Rest in Peace, M's Suburban

The youth ministry at CSMSG lost one of its greatest friends last week-- the 1998 (or so) Chevy Suburban our program coordinator drove for years. Not only did it serve her family, it hauled our equipment and sleeping bags on mission trips, retreats and special events all over our city. We'll definitely miss it, even if we do find another family who can say, "No problem; my car fits seven!"


Happy Christmas, 2007

All God's best blessings on your Christmas and the New Year, from the youth ministry at St. Michael and St. George, in St. Louis, MO!

May He use you today to bring His love to your students and their families, even if you don't know how you did it.

And may the Holy Spirit rest on you as you stand in Christ's presence tonight.


My defining moment

My students had started to ask me, a few weeks ago, about what happens to people who don't believe in Jesus when they die. A lot of conversations I've had with students who are having a hard time in their faith lives revolve around, "why would God leave out of heaven all those good people who just decided not to believe the same things we do?"

One of my kids had left a question in the fishbowl that said, "Does God still love you if you do something wrong like decide to go your own way or choose a different religion?" He'd left me a nice out in the way he asked the question, because yes, God's love for people is infinite and the amount of love He has for us isn't affected by the things we do; God is able to differentiate between who we are and what we do. But I had a feeling C wouldn't appreciate me attempting to avoid the real question.

So I asked God about it, and as I was praying the Scripture that came to mind was when Jesus is first teaching about living bread, and the crowd starts to say, "This teaching is too hard. Who can understand it." When Jesus didn't go back and re-explain himself, a lot of the people there went away and didn't follow Him anymore. So Jesus went to the disciples and said, "What about you? Do you also want to leave because of what I'm teaching you?"

Peter stepped up and said, "Lord, who would we follow instead? You have the words that give eternal life. And now we see, and have come to believe that you are the holy one of God."

What the disciples realized, I heard, was that Christianity wasn't just a technique or an add-on to everything else they were doing in life. If you want to take a yoga class or learn computer programming, you might have to rearrange some of the other things you do to make time for it, but you can do those things along with everything else.

The disciples saw that following Jesus was going to be different. This was going to be a new way of life; it was going to replace everything they had done before, just as Jesus, when he invited them in the first place, had replaced their daily jobs with new ones.

I realized that while I've been teaching that Jesus is the way, I've been doing that in a very soft and unemphatic way.

I'm ready now to teach less apologetically and more urgently that when Jesus said, "I am the way to the Father," he meant it.

It was scary to me to realize for how long I've been avoiding answering that question.


Last Night's Nightline; "Hard as Nails" ministry

I ran across this story on "Nightline" last night, about a ministry that spreads Christ's message by saying what people are thinking, then confronting those words with the Bible. Any thoughts?

"Jumping up and down, getting hit by chairs and telling girls they are fat is hardly the image of a Catholic preacher. But for Justin Fatica, a 29-year-old unordained priest and leader of a nonprofit called Hard as Nails Ministries, that is exactly the point.
Fatica targets teens with his preaching, and his methods of spreading his brand of the Catholic message have brought him both admiration and criticism."

Here's the video


Something Christmas-related

In staff meeting this morning I had nothing to report. Since I'm not normally allowed to have nothing to say (my boss likes hearing about what we're up to) I ended my little paragraph this way:

"As we come closer to Christmas and are assaulted by televisions telling us what we really want, the message I'm giving the youth group is, 'Be very glad that neither from our parents or from God are we getting what we deserve this year.'"


Wings you can wear, but will they work well?

One of the "Tomb Raider" movies featured a set of wingsuits that helped the two leads escape some bad situation, and the clip from that movie was what made me wonder if they'd just come up with the idea because you can do that in video games... apparently, around the world, there are a few inventors and daredevils trying to fly.

This article explains it, from the New York Times: "Flying Humans, Hoping to Land With No Chute"

Here's a quote: "Wing suits are not new; they have captured the imagination of storytellers since man dreamed of flying. From Icarus to Wile E. Coyote, who crashed into a mesa on his attempt, the results have usually been disastrous.
But the suits’ practical use began to take hold in the early 1990s, when a modern version created by Patrick de Gayardon improved safety.
Modern suit design features tightly woven nylon sewn between the legs and between the arms and torso, creating wings that fill with air and create lift, allowing for forward motion and aerial maneuvers while slowing descent. As the suits, which cost about $1,000, have become more sophisticated, so have the pilots. The best fliers, and there are not many, can trace the horizontal contours of cliffs, ridges and mountainsides."

Until someone makes one that actually works reliably, this story could be a good illustration of the risks people take when they attempt to live without God.


The Rookie Speculates: on the Golden Compass

My friend Karl and I were talking last night and he asked me what I thought about the Golden Compass (which opened today in theaters) and the furor it's been creating among religious people who aren't going to see it and atheists who (apparently) celebrate the strongly anti-religious movie coming out at Christmas time. Here were our thoughts:

Overall, the movie's interesting, but nothing to be afraid of. (I'm personally going to see it just for the armored bear; how cool would that be?) As a priest here put it, "People are worried because in the end of the series, people kill God. That happened. God's children did kill Him. He came back." The small-g god in the movie is not one that Christians would be familiar with anyway.

The problem with making such a blatantly anti-Christian movie is that it's not going to provide much discussion between believers and non-believers. Instead, the story is going to make people who already agree with its ideas continue to agree, and people who disagree will be left umoved.

The most powerful bit of witness that will come out of it will be the chance to show real-world seekers that real-world Christians aren't like the overbearing Magisterium in the film. We have the chance here to humbly love and serve God's world and let curious people come up to us and ask why we do that.

Christianity Today's review The New York Times' review

The Extremes of Wednesday night Bible Study

These two conversations illustrate the lack of middle ground on Wednesday nights; either we really get it or we really don't:

Seventh-grader at dinner: "If I had enough armpit hair, I'd like to braid it!"
His friend: "Hey, yeah! That's a great idea!" (They start looking at their armpits.)
Isaac: (wads up napkin and throws it at them) "I'm throwing a flag on this conversation!"

Sixth-grader, in small group: "So if you're a Christian, is it hard to go to Hell?"
Isaac: (starts laughing) "Yes, C, when you're a believer, it's very hard to go to Hell."


the vegetable orchestra

I showed this to my youth group tonight as we started our Bible study and they watched it really carefully. They were especially trying to figure out which veggies the group actually uses.


Need some help on retreat planning

Hey everybody: I'm planning my winter retreat for the high schoolers and need some ideas. God's been nudging me that this group needs to spend the weekend experiencing a whole Gospel, not just a piece of it, so the first session we have together involves some lectio divina work where each person takes a section, reads it mindfully, then summarizes it for the group so we start to see some of the themes. That much has mostly come together. But where else do I go when I'm not focusing all the sessions on one or two stories? How do I help these high schoolers reflect and rest with God's word?


Cookie Night quotes for 2007

Last year we established a tradition with our middle school youth group that they would, at one of their monthly events, make care packages for the college students from CSMSG.

This past weekend we held our second Cookie Night. Part one of the evening is making cookies (we use big tubs of premixed dough for efficiency's sake) and part two is writing notes to the college students. I usually put up a few examples on the screen so our kids aren't shooting blind, but this year they were especially good at coming up with their own, like these:

(The High-Pressure note) "I hope you like these cookies, because I made them. So LOVE THEM!"

