Friday, December 31, 2010

Guest Blog: An Extended Season of Expectation

John Wesley is widely credited with instituting a tradition known as the "watch-night." The concept behind the event can be hard to explain to people (especially students), but essentially, it's prayer, just prayer, in anticipation for what God will do in the new year. Most watch-night events took place from sundown until sunrise, sandwiching that midnight moment. Perhaps those in prayer could hear the merriment of song and "Happy New Year" greetings in distant homes or bars.

I remember my childhood youth minister telling me that a great preacher named Spurgeon wanted to add a little twist in the early 1800's by preaching through these dark, tiring hours. I'm not sure if he ever actually attempted it, or if anyone came to gut out a 12-hour message. I also remember wondering if enough caffeine existed back then.

African-American churches revived the tradition in 1862/1863 in the United States, as they waited patiently and emotionally for January 1-the day that the Emancipation Proclamation would be signed. The promise was kept. This was certainly an extended season of expectation for them, a season of anticipating a new year and a time of legitimacy and God's goodness.

Truly, it's deep in our tradition to wait patiently and prayerfully, similarly to how we wait patiently for the Lord, in the season of Advent. That attitude of expectation extends into the calendar change, as we think about what God will do, in the coming 12 months especially.

In God's youth ministry at Christ Church, where I serve, I wholeheartedly hope that students adopt an age-old mission statement at the outset of each new year, and that they pray extensively for their parts in it, as well as the part of God:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19)

Just as the old prophet Isaiah was sent to do these things, Jesus Christ continued the work in His few years of ministry. I believe we have this same anointing of the Spirit in our youth groups. This acceptable year of the Lord can be proclaimed in so many ways through the myriad interests and talents of our students.

In this past year, we have known many who have been poor, imprisoned, sick, and oppressed. We have tried to live in the Spirit and recognize them, offering them the love of Christ in tangible and intangible ways. I can't help but think of how this mission is externally focused, but also acknowledges the times of distress of those within our closest circles of friends. In the new year, I hope that our youth will seek out those in their communities who need the proclamation of a year of God's goodness.

This is what we pray for, and anticipate eagerly, knowing we have a part in it. Even if we don't bring in the new year with prayer (which is a great idea, by the way), we should expect wonderful things from God. With these in mind, we go out and minister, because we too are anointed. In some way, let's bring in this new year with prayer for what God will do in, through, and around us and our youth.


by Ryan Langeland
Youth Director
Christ United Methodist Church, Independence, MO
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

That Burning Question

I was looking at OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook, when a question arrested my attention: "Do Our Practices of Youth Ministry Reflect Christ" (Dean 2010, v)? It was accompanied by a question of no lesser importance: "Do Our Practices of Youth Ministry Shape Christians" (Dean 2010, v)? These two were subheadings in the first chapter entitled, "Haunting Questions." Some of the ensuing discussion in the text related to whether or not our youth ministries enable youth to understand the uniqueness and characteristics of Christ and Christianity.

The ability or inability of a Christian youth ministry to communicate the uniqueness of Christ and Christianity natters. Of equal importance is the church's capacity to do this. These two are not as separate as it may seem on the surface. They impact each other. Moreover, it is hard to commit to something that is vague or non-existent. This reminds me of a blog post I did earlier when I noted the way in which growth in the Christian life and commitment to God in Christ Jesus often come at the bottom and made a link to what we teach.

I will pose this question therefore: As we go into 2011, how can we conduct our lives and teach in such a way that it is clear that "living is Christ and dying is gain" (Phil. 1:21)?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, December 24, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Getting Ready for HIS Arrival

It’s almost Christmas!

Advent is a wonderful time as we PREPARE for the arrival of the Messiah. Too often, we instead focus on the arrival of Santa/gifts and make Christ an afterthought.

Sure, I enjoy watching kids open gifts (and I admit I’m looking forward to Christmas with my brand new grandson) but we need to remember the Reason for the Season. Advent is about getting ready to welcome Christ into our lives and preparing others to do the same.

Christmas generates lots of attention. Figure out how to reach out to youth and other members of your congregation as well as your entire community to share the love of God and to demonstrate how God has made a difference in your life.

by Mark Whitaker
Youth & Young Adult Director and Communications Coordinator
Avondale United Methodist Church Kansas City MO (North of the River)
Marketing Coordinator, youTheology Advisory Board
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beyond the Fluff

Life is often filled with fluff. You know, the stuff that looks so good but really has nothing behind it. In some ways, Christmas is like that. We've created a lot of customs and expectations around Christmas that really have nothing or very little to do with the big moment: Immanuel, God with us. It seems to me that each year we get some more baubles thrown at us to distract us and make us focus less on Christ, though our language may deceive us as to where our true focus is. Some of these baubles are earlier sales in the stores, trying to be the perfect hosts, cook the perfect dinner, find the perfect gifts . . . . There are many advertisers committed to keeping our attention right there, so that we have little time to really pause and ponder the mystery, sacredness, and gift of Christ's birth: Immanuel, God with us; Jesus, Messiah who will save God's people from their sins. God's rule is among us. Turn around and put yourself under it.

Actually, on the surface the trinkets are easier to deal with. They look good and dazzle our eyes. We can touch them, and, well, everybody is carrying them. Yet, they are fleeting, like the bubbles we blew as children. It's easy to be carried away by their glitter, and yet we're reminded that, "all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever" 1 Peter 2:16-17. Indeed, those who submit to God's rule build for eternity as they deal with the reality of life as we know it lived for God.

Jesus' birth is about what is real in our lives and how we allow God to order our lives in the everyday, so that we experience God's abundant life as we work, as we eat, as we recreate, etc. As Mark Sayers puts it in The Trouble With Paris: Following Jesus in a World of Plastic Promises,
"But it is in the mundane that Jesus begins his program of subverting how we view life. We don't like this, for the hyperreal world tells us that things that are important are glitzy, loud, and astonishing. . . . But that is the problem: fantasy is fantasy, and science fiction is fiction. Jesus begins where we live---in the ordinary. . . . Jesus shows us how to find pleasure in the midst of real life" (Sayers 2008, 127).
Here Sayers points out that what Jesus is about is ordinary life and ordinary issues and not the over the top view that passes for reality in our world today which portrays life as a continuous, amazing drama. Instead, Jesus takes life as it is seriously and teaches us to be joyful in it. How about that? Can we go beyond the fluff and just have an ordinary Christmas where what is amazing is God's love shown in the birth of Jesus Christ?

What would an ordinary Christmas that focused on an extraordinary God look like in your student ministry?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, December 17, 2010

Perspectives from the Filed: Advent . . . Patient . . . Waiting

I will admit it…I am a church dork. I am 26 year old church dork, and I am not afraid to admit it. I love old ladies singing hymns at the top of their lungs, I like robes and stoles. I like mission trips, and I even like church picnics with Jell-0 salads. What makes me really dorky is that I love love love the church seasons. If you didn’t know, the Christian year begins with advent. The colors are blue or purple (I like blue…but purple works too.)

The first Sunday in advent I told my youth “Happy Christian New Year!” and they all looked at me like I was insane. “Justin, New Year is in January. Look at a calendar.” I decided to not teach the lesson I had planned and instead talk about the Christian calendar instead. It got me thinking, as Christians we start the year waiting.

We start the year waiting for Christ to come into the world. It’s hard to remember that when we are running around trying to get ready for Christmas. We start a whole new year waiting, living in a way that we can most fully experience Christ coming into our lives. For me this year that means that I am taking time to not add more things on my “to do” list. It just means that I am paying attention more fully to the things I already do.

Youth (and the adults who work with them) can sometimes get so wrapped up in piling more and more into our schedule. This advent season start your year waiting, don’t add more to life. Slow down, live the life you already are more abundantly. The hard part is slowing down, examining, and asking for guidance. In this way we are truly waiting for Christ to be born in our lives, our families, and our churches. Maybe I’m a church dork…but this advent season I’m going to be a patient church dork.

by Justin Zeigler
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Where is God?

What is at the heart of our youth/student ministry, or rather, who? What and/or who is our main motivation? Is it pleasing the local church, the pastor, the parents, the youth? Is it keeping our job? Of course, all of these may be important, but the key question is, where is God? Where does God fit with respect to our key impetus?

