when you can ask it before it's rude, because you should know already.

This is an incredibly silly rule. I dreamed it up because I ran into a couple of kids in my previous parish who I'd known from camp, but since I only saw them once a year, didn't always remember their names. Once I moved to Escanaba and found that they lived there too (and thus started to run into them all the time) I was at a serious disadvantage because I didn't know their names, but I'd known the two of them for a long time and didn't feel like I could ask.

Knowing students' names is the very beginning of a connection, and there is never a time when I can't ask, if I've forgotten or momentarily spaced out. There are, of course, many polite ways to ask students their names. "Who are you?" just doesn't quite have that friendly feeling.

When I run into a student whose name I can't recall, I ask "Would you remind me of your name?" That way he or she knows I know it already, or at least have it written down somewhere.

There are fewer solutions for calling students by the wrong names, which I've also done many times. Often, I pick a name for a student I've met (especially friends of my students) and stick it on him or her without checking to see if that's the right one. If a student brings a different friend, that new friend often gets stuck with the old name. I'm willing to live with that one, and laugh at myself when I make the mistake, because if my students are bringing their friends, that outweighs my big, inaccurate mouth.

What do you do when you've forgotten a student's name or call one by the wrong name? Any humorous bloopers out there along these lines?


"It's just like Christmas, isn't it?"

That's what our clergy secretary said to me when she came down today to find me sorting through sign-up forms from the September kick-off this Sunday.

The kickoff is something Mark DeVries and his merry band at Youth Ministry Architects set us up with, three years ago now. The idea is to get our youth and their parents in the same room, reveal the calendar for the whole year's events, and have people sign up and put down deposits on the things they're interested in, all at once.

We took our first look at the forms today, and so many people signed up to take on volunteer tasks and even leadership roles within our youth ministry family. It truly is just like Christmas. Each folder of event forms is a new gift.

But before I go any farther, a few tips for holding onto those people who so graciously signed up to help.

1. Call them now. Follow up within a few days so they remember what they're on your list for. And so, if some vengeful family member signed them up without asking, they can say so now, and not when you call in a panic looking for one more chaperone for the lock-in.

2. Give them a task right away. Goes along with #1. For example, I had several adult leaders sign up to "follow up with new families." The first thing they're going to be asked is to come to our gatherings on Sunday morning (icebreaker time before Church Schoool classes) and introduce themselves to youth and make sure the students are wearing nametags. It's small, but it goes along with what they signed up for and gives them a connection to the students.

3. Ask "What does this look like to you?" and share your expectations. Lots of good volunteers get lost because of bad communication. You need a clear picture of what the volunteers think they're signed up for, and they need a good, firm idea of what you're asking from them. If they're willing to do more than you're actually giving them, you may be able to offer them more responsibility in the program, for example.

4. Thank them. Thank them now. Thank them when they've taken on a task. Volunteers are treasures in God's hands and worth their weight in gold to your ministry. It's not that we don't want them to be humble, but they need to know they're valuable.

5. Connect them to the other volunteers and ministry staff. This goes for the same reason you have more than one adult working with students; not every adult can connect with every student on the level he/she needs. You, the youth minister, can't always connect just exactly right with every leader. That's okay. It's normal. So you need to be making connections between your leaders so they know they're supported. Also, they'll be more comfortable working in a program that isn't full of strangers. Just this past year we've seen a lot of new people come onto task teams, and our first challenge, before we expect any work to get done, is to introduce them to each other.

6. Walk with them. Encourage new leaders and students to worship, to share prayer requests, to be part of the life of the church. Remember, you're not building a new tribe out of your youth program; you're not separate from the larger Church. You need to be fully into the worship, prayer and service your congregation offers, and your leaders need to be too. Youth ministry by itself is not enough. It needs the context that students grow into it from (children's ministry, nursery, children's chapel) and grow to afterward (college/young adult ministry, vestry/church council, and other ministry leadership that adults take on.)


Jesus Camp Documentary-- Clip on ABC News

What's everyone think? It's coming down here to Plaza Frontenac, but I'll be in Austin. Anyone planning to see it, or have insights?