(The Guilt-Inducing note) "I hope you like these cookies, because a good friend would make them for you, but a great friend would also send you a postcard!"

(The one that isn't getting sent) "I hope you like these cookies. I added a 'special' ingredient!" (The writer's comment: "I think you'd have to be a college student to understand my note...")

(The Clever Holiday Song Parody) To the tune of 'Away in a Manger'-- "Away at your college/ Asleep on your bed/ With dreams of good cookies/ And 'A's on your tests! Well... maybe! At least you have cookies!"

(The One-Liner) "Get ready for your exams with these fresh-baked cookies! Well... they were fresh when we made them!"

(And, of course, the Nyah-Nyah-Nyah) "On the first day of Christmas, my youth group gave to me... 10 boxes of cookies... sorry, we only sent you one!

My favorite, of course, is the one with the drawing on it (which is supposed to look like me) "May God be with you as you work your way toward the outer life and pass your final exams. These cookies are to aid you in your quest to become whatever you want."
The most recent issue of the Journal of Student Ministries has an article by Chuck Bomar about how churches are making strides at connecting with college students; check it out if it's something your group has been talking about doing, or that you see the need for.


Up for an illustration

Take this news story, via Reuters, and use it to illustrate how people will grab at any solution, short of bringing it to God, to solve our problems.

Here's a quote:

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Having marital problems? Have you tried putting egg in your underpants?
A woman in Cyprus is on trial for sorcery after pledging to shake off a curse apparently plaguing a man's relationship with his wife and mother-in-law. [...]
"She cracked the egg into my underpants," the 37-year-old man told a district court in the capital Nicosia.


Shameless Plugging for Something Cool

I opened this book and the page I looked at was my "favorite" (when I'm talking to kids, and in a bad mood) Bible story: the one where the bears ate the children.

Get this book: "Rejected Sunday School Lessons"-- it's 20 or so perfect examples of how not to do Bible study, and would be useful for training new adult volunteers or Sunday School teachers.

It's also hilarious. With a capital Arious!

(Unfortunate information: The book isn't listed on the YS website or Amazon, yet, so keep looking-- or sign up for the NYWC in Atlanta!)


So I called this kid...

I had a list of phone calls to make in between our goal-setting meetings today, and called one of my not-so-involved kids to invite her back to our Wednesday night Bible study.

Me: Hi, I just wanted to find out if you were going to be here on Wednesday for Bible study.
NIK: Probably not.
Me: Oh, sad! How come?
NIK: (huge silence)
Me: Any particular reasons?
NIK: (starts crumpling a bag of chips near the phone) I think you're breaking up...

I definitely had something crumpled at me to get rid of me on the phone today.


My youth group just amazes me

Tonight we had our first regular high school group get-together. I'm much more creative when it comes to the middle school group, honestly, so when I was inviting people to this one what I said was, "This is your chance to tell me what the group will be doing the rest of the year."

We do a "Sunday night Coffeehouse" format, where I bring in my espresso maker (soon to be replaced with two permanent, youth group-owned machines) and make Starbucks-style goodness for everyone, and we get to relax a little bit. The original idea was to make this place a haven, away from pressure and deadlines and such.

This time, I asked the group to come up with problems they'd like to solve and efforts they'd like to be a more active part of.

The first comment was, "We should serve more." The group remembered a service project we'd done with a housing agency here in town and wanted to work with them again. We've had a kid in the hospital a lot this fall, so we wanted to do something for him, and then talked about expanding our vision to do more with people in the hospital in general. Then we talked about what we might do for the homeless people in our city.

Right now the crew is brainstorming ideas and we're going to come up with one to focus on deeply for a while. We're going to keep up the coffeehouse event as a time to relax and all check in, and add these other projects as we come up with them.

The best comment: "It's not like we could just go out and find homeless people and say, 'here's a blanket.' (Pause.) Wait, maybe we could!"

What was cool was that without any formal Bible study tonight, the group came up with most of Jesus list of things to do for "the least of these" in Matthew 25.


Interest in the Latin Mass seems to show people search for transcendent God

This story caught my eye this morning; I'd vaguely followed the debate over re-authorizing the Tridentine Mass in the Catholic Church, but hadn't made a connection to a book I'd read called "The New Faithful" which was about Christian orthodoxy and how young people are interested in it again.

“I have no memory of the Latin Mass from my childhood,” Anne McLaughlin said at St. Leo’s. “But for me it’s so refreshing to see him facing the east, the Tabernacle, focusing on Christ.”
Her daughter Aine, 15, agreed and said, “It’s so much prettier.”
Experts on the church say they have been surprised that young people have shown such interest.
“There’s a curiosity, and it is consistent with people looking for the transcendent and holy, which they maybe didn’t see in the Mass they attended growing up,” said the Rev. Keith F. Pecklers, professor of liturgy at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Imagine this: people who are looking for God are looking for something mysterious; something they don't understand. I think that's huge.


Books on God's existence, coming soon

An article in the New York Times magazine last week reviewed two books coming out in the next few months, one on an atheist turning Christian, and the other about a Christian turning agnostic.

This column, "Suffering, Evil and the Existence of God" summarizes both books.

[T]he central problem of theodicy [is] the existence of suffering and evil in a world presided over by an all powerful and benevolent deity. The occurrence of catastrophes natural (hurricanes, droughts, disease) and unnatural (the Holocaust ) always revives the problem and provokes anguished discussion of it. The conviction, held by some, that the problem is intractable leads to the conclusion that there is no God, a conclusion reached gleefully by the authors of books like “The God Delusion,” “God Is Not Great” and “The End of Faith.”
Now two new books (to be published in the coming months) renew the debate. Their authors come from opposite directions – one from theism to agnosticism, the other from atheism to theism – but they meet, or rather cross paths, on the subject of suffering and evil.

This article, "The Turning of an Atheist" describes Anthony Flew and his upcoming work.

"“There Is a God” is an intellectual’s bildungsroman written in simple language for a mass audience. It’s the first-person account of a preacher’s son who, away at Methodist boarding school, defied his father to become a teenage atheist, later wrote on atheism at Oxford, spent his life fighting for unbelief and then did an about-face in his old age, embracing the truth of a higher power. The book offers elegant, user-friendly descriptions of the arguments that persuaded Flew, arguments familiar to anyone who has heard evangelical Christians’ “scientific proof” of God. From the “fine tuning” argument that the laws of nature are too perfect to have been accidents to the “intelligent design” argument that human biology cannot be explained by evolution to various computations meant to show that probability favors a divine creator, “There Is a God” is perhaps the handiest primer ever written on the science (many would say pseudoscience) of religious belief."

Probably some heavy stuff here, but I'm planning to track down both books.


My favorite memory verse is #720

I just ran across this site via Dave Walker's blog at Cartoon Church, and it's got every verse in the Bible ranked according to its popularity on the Internet. The top 5 are:

John chapter 3 verse 16 "For God so loved the world..."
John chapter 1 verse 1 "In the beginning was the Word..."
John chapter 14 verse 6 "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life..."
Matthew chapter 28 verse 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..."
Romans chapter 3 verse 23 "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..."

1 Timothy chapter 4 verse 12 s is the verse I mentioned in my title: "Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young..."