Our instinctive answer may be to say that, "Naturally, God is at the center of the ministry," the ministry with which God has entrusted us. Instinctive, but would it be true? How can we really tell? The answer takes us to our departure point and our purpose, which feeds our motivation.

What place does prayer have in our youth/student ministry? Is it the basis of everything that we do, that is, our point of departure? Do we check in with God at the beginning and along the way to hear God's will and ensure that we are pleasing God? What is our primary purpose? Is it to bring glory to God? Is it that students will know God in Christ Jesus? Do we ourselves know God?

There are many pieces to youth ministry. It is easy to get lost among them, easy to lose sight of God. The only way we can keep God at the center is to ground our lives in prayer, spending time in God's presence and in the study of the Word of God. We need prayerful and prayer-filled lives through which our love for God and God's people increase. We also need to accompany prayer with the study of the Bible so that we would know the triune God and God's will more. Out of these ways of being will flow a greater commitment to doing the will of God and we will find our joy and completeness in God. These are Spirit-filled lives. How can we do this, especially at a time when it seems crazier than usual? But it is now that we need to start. Now when it is crazy. If we step back and allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate such lives of prayer, meditation, and study in us at the "wrong" time, how much richer will they be in the "right" time?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mentor Bites: Christmas---Everyone is Invited

I wonder if at first Mary and Joseph were really all that excited to share the very private event of their child's birth with the whole world? We think of them as the Holy Family, the perfect ones who shared their joy of God with everyone that first Christmas night. But what if we stop and think about the fact that they had been forced to travel miles in the days that lead up to this event just so that they can be counted by the government? Furthermore, Mary had to be tired. And they both had to be still confused about what God was up to in this child. And yet, the heavenly hosts invite STRANGERS to come see their precious child that night. God makes the private to be public that night. God makes strangers into friends. God sends Jesus so that all of humanity is connected.

As a Mentor for youTheology, or youth leader, I wonder if you ever feel like a stranger to the world that the young people of the church find themselves in...often. I feel like I will never know what it feels like to be a youth in today's world. Sometimes, I can convince myself that I am a stranger to their experiences; that my age removes me from their problems and that since I do not walk in their High School hallways with them, we have nothing in common. And yet, God sends Jesus to us so that all can be connected.

This Advent/Christmas season, I pray that mentors might find a way to remember that because of Jesus, all of humanity is connected. Our differences no longer define us, except that we are all the same because of those differences.

by Emily Carroll
youTheology Mentor Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, December 10, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: The Reason for a Prepared Christmas Celebration

When I try to prepare and teach the youth the true meaning of Christmas, I get a little frustrated. I know my heart and mind tells me, to never give up, no matter what obstacles arise.

This Advent season, my goal is for our youth to embrace and learn what the term “The Reason for the Season” truly means. Frustration sets in because I am trying to break a long-standing and ongoing cycle with our youth today. For too many youth today, it is all about what they can get for Christmas -- not what they can do to help others, but what gifts will come their way. Many times while working with my youth group, Christ’s name is never mentioned during the Advent and Christmas seasons. They talk a lot, but mostly about where they are going to visit during Christmas and what gifts they had better get!

Most of the kids I work with are from middle and low income families. The youth ask their parents for outrageous gifts that their parents cannot afford. I try to teach them that it is better to give than to receive. They give me that look like: “Are you serious or from another world?”

Actually, I am from another world. I like showing short movies or films showing people from developing countries (3rd World countries) where all they’d want for Christmas is to have clean water and a chance to have an education. I do this for our North American youth, to show them how much they are truly blessed.

When we were at the last Bishop Roundup, we heard a missionary worker tell of her time spent in Haiti. She stated that most of the kids may have the chance to eat every other day. And with extreme cases, families may only eat twice per week. Many people were crying when she went over this part of her trip. I was one of them. Tears were flowing from my face.

I will continue to teach kids about Christ and his love for us. I will never give up, no matter what. I will shout it, sing it, text it, write it or just do whatever it takes to let our youth know that they must be prepared for Christ. They must have Hope because God’s promise will come true and they must have Joy in their hearts, because we serve a loving God who truly loves us, no matter what.

The Reason for the Season is all about Christ. God is our light out of the darkness.

Earl Williams
Grace United Methodist Church
Youth Group Leader and Safe & Sacred Trainer
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why Not You?

The church needs adults who are will commit to nurturing youth. Everyone cannot be involved in the formal youth ministry of the church. There is a level at which everyone should not. However, we do need adults who will invest in students in the church, getting to know their names and take an interest in their activities. People who will notice when they are present and when they are absent and encourage them in the faith and in life in general. These adults need to be teachable disciples of Christ, willing to learn with and from youth. They also need to be compassionate with a sense of humor and very importantly, see students as God’s gifts. Everyone can do this.

What we often miss is that students long for recognition and affirmation from non-related adults. In addition, there are those who do not have positive adults models in their homes. Many students are hurting and feel they have nowhere to turn. Yes, they need adults who they know care enough about them to listen to them and support them. The problem is that too often we as adults are so wrapped up in our own fears and insecurities that we fail to reach out to our students.

Yes the church needs adults who will commit to care for youth. Students want adults who will invest in them. Why not you?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, December 6, 2010

Great Conversation in St Louis

In the blog post, "Looking Ahead," I mentioned that a key question as we move forward is: "How do we truly live into the diversity God has given to us?" This past weekend in St Louis, I was privileged to be in discussion with two pastors where we wrestled with how youTheology might take shape and be presented in a new environment. I am grateful to God for the time commitment of these persons and their diligence in thinking through a new space for youTheology. As we continue to live into our diversity, I was reminded again of the need to identify the uniqueness of each situation and group and to make space for that distinctiveness to thrive. And so we move on.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, December 3, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: Advent Or Excess?

We have entered the season of advent in the Church. This is the time of the Christian year when we wait with expectation for the coming of Christ. In one sense, during advent we should be nearly on the edge of our seats looking for our Savior. We are waiting with the entire world for Immanuel who will bring love and peace for evermore. His coming means our reconciliation with God. The Church says that this is how we should be spending those four weeks leading up to Christmas.

But the truth is that it is hard to experience advent this way, with all the distractions of the retail industry. They have already declared like that famous Charlie Brown Christmas song that “Christmastime is here!” And that means spend money! All the money you can. Between Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and Macy’s all of our consumption needs can be met. There is no waiting involved here. No expectation and no anticipation. Get it now, this week while it is on sale. If we are not careful we will find ourselves bordering on living excessively and miss the true experience of advent.

How do we resolve this?

Simply put, spend some time with God. Turn off the TV. Get off the internet. Put your cell phone away. Spend some uninterrupted time with God. This is the only way we can experience advent. Pretend for just a minute that Christmastime is not here yet. In those few quiet moments each day, allow yourself to wait for the blessing of Christmas, when Christ truly comes to meet us at our point of need. And in your waiting there is peace, rest, and blessing. This advent, may you be strengthened in spirit and your faith deepened as you wait for the coming Lord.

by Arionne Williams
Minister to Youth and Families
Metropolitan AMEZ, Kansas City, MO
Deputy Chair youTheology Advisory Board
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Community . . .

When I look at the various ways in which people connect and the many online opportunities it signals to me that we continue to desire and seek after community. Of course, community means different things to different people. For many, unless there are relationships within the particular grouping that embrace more than surface realities in each others' lives and in the world, there is no community. For some, it is any kind of connection within a demarcated area. We could go on. What is clear, is that the absence of community leads to a stifling of personhood since we were created to be with others. It is a necessary part of how we come to know ourselves and how we grow. Maria Harris in Fashion Me a People puts it this way: "We are only fully persons when we are in community" (Harris 1989, 29). She is saying that it is solely as we are in meaningful relationship with our fellow human beings that we completely come into ourselves. We do need each other and we need to relate to each other in ways that are genuine and life-giving.

