In 1979 I was a…

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In 1979 I was a rookie youth worker with no idea what I was doing. I took teenagers to R-rated movies; I had a Jacuzzi party in the baptismal because a 12-year-old thought it would be fun; I yelled at a group of parents; I taught a 15-year-old to drive using the church van, and I almost got arrested for having underage students in an over-21 club. Thankfully, a lot has changed, but it’s been an eventful ride ever since.

This is from “Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry,” by Doug Fields. I found this book in the closet in my office, left over from someone who came before me and it called to me. I officially began ministry to youth in 1999 but as far back as 1992 I was leading bible studies in my basement as a high schooler. I know I am called. I certainly know I’ve made mistakes.

Fields begins his book with this little paragraph and doesn’t it put us all on the same level? I remember reading a funny quote that goes something like, “If your church doesn’t have a prohibition against something because of some stupid thing you did, you’re not a very good youth director.” haha

The longer I am in ministry with families the more I feel inadequate, timid, gun-shy. I used to be so cocky. I used to really know it all, and the longer I do “this,” the less risks I’m taking. I have hind sight so I stop myself. I was compelled this morning just reading a little of this book – to scan my decisions in the last year and look at how nearly every turn I censored something or stopped something or say “that can’t work.” Why? 

Humility I guess. Maybe some wisdom, but maybe also the inability to see the fire of the Spirit, still very much alive and active. I need to refocus and get my heart back in the “game.” 

Have you been there?

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A bored culture has become obsessed with sex-stuff, body image, sleep, and pills.

how-to-write-effective-headlines

Do old people’s Dish Network commercials change to mostly prescription drug commercials? Because somehow Dish knows they are old? I am not sure, but when i go home to Wisconsin where my parents live, I have to endure …

1) Fox News

2) Rants about our communist president

3) Rants about obamacare [this while they are both 100% dependent on the government for medicare, medicaid]

4) Rants about how the world is going to hell

and my mom’s latest one…

5) “For every positive, there’s a negative.”

Joy.

Anyways, I wasn’t going to blog about that. What ends up being news headlines lately I’ve decided are pretty much 4 things. 1) Anything about sex (including gays, celebrity marriages or break-ups) 2) Anything about weight loss and body image 3) Our lack of sleep 4) Prescription medicines.

Well i am probably not right about that but i noticed that trend over the weekend. You don’t have to look too hard to see how they all go together. Why are we SO obsessed with sex as a nation? Is it still THAT taboo? Really? For all the anti-gay stuff and what-not, is any body getting it like they want it? Is anyone satisfied? Is that why we all want to tell what others are or are not doing? Or should or should not be doing? My theory is that for every single anti-sex and anti-gay preacher or commentator, there’s that plus many more who are just totally unsatisfied and haven’t been as sexually active as they wanted to be, so they just need to rain on the parade of those who are.

And body image – I’ve probably put back on 5 lbs since i was here. It’s every meal literally of bread and butter, of 2% milk and potatoes. Stuff i never ever eat. Everything has to be breaded and fried. No wonder my dad had 99% blockage in both his carotid arteries and had to have a leg amputated. But i’m all worried about it and will have to go on a V8 diet when i get home bc i have in my head needing to drop weight.

And sleep – ? Well since I changed my anti-depressants, I am sleeping a lot better. But apparently none of us are sleeping very good. And, there’s a pill for that.

Hmph. It’s exhausting not being perfect. We all deserve a hug. So, if you’re reading this, just be happy, and sing and dance and hug yourself.

Knowing is NOT enough… + people should be honestly terrified of the crazy ideas that i have floating in my heart/brain.

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An 85 year old disciple at my church last week expressed to someone else that she was shocked that we have a 4 year confirmation program. To be fair to myself, the majority of people say nothing at all about this – or are apathetic about it. But because Confirmation was entirely instruction based in the memory of this older lady, and because she was a teacher most of her life, her idea about this stuff is knowledge-based – as in, stuff you can test to.

It’s such an intersting time in youth ministry. I don’t think we will understand for many more years the seismic shift we are going thru. Churches are being pulled to give tweet-sized faith in the smallest bites possible, to a mass of consumers who might choose you wholeheartedly today, and be a Buddhist tomorrow, wholeheartedly. 

So, 4 years is about as counter-cultural as a church can be – considering the attention span (NOT just of young people, but families too) is about as long as an item remains “most recent” in your facebook newsfeed. And i am not dumb, i realize the 4-year thing wasn’t my creation and probably will change in the next few years into something completely different (people should be honestly terrified of the crazy ideas that i have floating in my heart/brain about faith formation with young people).

If all i wanted to do was impart information to kids that the could know and memorize and spit back answers on a test, BELIEVE ME, I’d make you an amazing class structure that could be accomplished in a year or to, teach to the test, and our kids would leave, if they made the commitment KNOWING the answers we wanted them to know, knowing those darn answers. Word for freaking word if that was what was so freaking important. Hell, I could even make it fun.

But if we’re about making disciples – who walk in the rhythms of God’s action and we want to have a community that that moves beyond information to transformation, if we want students who understand that faith is much different than academics, and involves more than just knowing some intellectual concepts, if we want students to experience the entire body of Christ, and learn about the whole family of God – not just our own religion, then there has got to be a longer and larger investment of time and commitment to move beyond just knowing, to knowing, being and doing. 