NYWC: Last day (and late post)

The most compelling thing Marko said yesterday when he closed the St. Louis YS convention was "In the future of youth ministry, let's be not-driven. Instead, let's be present." The comment came out of a conversation on his blog about what we in ministry hope the future looks like.

It's a really cool idea. What if we weren't pushed along by whatever system we were using, or striving to create one, but were able to respond to what our students really needed from moment to moment. Jesus had an agenda in his teaching, after all, but it was a simple one-- preach God's kingdom coming near and show people how much He loved them-- and it wasn't bound to a schedule or a checklist. Christ, when he came to earth, was able to minister where people needed Him. So why couldn't we work that way?

The other very compelling thing he said was "I don't know how to make this happen; we'll all figure it out." This is one of those instructions I give my church school teachers all the time. More than that, the message reminded me what a unique field we are all in; a field where the guys we respect as "experts" or whatever else we call them aren't expected to be able to give us foolproof answers to all the questions we have.

Finally, kudos for saying that while the philosophy of youth ministry that we're using today is different from the ones they used in the beginning, what the youth ministers who worked with us, or even before them, used the best methods they had, and those methods fit the way people thought during that time.

The YS team put together a great convention, and one that brought up things I'll be pondering over the next couple of weeks here on the RYW.


NYWC: Mark Matlock on Mentoring

Mark Matlock, who founded Wisdom Works Ministries, led a seminar this morning on Mentoring with Wisdom in Mind. His main idea was that when we teach wisdom, we're giving students a framework of general rules and principles that they can apply to situations in their lives in order to make Godly decisions about them.

Since I'm in a teacher education program at the moment, backing up my youth ministry training at Wartburg, some of the concepts he used were very familiar. Mark is offering youth ministers an almost scientific approach to finding out where students are in their spiritual growth, using rubrics and surveys and keeping lots of notes on the students we mentor so that we can track where they're growing and where they're being challenged and tailor the experiences we provide for them to meet those needs.

Mark reminded us that youth ministers can only do this kind of deep mentoring with a few students at a time, so a minister who wants to use these ideas will end up spending a lot of time working with adults, training them so that there's someone to do mentoring ministry with each student.

He also leans on experience and practice, lots of rehearsal and role-play, to give kids the opportunity to practice the decisions they'll make in a situation where it's safe.

One challenge Mark gave us was to take our debriefing process farther when we go on trips or service projects or any other kind of experience that needs thinking about. He said that we typically go as far as analysis, but that we need then to talk about what we should do with our knowledge. After that step, we can do what he calls "problem-finding," looking for ways, once we're back in our regular life-zones, to go to the problems that need solving.

Mark's talk used a lot of info from Proverbs, which he calls "concentrated wisdom" that we don't usually need to interpret, the way we do with a lot of other passages we use. This spring, WisdomWorks will bring out a set of 55 proverbs on a deck of cards that students can sort through when they come to us with problems and identify wisdom that applies to their situation. These should be pretty cool.


NYWC: The Cure for Apathy

Timothy Eldred is teaching, this afternoon, on "Creating a Ministry that Launches Students into Action." His opening line was "Either I'm going to invigorate you this afternoon or infuriate you. And I'm okay with either one."

What he said:

The way we do ministry is flawed, and the way we feel shouldn't matter in how we measure results. What ought to matter is numbers.
Kids aren't apathetic; they just don't care about what we care about. Kids are disillisioned; both kids in and out of the body of Christ. We need to figure out how to help them walk "in their birthrights" as children of God.
We have moments in life that mark us forever. Frequently those are brought about by people who come alongside us in our lives and do/say something really tough.
The Eden story wasn't all about being naked, it was about being alone. Being out of relationship can mean a lack of accountability or absence of guidance.
What we remember isn't Bible study or lesson plans, but by relationships that change lives, and those take time. (Duh. But good to remember.)
God's gifts to us (all of them-- planet, students, Gospel, all that) require stewardship and give us the chance to represent God to His creation and His children.
We don't believe in kids the way God does.
And kids know they have the potential God gave them and get frustrated when they see adults, and ministries, not paying attention to that and investing in preparing them to be what God's planned for them to be.
The way Jesus coached disciples was training them to recognize needs, asking them what resources they had, and sending them out to connect the two. The story he used was the feeding of 5,000.
Our kids recognize the needs around them and one of the reasons they're not doing something about them is because the message they hear about their ideas and possible solutions is, "That's a dumb idea."
Ministry is management. It's about managing time so we're spending the most time building relationships with students. But most youth ministers want to be onstage.
Get out of God's way and get behind God's call for the kids, that they're hearing and we're missing. (The example he used was Samuel and Eli.)

  • God's passion is to be connected to His creation
  • Relationship with God is simply not enough.
  • We need intimacy with God and with others.
  • Revelation requires a response.
  • Response to truth births a revolution.
  • Revolution does not occur without change.


"Because I believe young people can make the same level of commitment to Jesus Christ as adults can, I promise to never do anything in the church for them that they can learn to do for themselves."

In a conversation with a Muslim man on an airplane, Tim asked "Why are Muslim kids more committed than Christian kids?" The answer: "We expect our kids to die for their faith. You expect them to show up and eat pizza."

What I think about it:

I knew God wanted me to go into youth ministry one morning in 1998 when I was a volunteer for a summer day camp program at my church. All the kids arrived and I walked through the group saying hi to them. When the counselors started up with some singing, a whole group of those kids ran over to sit next to me and I realized, "This is what I should be doing." I recognized that what happened was that my attention to them made them ready to listen to me, and what I wanted to tell them was how to be like Jesus. I may not have thought all of those words right that second, but I definitely thought, "This is what I want to do with my life."

After I became a youth minister, I discovered that I was also good at writing program material, and at telling stories up front. I can relate something that's happened to me, or to someone else in our group, to a point from Scripture that Christians need to know. And that's a bunch easier than grinding out phone calls or sending postcards and going to find kids every day, which are relational, time-intensive things that I need to be doing.

This year I am improving my ratio of time out finding kids to office and prep time, (here's sort of a post about it,) and this workshop has been a solid reminder. It also challenged me to get more kids involved in leadership, even if that means slowing down the "progress" we make. More about what that means in my post-convention reflection.

NWYC: The Truth at last!

So this is what youth ministers really do at conventions... thanks to the folks at Uth Stuph for bringing the tricycles!


Tonight, for dinner

A lot of the places downtown seem to have limited hours; why not explore a little more of the St. Louis area? (Okay, that sounded super-cheesy. Sorry.)

Get on the Metrolink going west (exit the convention center and go left on 7th St. to the escalator down to the tunnel. Get off at the Richmond Heights stop and wander across the street to the St. Louis Galleria mall. Before you even cross the street there's Maggiano's Little Italy and a P.F. Chang's, if you're in the mood for predictable, and a little local Chinese place called Yen Ching, on Brentwood Blvd. In the mall there's a Bread Co., Fuzio Universal Pasta (my personal favorite Galleria restaurant) and the food court downstairs.

St. Louis loves you all! (Jesus does too.)

NYWC: Lynne Hybels at Gen. Session 3

Lynne Hybels spoke this morning at the general session and told a very personal story about how she acted for years as if God daily "sucked the life out of his followers" by giving them heavy burdens of work and obedience, how she did ministry with her own soul on "empty" and finally, in her brokenness, met God who loves her and showed her the real way He called her to follow. She talked about the importance of knowing one's spiritual gifts and, in ministry, developing the ones we have and not worrying too much about the ones we don't. She reminded us not to fear because God is with us, and if we ask for guidance, He will give us the strength and resources to accomplish what He has set aside for us.