How are you providing opportunities for genuine and life-giving relationships in your student ministry?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, November 29, 2010

Youth Workers' Gathering 2011 - Oklahoma City

We are in a new decade and a new time, and youTheology is very aware of this. From Friday, March 25th to Saturday, March 26th, we will look at the theme, "Youth Ministry in a New Decade" with adults who work with youth. Dr Reggie Blunt of Garrett-Evangelical Seminary, Bishop Robert E Hayes of the Oklahoma Annual UMC Conference along with Diana Northcutt of the Oklahoma Annual Conference, John Gilstrap of Church of the Servant along with others will be helping us to learn more abut youth ministry as the times change. Specifically, we'll look at Native American Youth, Youth Ministry in the Small Membership church: Working with 10 or less youth, Getting Kids and Parents to Re-prioritize so that Faith Development is not always at the bottom of the list, Urban and Large Church Youth Ministry.

Plan now to attend. The Gathering will be held at Church of the Servant in Oklahoma City. Click here for more information.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Engaging Digital as a Way of Life

Adolescents are part of the generation which has been born into and continues to grow up in the digital world. Consequently, they use digital media as a way of life. Don Tapscott, who calls them the Net Generation, notes that "this generation . . . . is the first to grow up surrounded by digital media. . . . they think it's all part of the natural landscape" (1998, p.1). In saying this Tapscott shows that digital media is taken for granted by adolescents since it has always been a part of their lives. This further helps us to understand why in wanting to go where teens are, learning through digital media is important in this collaborative enterprise. However, nothing removes the importance of real time interaction which is also a part of adolescents' lives. Nevertheless, we need to have as one of our ongoing projects as youth leaders/workers/pastors, learning how to engage adolescents in that world in which they are comfortable. Engage means meet with, guide, and challenge when and as necessary.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, November 22, 2010

youTheology as a Year-Long Process

youTheology with high school students is a one-year program lasting from summer one year to summer the following year. Yet what we most easily see are the periodic encounters at Saint Paul School of Theology and now at Lydia Patterson Institute. As critical as these meetings are for formation in the Methodist tradition, understanding of vocation, learning and doing theology, and engagement with spiritual disciplines they are only part of the story.

youTheology continues when the high school students are back at home, through regular meetings with mentors and online conversations with leaders. These sessions allow youTheologians to continue exploring what it means to love God and neighbor, looking at the Wesleyan tradition, doing theology using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, and participating in spiritual disciplines. It also continues as their home congregation encourages them on the journey.

It is a year, an ongoing year of a journey that lasts for life. How would you like to be a part of this journey?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, November 19, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: Seasons of Our Christian Life

When Fall turns into Winter, my wife gets a big smile on her face. This is her favorite part of the year. It reminds her of the cycle of life. The leaves turn a beautiful color, then they die and fall off the trees. This happens when winter approaches. We then wait for spring to celebrate new life.

I want the Youth to think of this process as the seasons of our Christian Life. When we go through our Christian life we must shed the old. Then as we awake with new visions and thoughts those can not only change our lives but the lives of those with whom we come in contact each and every day.

We have a large tree in our front yard that is dying. Half of the tree does not produce any new leaves and the other half does. In about 3 years that entire tree will be dead, due to my neglect. I have failed to feed it the correct food and not allowed a tree specialist to come in and treat that tree.

This is the same way the cycle of our Christian life tends to be. If it is not fed properly and if it is not seen by a specialist (The Holy Spirit), it seems to die within us. We should pray for and want the entire tree to go through this renewal process successfully each year.

We can also allow the tree to represent our community. If part of that tree (our community) dies, over a certain amount of time, that entire tree/community will perish. Intervention is necessary. We must feed the word of Jesus to all of our brothers and sisters in the community we serve. We want the Cycle of our Christian life to reach everyone. We know that no matter how sick that tree or our community might be, with God in the roots or in the heart of those giving or receiving the word of our Lord, that tree and our community will flourish like never before.

You experience the changes of fall, the isolation and sadness of winter, the new beginnings of spring, and the joy and celebration of summer. We must be aware of the appropriate times to transition and move on with the light of the Lord. We must trust God in all times of transition, celebrating and thanking God when there is new Life.

by Earl Williams
Youth Director and Safe & Sacred Space Trainer
Grace United Methodist Church, Emporia, KS
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Digital Storytellling

At the recent Religious Education Association Annual Meeting, Dr Mary Hess, President Elect, recommended a book entitled Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning, and Creativity by Jason Ohler. I was intrigued by what Mary said about it in her presentation and decided to check it out. I agree with her. It's worth reading, especially for those of us who see value in storytelling in youth ministry. It reminded me of the blogs three of us wrote on Narrative Theology at

So what's the appeal? This is a thorough introduction to digital storytelling that looks at what storytelling is and how to go about it in general and as an educative enterprise, gives an overview of engaging digitally in a manner so that even the most inexperienced can grasp it and participate, makes the role of the educator clear, and makes the case for the value of this activity. There are two sentences that stands out for me (there are several in fact):
We need to engage all of ourselves--left brain and right brain, researcher and narrator, critical thinker and storyteller/listener. Doing so offers the power to engage and educate in ways that resonate with the media culture our students understand while providing them with the tools necessary to navigate within it wisely (Ohler 2008, 10.
Here Ohler is saying that rather than being a passive activity digital storytelling is active, using recounting, investigative, listening and critical skills in a way that is familiar and meaningful to students and which leaves them equipped to maneuver judiciously through the multiplicity of information and/or stories to which they are constantly exposed. This is definitely an area in which we can help our students, and most likely learn at the same time.

Have you ever considered digital storytelling as part of your student ministry? Would you?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why youTheology Southwest Matters

In today's blog, Rev George Miller shares in this video, the importance and vision of youTheology southwest at Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, TX.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, November 12, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Using Holidays as an Opening to a Conversation

Happy Thanksgiving!

As we transition from Fall to Winter, we also shift into the Advent season followed by lots of holidays. Sometimes those holidays can be a way to open a bigger conversation about what Christmas is really about, that starting a new life (in Christ) rather than just starting another new year. Other larger conversations include keeping an open mind and looking at diversity, in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; looking at the intersection of God & nation as we celebrate President’s Day; and understanding the Greatest Love on Valentine’s Day.

No matter the season, God’s love is always there for us. With God in our lives, every day is going to be special and worth celebrating.

by Mark Whitaker
Youth & Young Adult Director and Communications Coordinator
Avondale United Methodist Church in Kansas City MO (North of the River)
Advisory Board for youTheology / Marketing Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Taking it to the Congregation

I've begun reading The Spirit and Culture of Youth Ministry: Leading Congregations Toward Exemplary Youth Ministry. It's written by Roland Martinson, Wes Black, and John Roberto and is an examination of how congregations are enabling faith maturity in youth. Here is a sentence caught my attention:
The Study of Exemplary Congregations in Youth Ministry discovered that it is the culture of the whole church that is most influential in nurturing youth of vital Christian faith (Martinson, et. al. 2010, 14, ).
Here, they are saying that congregational mores are most effective in the development of living faith in youth. Of course, this makes perfect sense, and yet we have had to be reminded of it because in some ways we have ignored it.

Recent research has made us painfully aware that youth ministry has been too isolated from the total life of the church. This may be convenient for some, or many, but it does not serve God, our youth, or the church.

We know that children learn the values and habits of families from living in them. The same is true for people who inhabit a new culture. While there is much that they could learn from books, television, and the internet, true acquisition occurs when they inhabit the new culture. The Spirit and Culture of Youth Ministry is reminding us that who the congregation is in its Christian expression and witness will go a long way in determining how our young people are or are not Christian.

What is the culture of your congregation?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, November 8, 2010

Looking Ahead

youTheology has just concluded its Fall Session at both centers. I spent it at our Southwest Center at Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, TX. It was a joy to meet the youTheologians and leaders there. They are a lively group and bring a "can do" spirit to the program. At times we were linked with the Midwest Center at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, MO plus I was in touch with the leaders there so I had some sense of how things were going at that end. It was different though, not being physically in Kansas City, but connected in various ways. It was good to see how things appear from the Southwest end and examine more closely the distance component of the program.

There are some things that stand out from our Fall Session this past weekend. The depth our young people bring to the discussions, the wisdom and insight in their sermons, the singing and the contemporary rendition of Psalm 139 which redid the Psalm from a technological world view. All of these are paths to loving God and loving neighbor more deeply. We are privileged to be part of their lives as we continue to develop faithful leaders for a diverse church and world.