Developing habits and practices takes time. It’s one thing to “teach them the Lord’s prayer the Creed and the 10 commandments.” You can know the words to those things – but what does teaching them mean? Merely teaching words to memorize does not, in the way of formation, help a student understand how to live those words. 

I’m also not suggesting that spending 2, 3 or 4 years accomplishes everything we’d want in a disciple to do that either. But it shows our church’s commitment to development, if families meet us half way.

Knowing is not enough.

If you require their attendance to get them, what will you have to require to keep them?

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Conversation with some youth directors about sermon notes today. Hey, look, one said, we had only a few youth attending church, but then i required sermon notes for Confirmation and we regularly see most in worship! Yay!

Now I get to articulate a little “beef” i have…

Do our churches settle for membership by attendance? Membership by identification (“you are on our member lists”) will get us what we got here. So I could have young people attending, filling space, taking notes – required, and what got them there will need to be what keeps them there – mandates and requirements for being included. Follow me, what’s the alternative?

What do I expect if i require x-number of sermon notes a year? Do i really believe that by requiring notes, that somewhere in those x-number of note-taking experiences a teenager is going to be sitting there and a light bulb goes off and she says, “whoa i just discovered i love this! I love passively sitting here watching people in the front do all the heavy lifting. I like standing up and sitting down for no apparent reason. I like singing songs in keys that no human being on the radio sings in anymore. I like that the only songs with rhythm are from Africa – that’s not racist, right? I like seeing people dressed up like they are from the middle ages, with no explanation as to why… I like how in 60+ years we have never moved one piece of furniture! I like all the symbolism that is never explained… I like that it’s always the same people up front every week. It’s always polished and seems like no one misses a step. Look how it’s the same meal every week – same little crumb, same drop of juice – and they say this is a holy meal that should sustain us! I’m not full, but okay… I love that nothing else is asked of me, just to make sure that i’m here on time, occupying space and being that young face so the elders can think we’re healthy and growing… So even if i didn’t have to take these notes, i’d definitely keep coming!”

I’m should be sorry for the sarcasm, but until we force a conversation in our churches that membership by mere association is killing us – that’s a game and a facade, and move to a worship life that is membership by ownership (i hate consumeristic language but that’s the best word i can find) we’re gonna be in this same boat. [For my church, it’s acolyte participation requirement that acts like the sermon notes in this illustration… We are proud of the fact that we don’t require sermon notes. But unless you’re subbing in for someone, you’re probably only scheduled to acolyte a few times a year.]

I’m skipping the part entirely that wants to include how much our offerings would increase if we’d just require kids to be there taking notes so that by default the passing of the plate would increase “generosity” from their family…

 

The youth are not the only ones, look around – it’s the 90% who watch the 10% who do all the heavy lifting. Look at your worship space, are you always facting the back of the person in front of you? Even as we watch the cross walk in and out, i noticed yesterday, all i ever see is the back of the person’s head this whole service, except the passing of the peace which always just seems awkward. (Seriously, i get the intention behind it but it’s so wooden and forced since most people ditch out and leave without ever being peaceful after that thru real relationships).

Even as we receive communion – i face someone’s back in a line on the way up there. It’s just nice that it moves a little faster than the line at the grocery store. What does this say about our beliefs of community? I wonder if our youth aren’t picking up a subtle competing cue from all of this – we want them there, to what end? Is that forming faith? Are we going to restructure our worship times so everyone actually has a part, and everyone participates and owns part of the experience? Can we give up enough control so it might look sloppy if a 12 year old led this part of the service? Do you really have to be ordained in our denomination to give a 15 minute sermon? And that’s just one hour on a Sunday morning. It’s not to mention all the other hours in the week that our ministry is missing lifeblood because we won’t make true space for youth to own it. Could we have services seven days a week led by all sorts of people so that people can come when it’s more accessible to their schedule? Nights/ days? Or do we have to look “full” to have church?

So yep we see those youth leave when they’re done taking notes or whatever the requirements are. They aren’t going to become disciples by osmosis. It does not work that way. Just because you walk into a kitchen, doesn’t automatically make you a chef, and it certainly doesn’t make you a salad. 

It’s the Parents Fault

I’m only a parent to a puppy. But the 100s of families I have known and worked with in my ministry journeys need this good news.

Vibrant Faith Ministries

Family Praying “If you were just a better parent, then…(fill in the blank); If we could just get the parents involved; If the parents would just quit dropping their kids off at church and going to Starbucks; If parents would just do more then their children would turn out better.”

Have you heard some of these statements before? As if the burden of parenting is not hard enough, we heap on more blame and guilt for parents. As if they haven’t had some of these thoughts already themselves. There has to be someone to blame (or credit) for the state of the spiritual lives of our young people today, doesn’t there?

Look, I’m a parent. I get it. I have a 16 year old and a 20 year old. I’m constantly wondering if their upbringing has shaped them to be the person God intends. My wife and I talk about our influence…

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Failure, Learning & Engaging

This is such important work regarding faith formation. We are given another chance to get it “right”

Vibrant Faith Ministries

Originally published on the Faith Formation Learning Exchange blog

We cannot learn from only succeeding and as JK Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” Our lives are made up of what we learn from both failure and success. This is an easy concept when it comes to experiments and learning in school. The Mythbusters say, “Failure is always an option.”

But, what does failure look like for those of us working in the church? How are we helping young people not only work through their own failures but also risk failure as they engage in living a life of faith? Failure for us may not mean crashing on a ski mountain, but it may mean creating too safe a space for…

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