This is a message we desperately need to hear, because there are people in our ministries who are constantly on the move, who equate busyness with Godliness, who think if they take on enough, they won't notice how much energy they lack, and we look at the surface of them and think, "That's exactly the kind of volunteer I want to have!" And if we think that way, we are participating in a dangerous lie.

The kind of volunteer we should want to have-- and, for that matter, the kind of leader we should want to be-- is one with her soul in the right order. I want people who are comfortable saying "No," explaining that another commitment to the youth ministry would interfere with a spiritual practice she values and is fed by. I want someone who says "I need to pray about that."

And in order to become that kind of person, or recruit that kind of leader, we need to make our gatherings safe places to talk about souls. We need to ask soulful questions: "What are you hearing from God lately?" "What was the most challenging piece of Scripture you read lately?" "How are you?" I'll develop this idea more in the near future-- help me with ideas of what we can do!

Lynne's message was especially good to hear because it painted a picture of what a cry for help from someone who's deeply involved in God's life, but not being fed by it, looks like. I was disappointed by how many people slipped out early; I just hope they were the ones who already know how to give their volunteers Christ's light burden and easy yoke.


NYWC: What the Monks can Teach Us

I'm blogging this morning from a seminar with Dave Ambrose subtitled "Rediscovering the Ancient Art of Listening to God." Originally, I intended to take a lot of student leadership courses, and then the schedule had them all overlapping. The other theme that caught my eye was soul-care and spiritual direction type topics, and I took those two circumstances as a little sign to adjust my course for this year's convention.

Here's my notes:

Goal: Become more in love with Jesus every day, so that I know that a) following Jesus is the hardest work I've ever done, and b) that it's worth it.

Who am I as a follower of Jesus Christ?

Where in my life can I experience silence and solitude daily?
We often tell kids to go to the Bible for information, but spiritual practices like lectio divina are designed to "let the Scripture read us." Hebrews 4:12-- "For the Word of God is living and active..."
Pay attention to senses when reading the Bible.
Scripture memory: we make excuses for not practicing this discipline but we know the lyrics of all the songs we like. It's more important to know what Scripture says than to know the chapters and verses precisely.
What you memorize is important too-- some of the things people traditionally memorize are the Commandments, Creed, Lord's Prayer, Beatitudes, Fruit of the Spirit, Psalm 23, and the Ladder of Virtue (1 Peter chapter 1 verses 5-11)
Daily Office: Prayer at specific times during the day (fixed-hour prayer), intentionally taking out time from work or other commitments to worship. General format is 3 Psalms, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. The services help establish a rhythm and give us a base of time with God.
St. Ignatius' Daily Examen: An examination of one's conscience. There are several forms, but one of the simplest is two questions-- where did I see God today? and where did I miss God today? The goal is to prepare for tomorrow and be a little more ready to see God.
The Jesus Prayer: from Luke chapter 18, the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector at the temple. "Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Pray back each word-- say each word or phrase in the prayer, then stop and pray over what that means.
Guided Meditation
Bodily Approaches to Spirituality (via activa): Fasting-- different kinds of fasts, fasting from different things-- all fasts are a way to gain control over something that owns me and to learn self-control.
Stations of the Cross
Creative Prayers: Use symbols, actions. Don't underestimate the power of putting your body in various postures; kneeling, bowing, standing, raising hands.
Sabbath: from Shabbot, means "ceasing"-- let God mess up your life and give you His rhythm instead
Service: start within your family, then in your church, then move to the world in need.


"In the spiritual life, the word "discipline" means 'the effort to create some space in which God can act.'" --Henry Nouwen
"All of the world's problems stem from the fact that man does not know how to be alone in his own room." --Blaise Pascal

And my responses:

We did a Lectio form with the story of the healing at Bethesda, John 5:1-15. I walked through the story as one of the disciples, and the thought I had was, when I watched Jesus heal the man, "I SO want to be able to do that too."

One of the reasons I've had trouble with spiritual disciplines lately is because I've been trying to find and practice the ones I love the best, and missing the idea that sometimes you do need to work at a discipline (imagine that) to make it something that you love and value. As I'm trying some of the new things that Dave offered us this morning, I think a better way than what I've been doing would be to work out a balance; practice some spiritual things for the sheer joy I get out of them, and others for the sense of diligence and self-control that I need in my life.


Quick addition

St. Louis' local newspaper: The Post-Dispatch has a pretty good entertainment section that reviews restaurants and other fun places and events.
And the Riverfront Times, an independent newspaper in town, does even more of that.
And Sauce Magazine focuses just on places to eat. If you have time to do some research, use these links to help you get the most out of St. Louis!

Hey NYWC, welcome to St. Louis!

You're about to spend a week in my hometown, and I'm thrilled you're here! Here's a few basic notes about St. Louis that might be helpful.

Every St. Louis Bread Co. location has free Wi-Fi. So when you're eating lunch and need to quick check your Facebook, go there. The convention center has it too, for those of us who tend to type during things.

Forest Park is here, and one of the largest city parks in the US. If you need a quiet place to relax away from downtown, the Zoo, the Art Museum, and the History Museum are all in the park and free.

The restaurants downtown near the center are probably going to fill up pretty fast. If you want to branch out a little and find some non-crowded food, get on the Metro (go out the 6th Street door at the America's Center and walk left to the train station, about half a block away) and go to Clayton Station. Clayton is full of neat little restaurants, (and also my church, St. Michael and St. George, if you'd like to visit us on Sunday morning and check out what the youth ministry has going on. Ask somebody to find Isaac for you.

Speaking of the Metro system, my friend Sam (who flew in from Belgium to come here) says not to be afraid of public transportation in STL. It's clean and easy and the people who run it are friendly.

Here's some great restaurants:
Fitz's American Grill (makes their own root beer, and lets you watch)
Jimmy's on the Park (little fancier place, bistro-like and try the flash-friend spinach)
Nadoz' Cafe (on Lindell Blvd in the Coronado building; peek into the grand ballroom while you're there)
Kaldi's Coffeehouse (read the story of Kaldi painted on the wall)
Stratton's Cafe
Serendipity Ice Cream (both a little farther out, in Webster Groves, but they're awesome when you have a block of time or need to skip something and decompress)

Indie Community has a lunch going on Saturday at the City Museum, and going to the lunch gets you free admission to the museum. This is a very cool place; a more hands-on experience than most museums, and it's definitely worth a look around.

When you just need to talk to God, head over to the Catholic Basilica here in town. Doesn't matter what denomination you serve; you'll love the mosaics that the cathedral is famous for. There's also the Episcopal cathedral downtown; they're near-always open.

Once again, welcome to town-- I'll try to post helpful things every day; if you have a question while you're here, post a comment on the blog or email me at isaac(AT)csmsg(DOT)org! All God's best on your convention experience-- I'll be praying for us all!


Video Scavenger Hunt 2007-- the year of the offensive tackle

The instructions read: "Bonus points: Include your youth minister in one of your videos."

The kids ran up to me and said: "Isaac! We have to catch you on tape!"

I said: "Okay."