My new-found knowledge and experience of youTheology Southwest along with with my knowledge and experience of youTheology Midwest has me eagerly anticipating the future. A key question for us as we look ahead is how do we truly live into the diversity God has given to us.

Some of the photos from the weekend can be found on our Facebook page: The videos, including the sermon can be found at
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, November 5, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: As Sure-footed As A Deer--The Blessing of Autumn

I love Fall! Although summer has been my favorite season since I was child, as I get older, Fall is now emerging as the best season in my view. It brings the beauty of the foliage in the tree leaves with all their bright colors. And the crispness of the cool air ushers in a much needed break from the sweltering heat of August. It's cooler, calmer, and more relaxed than summer. It is a time of confidence, beauty, and inspiration. I love Fall!

I wonder... does it mirror the seasons we experience in our spiritual lives? Fall can be like the strong confidence we have in our faith lives, after we have experienced the growth of Spring, and enjoyment of Summer, and we are now walking with assurance in God's plan for us. “He has made me as surefooted as a deer…Psalm 18:33 (NLT)” We hear God and God hears us. In one sense, all is well. We are sure of our relationship with God and excited about the future. . .

. . . Then out of nowhere comes winter with its cutting winds, endless snow, and bitter cold. . . Life can get crazy all of a sudden. Everything goes wrong at once! Loss of a job, death in the family, betrayal of a love. . . And we are not sure where God is or how we’re going to make it through yet another trial.

If any of this sounds familiar, then I am not the only one!

The truth is we all experience seasons in our lives, and this includes our youth. We should be intentional about teaching them a way of being prepared for the winter, for it is surely coming. Fall is our time to be strengthened in faith so when the rain, snow, and sleet show up, we make it through. Sure, even if the blizzard comes through and nearly buries us alive, God will be there to deliver. Praise the Lord! But I encourage you to experience Fall and the time it gives us to grow closer to God.

by Arionne Williams
Minister to Youth and Families
Metropolitan AMEZ, Kansas City, MO
Deputy Chair youTheology Advisory Board
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More Than You Can See

It is so easy to think of everything in material terms. This can be especially true when we seek to serve those in need. The needy are too often thought of as only those with material needs.

Now it is important to assist and minister to those who are destitute or on the verge of being so. I don't want to minimize this. However, God also sends us to people who suffer lack in a variety of other ways, such as social, emotional, spiritual . . . . However, if our focus is too narrow, we could miss the places where our students need to experience God's freedom and hear God's liberating word. We could miss opportunities of genuine service. Moreover, when we lead from a narrow focus, that's what our students learn. Thus, they will go out believing that we can only serve by meeting people's material needs. However, wouldn't you say that as human beings, we're more than the physical, more than meets the eye?

What do you think?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mentor Bites: Celebrate Mentors!

This past Saturday, the Northwest Wesley Center celebrated Homecoming along with the rest of the campus in Maryville. I am certain that the front room couches were carried outside to the curb so that everyone could watch the parade together. I am assured that there were sprinkled doughnuts and hot coffee for everyone gathered there. Alumni, community members and students alike shared in the blessed experience that is Homecoming at Northwest Wesley. And in the middle of it all, were the campus co-Pastors, who I called mentors for many years.

Don and Marjean Ehlers changed my life. They were the ones who said "yes" to my preaching (even when it was far from preaching and more like public speaking). Don and Marjean knew what it meant to put God first, family second and their ministry was always a very close third. Don and Marjean loved the idea of forming Christian community and even though the Wesley Center was on the edge of campus, after the walk you knew the doors would be open and there would be someone to talk to. They were an example to me that I still consider in ministry situations every day.

As you mentor young people, try and remember to celebrate those that have mentored you in the past. God has given you people that have brought you to this point. Thank God. Amen.

By Emily Carroll
youTheology Mentor Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Cloud

In chapter 11, the writer of Hebrews goes through the Who's Who of the faith. That person didn't make selections based on wealth and power, prestige and prominence. Instead, the writer noted those who were strong in faith, able to see God and God's future, and oriented their lives around these even to the point of sacrifice. Such people form our cloud of witnesses.

As we approach All Saints Day, we remember them and the many others who have since died, some quite recently. Remembering strengthens us as we note that we are not alone on this journey as we join a long procession of witnesses. Some of our liturgies, prayers, creeds, and hymns also serve to remind us that yes, we are part of the church triumphant as well as the church universal.

Inasmuch as we remember the cloud, we also look beyond the cloud to Jesus Christ. We serve Jesus and we consider his life and sacrifice. We get strength and encouragement from the lives of the departed saints, but ultimately, it is to Jesus we look and to whom we run.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.Hebrews 12:1-13
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Who Are you?

WHO ARE YOU? That's a question that is often asked of Christians and the institution of the church. Many times, it's unspoken, but at its root is a search for congruence between our faith as seen in the Bible and in the life of Jesus Christ and our words, attitudes, and actions.

Who are you? It's a question we need to ask ourselves as we hold ourselves before the mirror of the Scriptures. We also need to recognize that our young people are asking this question. In Keep It Real: Working With Today's Black Youth, Michael T. McQueen wrote a sentence that relates to this point: "[Teens] are rightly confused because it appears that we who comprise the Christian church are confused as to how we ourselves are to model a Christian lifestyle and behave in secular society" (Wimberly 2005, 102). He is saying that the Christian faith community is uncertain about how to live as Christians in and out of the church. If indeed we are uncertain, then the question, who are you, needs an urgent response. Especially as we McQueen highlights the negative impact this has on our teens.

Who are you?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, October 22, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: Hollow Jesus

When you ask any kid , “what do you think Halloween represents,” 9 out 10 will say, “CANDY , CANDY and more CANDY.” I really doubt they would say “Well, Mr. Williams, to me Halloween stands for a holiday observed on October 31, and it has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and it is also related to the Christian All Saints’ Day . The truth, is Halloween has become whatever you want to it to be. My brother is a pastor at a local Baptist Church here in Emporia, and they do a festivity called Hollow Jesus. They have games and all types of food and their main focus is on Jesus.

I know if I came to our youth group and told the kids that we were going to have a lesson on Halloween without discussing candy, costumes, or parties they would look at me as if I had lost my mind. I would hear statements like, “Mr. Williams, isn’t that what Halloween is all about?”

The foundation of what we do is Christ and as teachers and leaders we know this. Our job is to share it with our young folks in a manner that will not tear their thoughts or beliefs down. Too many times I hear some of our Religious leaders say: “Look at them kids and parents going out for Halloween to get candy and dress up like Satan. They all are going to Hell!” I am telling you the truth. I have heard some of church leaders say that. Truth be told, if some of our young people hear that they would think that the person who said it was crazy and we would have lost them. I think one of the better things to do is to replace some of the secular topics with Christian activities, like my brother does at his church. We all need some of that "Hollow Jesus."

by Earl Williams
Youth Director and Safe & Sacred Space Trainer
Grace United Methodist Church, Emporia, KS
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Priorities, Depreciation, and Value

One of the challenges we face in student ministry is the many competing activities in which our students are involved. In some cases, they maintain involvement in church activities, but just can't do everything. In other cases, church involvement is minimal while everything else matters. Of course, there are those who fall somewhere in between.

At one level, it seems as if we are not doing a good job of helping our students and parents prioritize activities so that growth in the Christian life and commitment to God in Christ Jesus come at the top. A question that could be asked is, "What have we been teaching in the church?" After all, we see faith coming at the bottom in the choices adults make between worship and games, etc. On the other hand, we need to check to ensure that we are not expecting too much. There is a line. People should not be in the church building every spare moment. After all, there are people to reach who do not come in. God sends us out into the world.

Recently, I've been looking at this matter of priorities in the midst of busyness a little differently. Over the years, the church has tended to equate itself with middle class values and has often been seen as, both internally and externally, a means to respectability and acceptance in the middle class. It's also been useful as students transition from high school to college. This I've known, but Joerg Rieger in No Rising Tide: Theology, Economics, and the Future and his lecture yesterday at Saint Paul School of Theology helped me to make a more complete shift in the implications of this tendency.