Spot the Church Van on Manchester Rd.

Parkway Baptist Church, you were prayed for this morning! God be with you in your ministry today.


When you give a student a project...

(Posts here at the RYW blog have been a little sparse this week and I apologize for that; CSMSG's fall kickoff is on Sunday and of course at every meeting we remember something else or think of something that would be really cool, so a lot of my time is being spent on getting ready and practicing for Sunday. But that project does lead me to a post about three things I do when I give a student a project...)

1. When I give a student a project, I occasionally bite my nails from stress when it comes in a little closer to the deadline than I like to think I would have done it. But frequently the extra time means the student was more of a perfectionist than me, and wanted it to look just right.

2. When I give a student a project, the idea doesn't come back in exactly the form I'd envisioned. But that student is more in touch with how my kids think, and more aware of what's likely to catch attention, and with fresh eyes can see how to get the message across in its new form.

3. When I give a student a project, I sometimes worry about what the content will look like. Will he know which video clips to pick? What if he uses the ones that are funny to the people in it, but not to the adults in the room? Or an inside joke that only makes sense to the people who went last year? Or manages to pick the one place where the youth minister says something slightly inappropriate? But I gave some guidelines, after all, didn't I; and the reason I chose this particular student is because of what it will mean to him, and the rest of my group, to have this ownership of the project, and how he will shoulder this responsibility, as a precursor to the others his faith will lay on him.


Cardboard Upright Bass

This guy has found a truly useful way to spend his free time; this kind of imagination is what our ministries need! I love the idea...


This Sunday at Skyzone, as we were checking out, I had this short conversation with Jeff, one of the guys who runs the front desk.

Jeff: Can I get you to write down your email address for us? When our church groups come in, we like to get in touch with them and have them write a short testimonial for us, if that's not too much bother.

Me: No problem; testimonials are what we do!


Why I Don't Mind...

I've taken a brief break from this blog over the end of last week/this weekend. I had friends in town, for one, and also, CSMSG is in the middle of finishing this year's new curriculum and a lot of it comes down to Isaac finishing all the typing of guides and activities I promised to have for it. In the fall when everything kicks off, it's easy to get swamped, and that's what happened.

In any case, I don't mind that a light, fun, fellowship event was the biggest thing I've led so far here. 63 students came out to SkyZone with us yesterday afternoon-- active kids, friends, and several students who are on our lists but inactive up until yesterday. My dear friend and colleague Marty C had ten RSVPs on Saturday night and we picked up another 12 Sunday morning, and by church time we were both a little stressed trying to make sure we had enough drivers (turned out we did with no problem, thanks parents!) and that SkyZone's trampoline court could handle the whole group of us.

And I don't mind, even though there was no Bible study, no service project, no youth-led worship, because the message we set out with this event was that there are still so many things to do that we can enjoy without having to confess afterward. We didn't come home and say "God, I jumped on a trampoline today, and I know that was a sin, and I ask forgiveness." In fact, it was even good for us-- our bodies were tired, our faces all shiny and red and we were set for calming, restorative sleep to help us start the week.

I think sometimes we talk too much about all the things we can't do. We put ourselves into a mindset of "I can't do anything because I'm a Christian" and because, in truth, a lot of things we are supposed to abstain from are so much in front of us day by day, we forget about the huge number of enjoyable, healthy things we can still try out. Like SkyZone. And 63 students remembered that yesterday.


The Rookie's Library September 7, 2006

What I'm Reading:

"The Man who Ate Everything" by Jeffrey Steingarten (he's the food critic for Vogue and one of the judges on Iron Chef America, and his style reminds me of humor writers like Patrick F. McManus)

"The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence (the monk the book is about practiced experiencing Christ's presence in every part of his daily life, and I want to do that too)

"Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget" by Marianne J. Legato (it's an outline of what they're calling "gender-specific medicine" which is a good invention, but it's not a Christian book by any stretch of the imagination; a good read for the biology, but don't apply the morality)

What I'm Watching:

DVDs, looking for scenes with someone making spectacular jumps:
"Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"
"The Goonies"
"The Longest Yard"
(Watching movies at work.. I love my job, I love my job, I love my job...)