Here's what happened.



On the plane from Denver to STL yesterday, I overheard the following four sentences in rapid succession.

"Make sure you tell them it's not my fault we missed the plane."

"They know we're late for everything."

"I know a lot of those are my fault."

"I just don't want the reputation of someone who's always late."

At the moment, I'm reading Steven James' book "Story" which is about the mystery that is faith in Christ and how much more deeply we need to look at it, and one of his chapters is about "Christ admirers" vs. "Christ-followers." He points out that Christ admirers say great things about Jesus, and claim faith in Him, but don't change their lives when He challenges them to. Christ-followers, on the other hand, back up their reputed faith with the responses to Christ's work and teaching that show they really are walking with the Lord.

The fact that I was reading the book and hearing the conversation at the same time struck me as highly ironic.


Group's Effective Communicators' Summit-- Day 3

Level 1 of the summit finished up today, so I'm flying home in the morning, and today was the moment of truth.

I gave my 20-minute message today, and then had 1-on-1 time with a coach who walked me through the tape and pointed out some things.

T showed me today that I need to spend more time preparing the normal messages that I do, which are 2 minutes and 10 minutes, on Sundays and Wednesdays, because there's so little time to get the point across that they need extra polish.

He also said that when I have the chance to give longer messages, for example on retreats, I should replace a lot of my talking time with time for my students to discover with each other the points that I want them to know. They also need time to work out how to apply it.

This actually goes right along with my teaching courses. It's applying it and investing the time that will be the trick.

But I also worked out a little strategy for it. When I go into a message, I've discovered, what I need is an outline of the points I want to make and the questions I want to ask, and a few illustrations that go along with it. I don't actually work as well with every word written out. And if the group I'm speaking to is discovering a lot of my material themselves, I'll need to be quick on my feet to respond to them.

This year I've been committing to improving my planning (by doing more of it in advance), my standard material (things I use over again and just needed to write down) and my speaking (first by doing more of it, second by reflecting on it and doing training like this.


Group's Effective Communicators' Summit- Day 2

Driving from my hotel to Group's HQ, I can see the Rocky Mountains the whole way down, and it's amazing. There was ice on the windshield this morning but I'm from Michigan; that was nothing. I didn't wait in the car for the defroster, just hopped out with the ice scraper and then off I went.

Today I have had conversations about what the biggest challenges in ministry are; how accountability to goals is a blessing and a thorn; and whether doing youth work in Hawaii is as great as we all think it would be (the minister from HI and I decided that since there's no off-season for the beach, ministries have to fight more distractions year-round!)

People retain 5-10% of what they hear
25% of the media they see
40-60% of the role-playing they do
and 80-90% of the experiences they have

And in order for an experience to have the value we as ministers intend it to have, we need to allow time for kids to process with us, guiding the discussion using the Gospel.

Within the conference, half of us are anxious about using experiential techniques more than lecture techniques because we'll lose control of the group, and the other half are afraid that we won't be able to cover as much of the material. But faith is not a subject we master, so if we are going to reach postmodern teenagers, we're going to need to get over that fear and start using more hands-on and discovery-based ways to teach.


Group's Effective Communicators Experience-- Day 1

I flew out to Loveland this morning to be part of Group Publishing's communicators' summit, and for the only time I can ever remember, all of my flights, shuttles and various legs of the trip happened on time, so I got here just early enough to change out of my travel clothes and run over to Group headquarters.

The group is a mix of children's ministers, youth ministers, a few senior pastors, some volunteers, and a few Group staff. Most of us haven't been to one of these events before, or out to Group HQ, and a bunch of us haven't had the chance to do actual speakers' training since we took public speaking in college.

We're all excited about something that's happening in our congregations. I've decided that the best question one can ask another minister is "What's great at your place?" because it lets us talk about what's going on, what we're passionate about, without asking "So how many are you running?" or any other questions that hinge on numbers.

I need to work on the outline for my 20-minute presentation that's the thing I'm supposed to have with me, so those are my notes.


I "gently sprung" this on my leaders

This week pray for my small group leaders-- they are flying solo on Wednesday night and while I know they're up for it, some of them are a little nervous.

I'll be out at Group's headquarters for a speakers' training workshop (and hopefully blogging from there) and completely forgot that I'd need to set up some system for covering Wednesday Bible study, until last Wednesday. So the leaders agreed to give it a try, and the kids agreed to show up, and we'll see how it goes.

God's got a plan for it, I know that!


Family Meals, with or without TV, make kids healthier

An article in the NYTimes today showcases some research about family dinner time; apparently, eating together is one of the most powerful influences on kids' diet (and has an impact on other behaviors) and things like TV don't distract from that as much as we've thought.

“Obviously, we want people eating family meals, and we want them to turn the TV off,” said Shira Feldman, public health specialist at the university’s School of Public Health and lead author of the research. “But just the act of eating together is on some level very beneficial, even if the TV is on.”
The research, published this month in The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, is the latest testament to the power of the family meal. While many parents worry about what their kids are eating — vegetables versus junk — a voluminous body of research suggests that the best strategy for improving a child’s
diet is simply putting food on the table and sitting down together to eat it."

The Secret Checklist for Lock-Ins

A few things I learned from the last series of lock-ins we did here at CSMSG.

  • Strings of Christmas lights make great safety lighting through the hallways-- kids can play games "in the dark" and I can see my way around.
  • Give the adult leaders the Bible study guides before Bible study actually starts. One adult at the 8th grade event said, "Well, I have gone into presentations with less preparation than this."
  • Set up an official rotation for adults to be in each of the activity areas, not all clumped together in one space. This worked out naturally after a little while, but I should have been more active about it.
  • Post signs that say, "This door is locked" on red paper on any door that's not physically locked but that is "locked to students."
  • At rule-making time, make the "please don't" list yourself, then ask students to make the "please do" list and all sign it.
  • Don't leave the pile of big red signs around where students can find it and post the "guys only" and "girls only" signs on the opposite doors.


What took my breath away this morning

Over the summer, the staff at Fortune Lake led a prayer walk, and one of the stations was about expressing our identity as we see it, and considering our identity the way God sees it. This photo was the board after that station was over, the last week of camp. "I am broken like Christ" made me a little teary. (Click the photo to see it full-size and read it better.)
(credit to my friend LB on Facebook)


Greatest quotes from this weekend's HS lock-in

(while playing Apples to Apples, the world's greatest game next to chess and Monopoly): You can't cuddle up to Los Angeles, but you could with a bottle of soy sauce!

(at the beginning of the A2A game):
PK: "And there's Isaac-- he's not my friend."
Isaac: "Even if I'm not your friend, I'm still your brother in Christ."
PK: (thinks for a second) "Yeah, well, just don't tell anybody about that!"


Halo 3 makes news as an outreach tool

In the NY Times this morning, this article about churches using Halo 3 in their youth programs.

"Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a popular video game at church"

"Martial images in literature or movies popular with religious people are not new. The popular “Left Behind” series of books — it also spawned a video game — dealt with the conflict preceding the second coming of Christ. Playing Halo is “no different than going on a camping trip,” said Kedrick Kenerly, founder of Christian Gamers Online, an Internet site whose central themes are video games and religion. “It’s a way to fellowship.” "

CSMSG's ministry uses the Nintendo wii to give students a fun way to start and close our events, or to hang out and chat after school, but I do make a point of limiting the type of games and screening violent ones. It doesn't seem to matter to the kids-- they might comment on how I pick lame games, but they'll get up and play them right after that.