We are in a situation when being involved in a church youth group activities will not necessarily add value to one's status in life. Additionally, there are other activities that will be greater assets in college entry. Where is the money for going to come from? What is going to look good on the college application. Well, sports and band may provide scholarships and will look good on the application. Youth Group? Iffy.

So, what's real? What's really real? What's valuable?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Remembering the Saints during the Candy Celebration

It’s that time of year when people are focused on scary stuff and candy. It’s fun to dress up and pretend plus my sweet tooth is as bad as anyone’s. Yet, it’s also a time for us to remember the Saints that have gone before us to join the Church Universal.

Lots of churches (including my own) have started a tradition of “Trunk or Treat” where members of the church decorate their cars and hand out candy to the community kids so that they have a safe way to have fun. We’ve found that these ways of reaching out to the neighborhood are a good form of outreach and an introduction to our church. We also had a Rally Day to kick off the school year and a church campout at Camp Wilderness. Each of these events introduces the community to the church and plants the seed for them to start learning about God and changing their lives.

That weekend is also an opportunity for us to remember those that have gone before us – we take a moment this time of year to remember those that “joined the Church Universal” in the past 12 months. This can be a time of happy memories or that makes us miss those that we’ve lost. Of course, with Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, they will be having times that they are hurting even more than usual in the next couple months. So, it’s a good time for us to reach out and offer a helping hand, a shoulder to cry one, or a listening ear. This time of year can be Scary but it can also be Sweet as we find ways to make our lives ones that have more meaning.

by Mark Whitaker
Youth & Young Adult Director and Communications Coordinator
Avondale United Methodist Church in Kansas City MO (North of the River)
Advisory Board for youTheology / Marketing Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, October 11, 2010

Closer Than You Think

youTheology may be closer to you than you think. As many of you know, we now have a site in El Paso, TX that serves the Southwest. Currently, there's a great team in Nebraska planning for a youTheology pod in that state. Is either of those closer to you than coming out to Kansas City? In the future, we'll be in other places as the Lord wills. If you would like to experience youTheology but Kansas City seems a bit far for you, keep looking and listening, because we just may be closer than you think.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Price We Pay . . . and our Children

Prices operate at various levels, but we often prefer to think of the one that has the most immediate impact on us. I'm talking about the money we take out of our wallets, our pocketbooks, for which we write the checks, and which we charge to our cards. That price. However, there is an underlying price that has often been paid with sweat, blood, and tears, especially when we want a lot at a small price. We're often not realistic, are we? We often don't want to know, do we? Do we want to know that what comes cheaply to us is because of someone's slavery, frequently children, or conditions not much different? Do we want to know of the beatings and the deaths? Or do we prefer to be callously ignorant, or worse, indifferent?

On Monday in her blog, Emily Carroll, youTheology's Mentor Coordinator wrote about the problem with bullying and the need for us to confront it in our youth ministries. She said we need to "BE PRESENT. LISTEN. USE YOUR VOICE. CARE." What she said there is true. It's also true of the issue of where cheap goods come from and the real price that's paid for them. Indifference to this and the plight of those who labor under brutal conditions fosters indifference, period. And so we bring our youth up in a culture of indifference which manifests in different ways, including bullying. Of course, indifference is not the only reason for bullying, but we cannot ignore it. Yes, we need to care in a global sense.

We need to care and act. Let us examine what we buy and what our options are. How much do we need? How much do we know and how can we educate ourselves and others? How can we foster a culture of care of the personhood of those around us? How can we help people to be truly free in the name of Jesus Christ, both the physically enslaved and the emotionally enslaved? In Proclaim Jubilee, Maria Harris helps us to see the link between biblical Jubilee and freedom as she wrote about our connectedness as human beings. I'll share a brief and simple prayer that she included so that we all may pray it together:
Free us, O God, from the narrowness of our vision. Help us to know what we see, not merely to see what we know" (Harris1996, 68).
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mentor Bites: Dealing With Bullying

It's time to speak up. It's time for Christians to not be silent anymore. It's time for those of us who care about the lives of our young people to use our voice.

This weekend in the church I serve, I preached a sermon based on the prophet Jeremiahs's words in the 29th chapter from verse 4 to 10. These words follow:
"This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 'Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.' Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,' declares the LORD."

Basically, the prophet is telling the exiled people that they are not going back to to Judah anytime soon... He is somewhat harsh but certainly speaks a word of truth to these people. You are not going home. It's going to be hard. But, do it anyway. Settle here. Your grandchildren will be born here, and probably your great-grandchildren too! Because the good news for them was that God was still with them, that even in exile God would continue to call them towards a home in grace and love.

Linked below is a heartbreaking message from the popular talk show host, Ellen. Watch it, pray and reflect. No matter where you are in your journey, we can all admit that there is a bullying epidemic in this country. Something has to be done. I have to believe that the prophet Jeremiah would tell us today to stop dreaming about the "good old days" when young people were nice to one another and bullying was not in their vocabulary. First of all, the prophet would know better because humans have always been humans and second. In any case, the prophecy still lives...WE MUST BE PRESENT. And the good news is still with us. In the promise of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is with us.

Talk to the young person you are mentoring through the youTheology program this year. Talk to your youth groups. Talk to someone about what we can do in this country. More importantly, look in our congregations for the youth that are the least, the last and the lost.

The words of the prophet speaks to us as mentors of young people today...BE PRESENT. LISTEN. USE YOUR VOICE. CARE.

And pray. Pray for these devastated families. Pray that we will all find a better way.


Emily Carroll
youTheology Mentor Coordinator 2010-2011
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, October 1, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: Youth and All Saints Day

I think the best way to counteract the images of ghouls and goblins of Halloween is head on — teach youth the truth about this time of the church year and its purpose with a celebration of All Saints Day. Contrast All Saints Day with Halloween so they can see the difference for themselves.

It could be a true blessing to set aside some time to observe All Saints Day with our young people. However, this could be a challenge for local churches who do not keep strict adherence to the liturgical calendar. Nevertheless, if we make an intentional decision to do so and employ a little creativity, much is possible.

I think the first step would be to explain the purpose of All Saints Day. Find some materials that explain it and allow the youth to think about and discuss it and its relevance in our time. Youth group or bible study time would be good for this.

Second, offer the youth possible ways of celebrating All Saints Day: a small service of remembrance, which they plan. Point them to hymns and other songs that capture the meaning of All Saints Day for them to learn and sing. Allow them to write their own songs/poems about saints who have gone before us. The use of visual arts could be good also. Encourage the expressions to be personal. However, as the leader, try to set a “thankful” tone rather than a mournful one. Show youth that remembrance of the saints should lead us to offer thanks to God for their lives and their example.

Finally, plan this activity to be as near the actual All Saints celebration as possible. This allows you to really balance out the message of the thanksgiving for the saints with the Halloween mania.

by Arionne Williams
Minister to Youth and Families
Metropolitan AMEZ, Kansas City, MO
Deputy Chair youTheology Advisory Board
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Our Passions

We have many passions. In general, people in youth ministry are passionate about their students, God, and youth ministry. The order in which these come varies from person to person. Of course, there are other passions. We may be passionate about a particular movie, about a video game, a person, etc. You can make your own list.

I was reading Missional Church in Context: Helping Congregations Develop Contextual Ministry and it caused me to ask a question,which I'll share with you: How passionate am I about getting the good news about Jesus Christ out in the world? How passionate are you about this? Not getting it out among your students, as important as this is; or out in the church, as important as this is; but going beyond. Now, it is true that in sharing news we begin where we are, but how often do we think past what's in front of us? Important also, is a related question: How passionate are we about empowering our students to get the message out in the world?

So, here's the sentence that got me thinking and asking these questions:
It is clear from even a cursory reading of the book of Acts that God is passionate about getting the message of the good news about Jesus Christ out to the world." Van Gelder 2007, 30.
Van Gelder is pointing out that even if we just take a quick glance at the story in the New Testament book of Acts, we can't help but see that God is eager that the good news of Jesus Christ be communicated to the world.

If we accept this, it only leaves two key questions for us in youth ministry:
~~Do we share God's passion?
~~Are we enabling our students to share God's passion?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, September 27, 2010

What a Blessing!