What I'm Hearing:

Irish punk bands who aren't really Irish:
Dropkick Murphys--multiple albums
Flogging Molly--multiple albums

A Recipe I'm proud of: Lentil Soup

1 can beef broth
2 cans water
1/2 cup chopped canned spinach
1 tsp. chopped garlic
4 green onions, chopped fine
black pepper
1 cup dry lentils

Put it all in a pot at the same time and simmer for an hour.


The Latte Song

(sing to the tune of "You are my sunshine" and only in the privacy of your own home or office.)

You are my latte,
My only latte
You keep me moving
When I'm short on sleep
You caffeineate me,
in the morning
Please don't take my latte away!

The other night, dear,
When I lay sleeping,
I dreamt the world ran out of coffee beans
When I awoke with the caffeine shivers,
I went and kissed my Starbucks breakfast blend

You are my latte,
my hazelnut latte.
You make me able
To meet the day
I hope I never
start without you
Please don't take my latte away!


Blindfolded Evangelism

When I came home and opened my mailbox at the end of last week, I found a manila envelope addressed to "Our friends at... [my address]" and nothing else. No return address, no hint of what was inside. They say not to open packages like this, so I waited a couple of days. Actually, I stuck it in my bag and forgot about it until Saturday. When I opened it, I found a book inside called "Ten Commandments Twice Removed" with a handwritten comment on the front cover: "A MUST READ!"

Nothing else. No information on who sent it, no listing of church services I could attend, no suggestion that the sender is praying for me and those prayers prompted the gift.

This was about the single least effective way to evangelize I've ever seen. Not only do I not know who's trying to reach me, I've been given no challenge to connect with any church, or even with Christ!

For all I know, someone noticed this blog, dug around to find my mailing address, and sent me the book in hopes that I would review it.

DON'T DO THIS! Whoever it was, stop anonymously sending fundamentalist Christian books through the mail. Don't blindfold your evangelism! You can build a connection with me-- you have the technology-- it just takes a more personal approach.


Three things we can learn from our Orthodox friends

Yesterday after church at CSMSG and a set of short meetings with students, I headed over to the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, a Greek Orthodox church near Forest Park. They were holding their annual "Greekfest" and my goal was some lunch and a tour of the building.

I arrived just in time for the 1:00 tour and and on entering the sanctuary I was left breath- and speech-less. Not an inch of the place was left uncovered by some design, portrait or icon. The tour guide gave a remarkably detailed sketch of the Orthodox church, and the choir sang-- something that only happened on that tour, making me even happier.

Among his comments I found three Orthodox beliefs that especially stuck out for me.

1. The physical world is created good-- God said so. In fact, it was the second thing God said at each stage of creation. (The first was "Let there be," and after it was, "This is good.") Because the world is created good, it pleases God when we use its resources to give glory to God. Churches, homes, cars, gardens, businesses-- these should all be beautiful for that reason, because with intent, our building them can be a form of thanksgiving to God for what He's given us.

2. Jesus began His saving work at his birth, not only at the cross. Jesus progressed through every stage of human life, from birth as an infant to death, and "made over" each stage to redeem every part of life.

3. Icons are an important part of religious practice, not because they are objects of worship (they're not!) but because they help us remember. Icons are faces in the "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) that's all around us cheering for us in our Christian life. They remind us that we are not alone. They show us that others have suffered as we do, that others have given their lives for the Kingdom. Icons show us people whose lives we can pattern ours after.

I firmly believe that understanding the beliefs of other churches is one of the keys to unity in the church and peace on earth. So (along with the shish kebab, spanakopita and baklava) I'm really glad I went to Greekfest, because I now have a great deal to think about.


Meyers-Briggs Prayer

Backyard Missionary has this post today, the "Meyers-Briggs Prayer." It's hilarious, just what we need on a Friday afternoon right before a long weekend. To quote, my own two profiles:

INFJ: Lord help me not be a perfectionist. (did I spell that correctly?)
ENFJ: God help me to do only what I can and trust you for the rest. Do you mind putting that in writing?

Check it out!