An unclear comment about Facebook

I'm not entirely sure what this essayist is saying, but there's an article about Facebook attempting to grow up in the NY Times Op-Ed section today, called "The Fakebook Generation."

"Facebook did not become popular because it was a functional tool — after all, most college students live in close quarters with the majority of their Facebook friends and have no need for social networking. Instead, we log into the Web site because it’s entertaining to watch a constantly evolving narrative starring the other people in the library...

For young people, Facebook is yet another form of escapism; we can turn our lives into stage dramas and relationships into comedy routines. Make believe is not part of the postgraduate Facebook user’s agenda. As more and more older users try to turn Facebook into a legitimate social reference guide, younger people may follow suit and stop treating it as a circus ring. But let’s hope not."

One of the reasons my adult leaders and I so appreciate Facebook is that it's treated by kids as a safe place to have important discussions; while there's some question about whether that's healthy, it's a good first step that might not otherwise be taken, toward finding a trusted adult mentor who can point the way to God.

Ten things that would make field hockey better

I thoroughly enjoyed the game this morning. My kids are solid players and they put up a good fight, but ultimately lost 2-0.

I also had some time to think, while I was watching, of a list of suggestions for the powers that be who decide how field hockey is played, that would improve the game. As a disclaimer, I mentioned a few of them to one of my students who plays, and she immediately said, "Oh, that would make the game much more fun!"

1. Water hazards and sand traps. Since field hockey is what regular hockey would look like if it was played on a golf course, let's include the traditional golf obstacles.
2. Tackling. So many times the other team stole the ball; if my student had been able to knock the other player down and run away with the ball, that problem could have been solved.
3. Hills on the field. Bear with me on this one. A level playing field means everyone can see all the other players all the time; how much fun is that, really? Let's get some high ground that a team can hide behind and ambush the other team when they run by. We are talking, after all, about a game that used to be played with the heads of one's enemies.
4. The "You Hassle, You Hustle" rule. (In fact, let's get this in all sports.) Under this rule, if a parent shouts out advice to the team, the referees insert that parent into the game to show everyone how it's done right. Guarantee the stands stay quieter after the freshman girls' team schools some middle-aged dad who shouts, "You gotta catch up with them!"
5. Let the players actually stand up while they play; no more of this bent-over running thing- that cannot be good for the spine.
6. An official airline.
7. Crossover games-- like the series crossover novels that featured both Nancy Drew AND the Hardy Boys; let's play the field hockey team vs. the tennis team, or something like that. Maybe the bowling team.

8. There might be only seven things-- any other suggestions?


Study Bible

I'm trying to pick a study Bible for my small group and youth groups to use here at the church; right now we have the plain New Revised Standard, the pew version, with no footnotes or other useful goodies. I like having the Word straight up like that, but I also like having a version that includes some background and cross-references so that my kids start to get that it's one big picture, not a bunch of random ones.

Who's got a good one that works for the group you have? Why'd you pick it and where did you get it from?

My conditions:

No "named" versions, aka Steve and Sarah Everyminister's Get-Your-Life-Straightened-Out-In-90-Days Study Bible. Adding a person's name to the Word does not make it more valuable or useful to a kid's life.

No cheesy theme Bibles-- "half-pipe of life" type thing.

All of life explained by index cards

I saw this blog mentioned on the NYTimes website a while back and forgot to go look at the actual blog until today-- it's called "Indexed" and the author does charts that show odd relationships between things, drawn on index cards. Most of them are very funny: check it out!


This week's quickest lock-in game

The exercise is: get a tent pole. Either grab one from an actual tent, or put together two tent pole repair kits, leaving out one segment.
Have people stand in lines on either side. They need to hold their index fingers out, alternating with the people on the other side of the line.
A person on either end of the line holds the tent pole just above the students' fingers while you give the instructions:
Rest the tent pole on their index fingers. Warn the students not to hook their fingers around the ends like the guy in white is doing. Their job is, working all together, to lower the tent pole to the ground. They must keep their fingers in contact with the tent pole at all times.
Usually, the first thing that happens is that the tent pole goes straight above their heads and stays there for a while. After they've tried their best for a few minutes, give them a new instruction: this time, they need to lower the tent pole to the ground. And the tent pole is very, very heavy.
You can interpret it by explaining that if we see the Christian life as a set of rules and things we have to do, it'll get really frustrating. But if we understand it as a relationship between us and God who continually reaches down to meet us, we'll worry about it less.
Usually it takes a long time-- my kids got it in 2 minutes this weekend.

Bible study on Responsibilities-- used with Confirmation class

Here's a Bible study I did this weekend on the 8th grade lock-in. We used the movie "Night at the Museum" which is a good, fun, mostly clean movie that came out around Christmas in 2006.

What’s Your “Rs?”

What’s the first thing your family ever made you responsible for?

What do you know?
What kinds of things do adults “have to” do?

From the Movie
Which characters lived up to their responsibilities? How did they do that?

Which characters did not keep their promises? What happened because of that?

What does the movie teach us about responsibility?

From the Bible
Matthew 28:16-20
In your own words, what’s the church been commanded to do?

How do we do those things here in our church?

Acts 2:42-47
What were the disciples’ responsibilities?

What happened because the disciples kept those habits?

1 Timothy 4:11-16
Timothy was a young person but he had big responsibilities. How can you lead and serve in the church today?

Which of the responsibilities we’ve talked about tonight do you think you most need to pay attention to?

In Our Lives
Write yourself a note encouraging you to be responsible for one of the things we’ve talked about tonight. Seal it in an envelope and write your name (first and last) on the outside. You’ll get that note in the mail sometime during this year.

Closing Prayer
Ask a student in your group to make up a prayer or read this one:

Dear God, you prepared your disciples to receive the Holy Spirit by hearing Jesus’ teaching. Make our hearts and minds ready to receive the Spirit’s blessings too, that we may be full of the strength that Your presence brings. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, adapted, pg. 819)


Segment from the September Kickoff: "What do they Know?"

M.W., one of my priests here at CSMSG, left a printout in my mailbox today called "Kids These Days: What they Don't Want from the Church." It's worth a read.

A quote:

"Preach the gospel full on…ditto. Tell it like it is and let the students grow in holiness. Yes, they will fail. Who doesn’t? But let them fail knowing what Christ and his Church expects of them. Lowering the moral bar comes across as expecting too little from them. What does that say about the Church’s view of our future ecclesial leaders? They can’t cut it, so we have to shorten the race."


"Rescued from this body of death"

Here's one of those scary/gross/a little funny stories that show up now and then, today via the Post-Dispatch.

"Man buys smoker, finds human leg inside."

"Police said the man opened up the smoker and saw what he thought was a piece of driftwood wrapped in paper. When he unwrapped it, he found a human leg, cut off 2 to 3 inches above the knee.

[The leg's ] mother explained her son had his leg amputated after a plane crash and kept the leg following the surgery "for religious reasons" she doesn't know much about."

I think this story is just shocking enough that somebody could use it as an illustration for a message to high school students. Anyone have an idea how?