It was truly a night for the soul, youTheology's fundraising concert with Oleta Adams. From beginning to end, Oleta touched our hearts with each selection, whether it was straight old-fashioned gospel songs, more contemporary gospel, or sung prayers. The prayer songs took us to the throne of grace. There was something for everyone, including the young, as she challenged and encouraged them. The audience was very responsive to this mesmerizing performance. During the intermission, it was a joy to see people mingling and enjoying greeting and chatting with each other. Not even a power outage could stop our night of blessing. The show went on. What a lady!
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, September 24, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Worship, Service, and Reflection

This past Saturday marked our first ever “One God, One Day, One Love” as we expanded youTheology to include a greater number of youth and to include Mid-High in addition to the High School students involved in the year-long program.

We had youth from AME, AME Zion, and UMC gather together in worship, service, and reflection. The Youth Choir at Metropolitan AME Zion led the music while Arionne Willliams (their Minister to Youth and Families) provided the meditation and Cole West from Avondale UMC led us in reading the scripture and in the Prayers of the People. Then, we got to know one another during Community Building which was led by Rev. Art Carter (Director of Community Formation for Saint Paul School of Theology and Onsite Coordinator for youTheology) before we jumped into our community service. Finally, we broke into small groups for a time of reflection where they learned about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

Our youth set an example for us as they worshiped, served, and reflected with youth from other denominations but focused on what we have in common rather than what makes us different. It’s important to have all three of these elements in our own churches and within our own youth programs.

As Arionne mentioned in her blog a couple weeks ago, if we only focus on worship we’re leaving out the work of the church. At the same time, we sometimes focus on Missions but forget why we are doing what we are doing. You need to have both elements in your church and the time of reflection is a good way to tie it all together. If you leave out any portion of this, it is an incomplete church.

So, let’s follow the example of our youth and focus on “One God, One Day, One Love” as we worship, serve, and reflect together.

youTheology: Loving God, Loving Neighbor.

by Mark Whitaker
Youth & Young Adult Director and Communications Coordinator
Avondale United Methodist Church in Kansas City MO (North of the River)
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another First for youTheology

Last Saturday, September 18, 2010, a number of youth along with their leaders gathered at Saint Paul School of Theology for youTheology’s first “One God, One Day, One Love” event. Youth came from AME, AMEZ, and UM churches. It was a wonderful time of worship, service, and reflection on the day’s events. It was a blessing to see young people from various congregations in the Methodist family gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ to love God and neighbor. Mark Whitaker will give more details in his blog post this Friday. Suffice it to say, we are very thankful to God for the youth and their leaders and the way in which they embraced the day’s activities. We are grateful for the vision of the youTheology Advisory Board who had the foresight to hold this event. Thanks to Mark and Arionne for their hard work in bringing it to fruition. To God be the glory!
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, September 17, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: When God is in Your Heart

Worship: formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage.
When I was young, my grandmother was my spiritual guide. One of the things that she repeatedly told me was that we go to church to celebrate God and whenever two or more are gathered in His name is considered church or worship. It is not the place or building but the feeling. So no matter where you are you can be in worship of God.

Service: to supply with aid, information, or other incidental services.
We can serve people anywhere – whether it be at home, at church, in community. It can be helping your parents at home or a friend with homework. It can be in your hometown or clear across the world. You can help people no matter where you are.

Reflection: a fixing of the thoughts on something; careful consideration.
This also can be done anywhere, anytime. Whenever you are with friends whether they are at church or school, if you have done a service or experienced a great worship, you should share with them. In fact, you should share them whenever and wherever you are with whoever is around.

So I guess the bottom line is like my grandmother said, it doesn’t matter where you are as long as God is in your heart -- you can worship, serve and reflect on Him.

by Lori Watson
Pleasant Hill UMC
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Let’s Connect

As youth workers, we seek to understand the young people we serve. We read, we dialogue with other youth workers, we go to conferences and so forth. There is a lot to learn. We serve a population that is changing. What worked with youth group yesterday often does not work in youth group today. Because we want to reach young people so that they can accept the saving work of Jesus Christ for themselves and love God and neighbor, we learn about youth culture and how what is happening in the world around us affects students. Nevertheless, there is a danger.

The danger that exists is seeing the students to whom we are sent to minister as a category. Kathleen T. Talvaacchia's words are timely. Though written about multicultural education they have relevance for youth ministry whether or not it is multicultural: “No authentic teaching can exist without the ability to relate to learners as people” (2003 81).” This means that for there to be a genuine transfer of knowledge and skills those who are in the role of teacher must have the capacity to engage those in the role of learners as human beings.

We learn all we can, yes. It informs what we do, yes. However, at the end of the day, God sends us real people and not categories and statistics. Our students come with their joys and sorrows, challenges and victories rooted in specific situations. Let us learn about and from them and connect with them as human beings and treasure them as God’s gifts.

How do you go about connecting with the students in your youth group and/or at your church?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

My Miniature Assistant

I am trying to compose this blog with the assistance of a 10 month old puppy named Carli. She is a French Brittany Spaniel, kind of like a Cocker spaniel but with a long thin body. She is adorable, she is also co-dependent on me, her Mom. She hates me using my desktop computer because she can’t be right next to me. So she jumps up and hits the keyboard and gets my computer programs to do things I didn’t know they could do. She tries to get my attention, tries to get me to play with her, mainly to sit on the couch or bed with her. She just needs me near by.

I know she loves me, but sometimes it’s overpowering. I want to be a loving "parent" to her, but I need a life too. I need space, I need to get out and do my thing. As I was getting frustrated with her today, I realized that I treat God the same way. I want to have my own life, to take care of the things I think are important. I need space sometimes from even God. I know God loves me and wants me to spend time with Him. I know God has a great plan for my life, and that gives me comfort. I want to follow God’s plan, I want to be with Him. I know part of being a Christian means I need to do things for others, for the church. But, come on, I’m swamped by life!

Do others feel this way, especially teenagers? So much required at school, at home your parents expect you to keep your room clean, help around the house? Church and youth group? Friends, fun times are important too. Where can our time with God fit in? I realized that I can spend quality time with God by taking quick moments throughout my day to talk to God, listen, and just be with God. I can focus on God when I am outside by just noticing the beauty around me and having a short talk with God. It reduces my stress because I don’t feel that I need to set aside an hour a day for prayer, just small moments that can be so special to us and to God. And ironically, these short times with God make me feel peaceful, and make my day go more smoothly.

And what about Carli? She’s been very patient, so it’s her time NOW.

Kathy Bray
youTheology Program Volunteer
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: Never Too Young to Serve

I often wonder about the age at which our Youth can start serving. When I mention serving , I am not talking about serving communion or preaching in front of the entire congregation. I am talking about serving the Light of Jesus to whom they come in contact with.

Think about this for a second. Our Young people can sit on their laptop and talk to someone on Facebook, while at the same time be on their cell phone talking to their friends and listening to a conversation their parent is yelling at them from across the room. We call this Multi-tasking.

So I would like to ask:
1. How do we get our youth to Multi-task for the Lord?
2. How can we guide our Youth to put that same energy into their Christian Life?
3. How do we strengthen that Bond between them and God?

My answers to these questions: Continue to have events that are full of joy and words of encouragement. Bring the Youth together in groups who are looking for and asking the same questions about their Faith. Hold trainings that will give them the information they need to change their thoughts and their way of thinking.

I want our youth to embrace the fact that God wants so much for them and from them. He is waiting for them to embrace his Grace and Love. But too many of our Youth are trapped in the evils of this World. They are out of the line of sight from the Light of our Lord. Too many times we as adults are blocking that Light.

Give our Youth the chance to grow and realize we serve a mighty and forgiving Lord who loves us so much he gave the life of his only Son. We have to bring this information in a package that will reach our youth. It could be packaged in retreats, Mission trips or anything that will ignite some feeling towards CHANGE. You’ve heard me say this many times. The old Blackboard approach has died. You have some schools putting their lessons in text format and sending them through cell phones. They know information is power and they are willing to change it up to reach those who need it the most. Our kids are never too young to serve. But we must be there to ensure they have the needed tools to spread the Good News of our Lord.

by Earl Williams
Youth Director and Safe & Sacred Space Trainer
Grace United Methodist Church, Emporia, KS
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wishful Thinking or Reality?

