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.


It's fishbowl time!

Best question that came into the Wednesday night fishbowl (the fishbowl's for questions that don't fit that night's topic but that people have to know):

Why is the Mona Lisa so famous?

(Anyone want to take a stab at that one before Wednesday?)