"Three Important Questions"-- a low-prep Bible study format

One of our church groups that I'd spoken to a while back called me last Monday to ask if I could fill in for the priest who regularly leads their Bible study on Tuesday morning before they have lunch. I had a class on Tuesday so couldn't make it back in time (I did join them for lunch, though) but offered to leave them a format so they could guide themselves through the chapter.

A couple of the questions are borrowed from "No Experience Necessary" which is also an excellent study. When I created the 3Qs format, I wanted it to be adaptable to any Scripture a group decided to study.

Here is the format for your toolbox:

Three Important Questions

Open with a prayer. You can ask a group member to make up a prayer, or use one from the Prayer Book. The prayers begin on page 815. Number 3, #7, #52 and #58 are especially appropriate for Bible study groups.

After the prayer, ask the members of the group to share what they have seen God doing in their lives or the lives of their families since the last time you met. If the group has trouble coming up with examples, remind them to share general blessings like good news they’ve received, continued health, things like that.

Now open the Bible to the passage you’ve chosen to study. You might want to continue one you’ve been reading or pick a favorite.

Read it once all the way through without stopping. The first time you read, you just want to make sure you know what’s happening.

Then read it again. Before you read, ask the group members to imagine themselves being part of the story. They might pick a character and try to see that person’s perspective, or just try and imagine what it would have been like to be present the day the story took place.

Now ask these 3 questions and see how the group responds:

What is God doing in the story?
What is God calling me to do as a response to this story?
What is God calling us (the Bible study group, the congregation, or the whole Church) to do as a response to this story?

If you need additional questions, ask these:

(After question #1)

How does this story give clues to what Jesus is going to do in the end?

Are there any references made to other Bible stories? What was God doing in those times?

Are there situations like this happening in our world today? What is the Church doing to show God’s way to the people involved?

(After question #2)

What’s my first reaction to this story?

If this happened to me, or someone I know, today, what would my advice or help be?

How would I pray for the people in this story?

(After question #3)

What does the church already do that meets the need in the story?

In what way is our church especially good at listening to God’s will for us?

If we could ask God to explain one thing from this story to our church, what would we ask?

Close in prayer.


It's one of the things I've always feared

One of my kids came up to me after our church school classes let out today and asked, "Are you really as obsessed with God as you were down in the gym this morning?"

(Each week we gather for 20 minutes or so of fellowship as a whole group before they break off into classes, and each week I do a Gospel minute where I share a story about the Gospel lesson that applies to the students' lives. That's what she meant.)

"My friend says you're only like that here because that's what you're paid to do. When you go home you're probably like, 'Oh, whatever.'"

It was hard to hear. And I'm not sure what to do about it, since I can't just take all my students home and have them live with me. They know, because I tell them all the time, that I truly enjoy life with God, but I've always wondered if professional youth workers have less credibility after kids figure out that we get paid.


Apparently, what's popular is not always healthy...

From a Post-Dispatch article today, via AP:

"At rail stations and shopping malls around the world, reports are popping up of people, particularly young children, getting their toes caught in escalators.

According to reports appearing across the United States and as far away as Singapore and Japan, entrapments occur because of two of the biggest selling points of shoes like Crocs: their flexibility and grip. Some report the shoes get caught in the "teeth" at the bottom or top of the escalator, or in the crack between the steps and the side of the escalator. The reports of serious injuries have all involved young children."


Top 10 Reasons to do Service Projects with the youth group

10. Because Jesus said, "Go surf!" Oh, wait... that's "serve."
9. That warm and fuzzy feeling you get afterward is perfectly legal.
8. You'll meet people who go to all the other high schools in St. Louis.
7. You could get your picture on next year's top 10 list.
6. Because the world needs more sandwiches.
5. Girls think it's hot when you volunteer.
4. Because ripped and dirty clothes are fashionable right now.
3. My friend's friend's cousin told me that if you skip your homework to do a service project, your teacher has to give you an "A."
2. No matter what the project is, we'll accomplish more than the Cardinals.
1. Isaac will finally remember your name, and stop calling you "Brenda."

Another sermon

This time from Rev. Michael Blewett, one of the priests here at CSMSG, and posted on his blog.

"When in trouble, name names."

Michael was right on the money this week. I'm working on a few original posts, but it's the day after the September kickoff and I'm in the middle of the whirlwind, and trying to clean up and put things back where I found them in my youth room. For the last month I've just been dumping stuff when I walked in, because prep for the kickoff was taking so much energy.


What I learned from my summer sermon

Back on August 12, I had my first chance to give the sermon in the main service on a Sunday morning. I'm definitely used to giving Gospel minutes during our fellowship time after church, or messages to the youth group every month when we meet there, but this was a whole other animal.

Here's the sermon. When you click the link it'll take you to the sermon page, and then just click my name (I'm the only "Isaac" on the page) and the sermon will play.

Here's what I learned by writing this sermon:

I learned it's especially tough to write a lively proclamation of the Good News when you're in an especially dry spiritual season. I started doing the Bible study and research for this message a good two weeks before I got to give it, and the thing wouldn't write. I'd get an idea for the introduction onto the page, then couldn't back it up. Or the idea would end up being too complicated to keep my attention, and I'd know the congregation would think the same thing.

This part taught me to rely on prayer more than on my imagination. Rather than jumping straight into the message, I should have taken that first week to sit with God about it.

I learned that when you have a limited time in which to speak, it's probably wise to focus on one or two aspects of the Scripture that's been assigned. The passage I had began with "Have no fear, little flock," and moved through "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," and "Be ready for Christ to return," and finished with "This is serious, people!" just to tie it all together. (That last one wasn't in there verbatim, but it's a good reminder to add to the end of Gospel readings, I think!)

This part taught me to pick the piece that I am post passionate about telling people, and then pour myself into it, when I have such a buffet table to pick from. See the earlier post on giving speeches.

Finally, when I showed up at Rev. Heather's doorstep at 9pm on Saturday, I learned (because she told me) that when a congregation listens to a preacher, they'll connect to the message best by hearing how the Gospel affected the preacher's life. What the congregation suspects is that there's really something going on in this Bible-thing; hearing a story about a real person they know can help bring that out.

The next time I preach, I'll learn a whole different set of lessons, and hopefully put these few into practice. What's really surprised me about this preaching experience is that I knew all of those things from building youth group messages, and had to learn them all over again when writing a sermon for the full congregation.


Journaling with high school class

As part of this year's curriculum, I'm working on a journal that goes along with our high school lessons, which are based around topics students have asked questions about, and designed to teach what a Christian approach to those topics is like. The journal is something we haven't done before.

Has anyone had any particular success with journaling, or any notable difficulties, that would give me some idea of what to expect when we start using them? Or any ideas/angles that would be useful to include in the journal. Right now I have weekly sections through each topic, a form for confession, a couple of prayer forms, and a Bible study method in the book.


A comment on how to prepare

I was listening to the latest Car Talk podcast (love those guys!) and heard them reference an ad campaign for an investment company that used the line, "The only place where 'success' comes before 'preparation' is in the dictionary."

Anyone have a way we can use this as an illustration? I have the feeling it's a good one.


A little shift in perspective, and suddenly...

On my way out the door to go look for kids the other day, I realized that I'd forgotten to pick a book off my shelf to bring to Starbucks, and asked my program director if she had anything I hadn't read (or loaned her my copy of). She grabbed Mark Yaconelli's "Contemplative Youth Ministry" which I'd been meaning to get into.