What is your commitment when it comes to relating to people unlike yourself and your group? What is the first answer that you give? Check your actions to see if this response is true. How are your actions living out your answer? Are they?

This is the challenge we all face. In our head we have certain aspirations and these inform our words, but our reality may not show that these aspirations are true.

So, we may all say we respect people of other social classes, ethnicities, etc. How do we know this? How do we show this if our daily and/or meaningful interactions are only with people like ourselves?
Kathleen T. Talvaacchia makes the point in Critical Minds and Discerning Hearts that in the United States there is increasing multiculturalism beyond the major cities. She is making the case for effective multicultural teaching which involves learning about others. Part of this learning happens through what she refers to as “the lived experience of interacting with others” (Talvacchia 2003, 91). This means that we learn about people who are different from ourselves by mixing with them.

If we believe this is true and if we have some commitment to be in relationship with people outside our group, how are we creating opportunities that honor and respect the other? As we enter the new school year and plan our youth group programs, how have we given or how will we give space for these opportunities so that the commitment exists in reality and not in the realm of wishful thinking?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mentor Bites: Find Encouragement

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a mentor for young people. There seems to be so much wrapped up in the definitions, models, trainings, workshops etc. for people that work with young people and I think sometimes we lose focus in the midst of these endeavors. This past Friday evening, I was out for a friend’s birthday and as dinner began, three women started sharing their experiences about being big sisters for young people in the Kansas City area. One common theme started to appear, whether we were talking about the adolescent girl, the brand new teenager (a girl who just had turned thirteen) or the nine year old boy. All of these women simply wanted to know if what they were doing made a difference.

Questions and statements that sounded similar came from all three of them during the conversation. “Am I doing enough?” “Do you think I am making an impact?” “How can I tell that something I do with them means anything at all?” “I hope that they know I am a safe person to talk to about their questions.” “I want them to trust me.” As I listened to these women share with one another, I noticed that they were doing something absolutely essential to the practice of mentoring. They were ENCOURAGING one another. No one told anyone else that their individual practices of being a big sister, role model, mentor, etc. was flawed. Everyone simply told one another that they were making a difference just by taking them for an ice cream cone while lending an ear.

The work of mentoring young people is not easy and it is one that should not go unevaluated or not be held accountable. However, do not do it alone! If you are someone who is working with young people, find a place to talk about it. Find a place to be encouraged. Find someone to tell you that your work is significant.

Emily Carroll
youTheology Mentor Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Perspectives from the Field: The Place of Worship, Service, and Reflection in Youth Ministry

I am inspired by the topic of this month's blog entry: the place of worship, service, and reflection in youth ministry. About a year and a half ago, I was introduced to a book entitled, ReJesus: A Wild Messiah For A Missional Church (Hendrickson Publishers, December 2008) by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. Near the beginning of the book, they made the claim that the Church has often been good about worshiping Christ, but not so good at actually following Him. Wow! That concept blew my mind! And although I tried to find some way to critique this idea as any good theologian should, I think I mostly agree with them.

I say this because, I think that in many churches that I have experienced, we work so hard at worship services. We plan, make rules, and enforce rules as it relates to worship. We decide what is appropriate and what is not. We have debates about contemporary versus traditional forms or contemplative versus so-called "charismatic" styles. In the Church, we will go rounds about our beloved worship. In some instances, disagreements about worship have led to dissension, members leaving, and, in worse cases, even church splits. Now, don't get me wrong, I love to worship. I love to sing and give thanks like any other Christian. Yet, I often wonder why we don't seem to get into as many heated debates about service, that is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick, (Matthew 25:31-46) etc. While we're stuck within our 4 walls (or 8 or 24 walls) debating worship, we are often neglecting the very thing we are here to do: be LIKE JESUS!!! People are dying of AIDS, hunger, and worse, but our most important issue is worship???

I think this issue has strong implications for youth ministry because whether we know it or not, we are constantly teaching our kids what is important. When the only thing we are worried about is how we do worship, or where we have worship, or how big is the place in which we worship, while not responding to the needs in our own community we are making a BIG STATEMENT about what it means to be Christian. We are telling them that the community's needs can be pushed off to another time, or handled by someone else (the government and non-profit agencies). Meanwhile, we continue to worship Christ and talk about how good God is to us, or how we were "filled" by last week's rousing sermon without the slightest bit of movement towards being God's real presence for people who need it most. Perhaps if we took more time for reflection this problem would be more apparent to us.

I am certainly not suggesting that worship is not important; it certainly is. But it is not of sole importance. As a matter of fact, it should send us out to serve. Service and reflection have their rightful place in the life of the Christian, and we should not neglect that. To do so is it leave out a huge chunk of Christian life.

So I think it is important that we not only worship Christ, but truly follow Him. This has to be a Church-wide effort, not simply the work of youth ministry. This has to become ingrained in us as essential to our Christian identity. Our mission to witness to the salvation, healing, power, and hope brought to the world through Christ has to be the core of our identity. This way our service, that is, following Christ, is lived out in real life in ways that make a difference for others. Let us then be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) into true followers of Christ who demonstrate love for God and for neighbor (Matthew 22:38-39)!

Arionne Williams
Minister to Youth and Families
Metropolitan AMEZ, Kansas City, MO
Deputy Chair youTheology Advisory Board
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Message from an Alumni

My name is Lindsey McDaniel. I am currently a student at Emporia State University with a major in Communications. I am hoping to have a career in ministry someday, either in youth, music, or missions. I participated in youTheology during the 2009-2010 session.

I came into the program not knowing what to expect or how much I would learn. I was taught so much about the history of Methodism, how it ties into the theme of Loving God, Loving Neighbor and into my own life. I heard the call to ministry during the orientation weekend of my year at youTheology. The year-long program helped me take those first steps on the path to serving God. It was fantastic to meet with other people my own age and see how they were taking their steps: getting involved in their churches, from music ministry to missions to youth and even giving messages.

This year I am serving as the youTheology intern. I have enjoyed every minute of it. I am an active member of my church, involved in the choir and worship planning, as well as the prayer shawl ministry and serving meals at Abundant Harvest. I see God every day, in the people I pass on my way to class, in my friends, my teachers, and my family. I see them being neighborly toward each other, and every day I am reminded of what I learned through youTheology.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, August 20, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Focus on Developing Relationships

School has started. So, what’s the critical issue to focus on this year? How about relationships? I’m not talking about boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. I’m talking about their relationship with God, their relationship with others within their church family (including other youth) and their relationship with their community.

Youth need to be able to have opportunities to grow their faith and build a stronger relationship with God. This can be designed by working with Youth programs and Sunday School lessons to make sure they have opportunities to question and explore.

Youth need to build relationships with members of the church. This means people old enough to be their grandparents as well as babies in the nursery. Understanding the faith journey experienced by others can have a big impact. Taking part in the church’s commitment to a newly baptized baby can reinforce what it means to be part of the church and remind them of the vows they took/will take when joining the church.

Youth need to get involved in the community, whether it’s a community service project or hosting an event at your church. They also need to see how the church interacts with the community and how what happens in the community impacts the church.

Youth leaders need to also make sure they are looking out for their own relationships, with all three listed above, but also with their own family. Sometimes, church leaders get so involved serving others that they forget time to take care of their own spiritual growth and/or they focus so much on their church family that they ignore their own family.

by Mark Whitaker
Youth & Young Adult Director and Communications Coordinator
Avondale United Methodist Church in Kansas City MO (North of the River)
Advisory Board for youTheology / Marketing Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Letting Go of Fear

Fear is one of the biggest hindrances to communication outside our group. This group could be our little clique of friends or it could our region, our race . . . . We often don't truly know people outside of this "pack" and there is this tendency to fear the unknown. It is exploited by people who know that they can control best by dividing and keeping people from interacting with each other on a human level. Consequently, those seeking to maintain or take power will often demonize people who are different and seek to fuel our fears so that we no longer see other people outside our group as human beings whom God has created, but as "those people," with the subtext, "not like us" or "not really human."

Yet God in God's wisdom has a wonderfully varied world in both the animal and plant realms. Having seen this, you would think that by now we would have figured out that difference is natural, beautiful, and be enjoyed. But, no. We allow fear to predominate.

Can we embrace the difference in people not like ourselves and see it as part of God's wonderful creation? Can we get past fear and seek to know each other as human beings, people with hopes and dreams, and challenges? Can we press on even when conflict arises because of our difference and know that it is just a part of the process of learning and growing together?

Maybe we need conversion. Addressing a multicultural context, Kathleen T. Talvaacchia describes conversion as: "Turning away from judgments about groups of people without understanding the complexities of their experiences of social structural and personal discrimination" (Talavacchia 2003, 65). In other words, conversion means that we move away from coming to conclusions about a particular social group about whose context and experiences of prejudice at a personal and structural level we are ignorant. This means accepting that prejudice/discrimination at those levels is real, finding out the ways in which it is experienced and exercised, and locating ourselves in its various manifestations. It also means engaging with various social groups and using various means to learn all that we can about each other. Bottom line, it means letting go of fear.

How will you name and let go of your fears of the other?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, August 16, 2010

Faithful Steps

I have to admit that the Southwest planning team was getting anxious. Since this was the first time we were doing the youTheology weekend away from St Paul, I did not know what to expect. There were still many unanswered questions. Would the videolink equipment work? Would the students connect over the video link? Could the presenters’ messages be received over hundreds of miles and a different time zone?

I knew that everything was ok when after one of the vespers services a 10 minute break was announced and no one moved. All of the youTheologians at Lydia Patterson remained in their seats or on the floor continuing their worship beyond the limits of the program. And then there was the time at the farm when everyone had to start cleaning the stalls and shoveling manure. Magda, our intern, remarked that she was not sure some of the students would even do it. To her surprise, everyone pitched in and the group came back to Lydia Patterson exhausted, but somehow changed. There was reconciliation between old friends and in the meetings with new neighbors during the weekend (some of whom were not very nice). It was in moments such as these that we saw there was a plan for this group in the context of “loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves,” and somehow, someway, in spite of all of our planning, etc., youTheology would indeed become a means of God’s grace.

While there will be many things to fine tune for next time, what was confirmed for me is the continuing strategic opportunity for the preparation of persons for mission and ministry, in an international cross-cultural setting, through the bridge of the Southwest site with the Saint Paul School of Theology. When we use the term “to be in connection” in the church, we can see how that is applied even over time and distance. Our youTheologians are already using the quadrilateral as a means to assess issues from a theological perspective and implementing our first chapel service based on the weekend experiences. Our dream of preparing leaders for church and society is bearing fruit.

We look forward to taking the next faithful step with all of you and to see what other surprises God has in store for us.

Rev George Miller
youTheology Southwest - Lydia Patterson Institute
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, August 13, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: The Pain is Real

There are many young people that we meet as Youth Workers that we would like to take home and raise ourselves. We may know of their struggles in life. We see that their pain is real, and frequently it is an everyday ordeal. We try to touch their lives during the weekly Youth Group meetings. But one day a week is not enough to relieve or remove the pain of life that youth encounter once they walk outside their front door. Sometimes that pain is from events and relationships within their own house.

Many of our Youth are in pain. They are hurting to the point that they do not know what to do or where to go. Our kids are dying, physically and emotionally and most importantly spiritually.

We all know there is no such thing as a perfect life. But a better life free of the pain of living on this Earth is what our Lord intends and extends to us. We must remember that as Youth Leaders we have 2-3 hours each week with those youth. That time is like a window of opportunity for the youth to see and recognize a better way of life.

Our Youth need us. We are in this together Black ,White, Brown or Red. IT DOES NOT MATTER THE COLOR, RACE OR RELIGION. Let’s work together to bring our youth closer to our Lord and release some of the pain they endure each and everyday of their lives. Let’s find ways to reach the lost, to reach those who have no relationship to God. Let’s reach out in God’s name and and tell his story to all who may listen, help those who are searching.

There are many ways to do this. First, we have to ask our Youth, “What do they need to build a stronger link to God?” And, then we must be quiet and listen to them. This is a critical step; only when we listen can we learn from their responses. Talk and listen. Write down some of their ideas. Then act on the information obtained, and continue to include them through every decision that will affect them. Only, then will we be able to address the needs through workshops, classes, events and programs.

Second, remember: OUR YOUTH ARE WATCHING AND LEARNING FROM US! We must practice what we preach and teach. As leaders of the Church, we must get off our high horses and realize we are no better than those who do not yet know God’s grace or love. We might have studied the Bible in depth, and read every religious book ever printed. But when we whine about a pew sitter, or grumble about the way people dress, or express envy about the amount of money someone else has – this behavior and attitude breaks our ability to reach our youth. They know that same attitude is out in the world and why should they become a part of this within the church. It is as if we live in a glass house where all we do is seen by others. As such, we must lay down any bricks, or they will damage our own walls.

Let’s all be vehicles of God’s love and grace to our youth that they may know their Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

by Earl Williams
Youth Director and Safe & Sacred Space Trainer
Grace United Methodist Church, Emporia, KS
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dont' Stifle That Anger

There are many who would have us behave and act as if everything is alright all the time, even obvious mistakes have been made. I find this particularly true in some youth group circles. We project this attitude in our effort to make everyone comfortable and at home. In this environment, therefore, we are supposed to be calm and not get upset. Thus Kathleen T. Talvaacchia's statement can seem at odds: "When we see clearly, we do not run away from those conflictual moments when true dialogue and authentic learning become possible" (Talavacchia 2003, 62). In other words, when we truly see the participants, including ourselves, and the dynamics in a multicultural learning environment we are able to deal with the clashes that stem from honest expression in which their is genuine receptivity.

This statement reminds us that there is a place for disagreement and challenge in our interactions with each other. Moreover, when we do not allow safe spaces for these, we short change participants and ourselves as leaders of deep learning and journeying to new places. We miss the gift God has given us for deeper understanding of God, self, and others and fuller healing. We even run the risk of harmful explosions in less safe arenas.

How do you handle moments of anger in your context?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, August 9, 2010

Stage 1

The journey has begun for 21 youTheologians along with their mentors at locations in Kansas City, MO and El Paso, TX. This is a new journey for some leaders as well. For others of us, it is an ongoing Pilgrimage with new stages. For all of us, the 2010-2011 youTheology year has begun with excitement, joy, and anticipation of what is ahead.

We give God thanks for Orientation just past: new learning, friends, strengthened relationships with God and those around us, and new leaders emerging. Indeed God is good to us. The pictures on Facebook tell the story.

Much of the learning took place at Saint Paul School of Theology or via video link at Lydia Patterson. However, on Friday, youTheologians at both locations went on a rural ministry day. The Kansas City Group went to First Presbyterian Church in Osawatomie, KS in the morning. There we learned about joys, challenges, and opportunities of rural ministry. We were able to ask questions and then we were refreshed through the church's hospitality. In the afternoon, we spent time at the John Brown Memorial Park and Museum. First Presbyterian Church arranged this for us. We learned some of Osawatomie history and were able to do hands-on ministry that would serve the people of Oswawatomie. These experiences added depth to our discussion later on about inclusion and exclusion.

The youth led worship on the Friday night. Two debut sermons were given. We plan to put them up on Vimeo. We already have up some reflections from the weekend and singing from the worship service. It is truly a joy to be led in worship by people who are enthusiastic about God and give time, thought, and prayer to the words and general leadership they give.

When I look back on the weekend, one thought predominates: To God be the glory.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, August 6, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Back 2 School!!!

This is another one of those very anxious times for young people. The kids will once again be thrust into an environment that regularly tests their faith and pushes them to "stand out" or "stand up" for Christ. With that in mind, it is important, first of all, that we, youth leaders, encourage our congregations to be in constant prayer for our young people. School can be stressful and challenging for anyone, but it is especially important to provide support and intentional encouragement for those who struggle academically. Seek God about meeting the needs of those youth. Finally, remind the youth that this is the new school year and therefore a time for a new beginning. There is no need for them to carry baggage from the previous year into the new one. "Behold, I make all things new..." Revelation 21:5 There are new challenges and new blessings to come. Go with God into a new beginning!

by Arionne Williams
Minister to Youth and Families
Metropolitan AMEZ, Kansas City, MO
Deputy Chair youTheology Advisory Board
Loving God, Loving Neighbor