Mark makes the point that the rarest gift teenagers have is an adult presence who truly listens to them, and those words jumped out at me. I like to teach, and talk, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to always have something useful and Godly to say to my students when I see them.

But this morning I decided to go about things a little differently; I went in determined to listen. And before the main service, I'd had four good conversations, two of them with students I haven't seen in a while.

A lot of my summer has been devoted to writing programming and lesson plans for this coming year, and that attitude bled over into the way I related to kids. So reading Mark's words brought me back to the place God had prepared for me today.


The Perfect New-Volunteer test

Yesterday was a busy day, and it's on days like that when the most random ideas strike me as excellent--

So there I was, sitting in Starbucks, and I had the idea for a very reliable volunteer interview scenario. Find a Starbucks near a middle school (within walking distance) and arrange to interview your new volunteer there on a Friday afternoon; in fact, plan to meet 20 minutes after the first wave of kids walks in, so you'll be standing in line with 30 or so teenagers who all want to talk about the amazing things that happened in school today.

You'll weed out all the adults who really don't have a clue about youth ministry, such as this mom who walked in with her younger daughter and nearly walked right back out again (the daughter found some friends before mom could steer her out the door), saying, "Not only is there a long line, but they're noisy!"


Loving the fuzzy logic

This past week in our Wednesday small group night, we asked our students to talk about how a new person should feel at his/her first small group night. G, one of the most enthusiastic kids, had this answer:

"They should feel worried... really worried! Because then, when they realize how awesome it is, they'll REALLY want to come back!"

On making a speech you can believe in

One of my students asked me the other day, "Do you know any good topics for debates?" Her homework was to write a short (1-2 minute) speech on a topic that people could debate. (The class wouldn't actively debate each topic, but the assignment was supposed to test the students' understanding of what topics will bring out lively debate.)

The advice I gave was, "You should make the speech about something you believe in." For two reasons, a speech should always be about something the speaker believes in, and the more passionate the belief, the better. Audiences can tell if a speaker is just reciting. Sometimes speakers have to debate the opposite side of their own position, but this should only be done as an exercise, not as a habit.

So we tried to come up with something she believed in. And we came up with three categories of things that count as beliefs: religious belief, political belief, and "cause" belief-- for example, one of my causes is worldwide literacy.

What I couldn't convince her to do was to actually pick a strong belief and make the speech about it. Part of the problem was that the assignment was due the next day. But another part came from this student not wanting the challenge of using such a short speech to convince an audience about the power of her belief.

That's a problem a youth worker can sink his teeth into. We're called to be "always ready to give an explanation for the hope that is within us," (1 Peter 3:15) and sometimes we only have a short time to do so.

With that in mind, here's an exercise I use, borrowed from a pastor I worked with.

Get students to pick partners. Then give them these instructions:

"Imagine you're in an airport seeing a friend off. You have one minute until s/he boards the plane, and your friend suddenly turns to you and says, 'You know, I've always noticed something was different about you. You have a lot more hope than most people, and you have this way of getting through things. What makes you work like that?' In the one minute before the plane leaves, explain how God's love affects your life."


Introduction and Covenanting Lesson Plan

Here's a lesson from the curriculum we've been developing for our fall semester with the high school class. "Melvin the Christian" is an idea one of the teachers had at the end of last year-- build a chicken-wire frame, probably half-scale, of a person's body and over the year, as we talk about what it takes to live a Christian life, add layers of papier-mache, then clothes and other details, to Melvin to show how we're growing.

Feel free to use any of this that would be useful to you!

This matters on Monday morning
9th-12th grade curriculum
School year 2007-2008

Topic: Introduction and Covenant

You may need to complete this lesson in two parts; it’s designed to introduce the class to their teachers and to each other; get a sense of everyone’s spiritual activity; and create the class covenant that will make this a safe place.

Teacher’s Preparation:

How will I keep my classroom a safe place for all my students, in their bodies, minds and spirits?

Reflections for the Teacher:

In this class, you’re not THE BOSS in a negative sense. It’s not your job to keep everyone thinking exactly the same thing, or dump information into their brains and ask them to repeat it back.

You are a guide, a leader who points the way to our ultimate Teacher, Jesus Christ. That means we teachers don’t have all the answers, and that we expect ourselves to grow as our students do.

The goal of this curriculum is to present topics that our students deal with, through a Christian lens. How do we already act? What does our world teach us? How does God expect us as His people to be different? And how can we, every day, respond to God’s love by becoming more and more like our Savior.

Do challenge students’ opinions. Do make them think. Do tell them when God has a completely different idea than they think. But never make them think it’s not okay to wonder. Don’t make doubt a bad word; explain that wondering, and doubting, and feeling lost, are part of the journey we’re on, and that God will support us and guide us.

Who are we?

Ask your students to introduce themselves by sharing the following three facts:
Activity that will take up the most of my time this school year.

As teachers, introduce yourselves by name, reminding the students what you’d like to be called, (Mr. or Mrs. is okay, but students may have a hard time warming up to you with your title.)

Teachers, then share the thing about living a faithful life that you find the hardest to keep up with. You might want to share this in two parts—what God expects from a Christian, and how you find it hard to live up to.

Take time to pray.

Thank God for your students. Pray for them each by name during this prayer.

Pray for God’s strength and wisdom as we learn to live His way.

Ask for God’s guidance and forgiveness in the mistakes we make.

What will the tone of this class be?

Ask a student to take notes for the class during this next section.

Tell your students that your classroom will be a safe place for them. Then ask, “What should we expect from each other that will keep our classroom safe?” Write down all the answers.

Ask your students to define, “Confidential.” Explain that what you say in the classroom will be kept confidential. Then ask your students if they know any exceptions to a promise of confidentiality. (You’ll need to say clearly that if a student admits being a danger to him/herself or others, or is involved in a dangerous situation, you will have to report it to the right people—sometimes that’s parents, sometimes it’s law enforcement.)

At the top of the paper where you’ve written the expectations for your classroom’s tone, write, “We will,” and have students sign the paper. (We’ll laminate this or put it in a frame and make it part of your classroom.) This is your classroom covenant.

What has God already done in us?

Draw three long horizontal lines on a chalkboard, At opposite ends of the first line, write, “Don’t know what I think,” and “Completely set in my opinions.” On the ends of the second line, write, “Completely believe,” and “Completely doubt.” On the third line, write “Growing like a weed,” and “Standing still.” Ask your students to write their names on each line where they best fit.

The first line is for gauging opinions. The second is for checking where our belief in God stands as of right now. The third line is for asking, “How do I feel my faith has been growing over the summer?”


What’s the most powerful thing God has done in my life this year?
What does it mean to live God’s way?

What makes it hard to live God’s way?

How can we support each other as we work to live God’s way?

Explain to your class that you’ll be setting goals for yourselves to grow toward as part of each topic. Ask:

How can we hold ourselves accountable for our growth?

What should we do if one of us admits not making progress in a given week?

What support can we give each other during the week?

Melvin the Christian

Bring in the frame for Melvin and the papier-mache supplies. Today you’ll be making his first layer.

Ask each student to write on a slip of paper a sentence or two that describe where they’re at in faith. Use the scale you made on the board if you need to. These should be written anonymously, and can be pasted on face up or face down.

Close in prayer.