Friday, February 26, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Parents as Youth Sponsors

Tweens and teens are interesting as they transform from children into adults and begin to lead our church. During this process, it is important to have a variety of people to help with the church’s youth ministry, including some people that are outside of the “they care about me because they have to” world. These can be young adults that still remember what it means to be a youth, or grandparents that bring a lifetime of experience and wisdom. At the same time, parental involvement reinforces the idea that Christianity doesn’t end when you leave the walls of the church.

Parents provide insights about what’s going on in the lives of their youth. They also can be a great sounding board for other youth. On a trip, a homesick kid can benefit from a parent even if it’s not his/her own. A youth going through a rough time at school might benefit from the experience of another parent that has been through something similar. So, it is helpful to partner parent sponsors with kids other than their own. Youth might be more willing to ask questions if Mom is not right there.

However, one of the most important reasons to have Parents as Youth Sponsors is to recognize and use their individual talents and gifts. Just as each of the youth have special ways to help the ministry of the church, so do their parents. Whether it’s driving a van, leading a discussion, preparing a meal, using a hammer or paint brush, or just hanging out with youth, each has a way to help.

Some of the parents in my Youth Group have gone on enough of our trips that I can send groups with them while I take care of other elements of our youth ministry. Plus, I can try out an idea by bouncing it around with a parent or two to see how they think the youth would react. I also found some parents have the ability to do some things better than I can. Whether it is a special talent or enthusiasm because they are undertaking something new, I’m lucky enough to be able to help point their energy in a direction that can glorify God.

My latest adventure is 2nd Generation youth -- going through experiences with a youth that I previously experienced with their parent a dozen years earlier.

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, February 24, 2010

Seeking Relevance in Youth Ministry

In youth ministry, we serve an ever shifting population. There are several reasons for this. To name a few, there is a continual flow of students from elementary, to middle, to high school. High school students grow and move to college. Thus, we can be sure of new faces in our ministry every few years. Each new group comes with its own identity. Moreover, from time to time someone will change location. Then there's the reality that student culture is constantly changing and evolving. How can we stay relevant?

Sometimes it seems that the concern for relevance is at the forefront of youth ministry more than anywhere else, a reflection of our reality. As I thought of this, I was reminded of Jesus' words in John 17:14-15: "I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one." So, we're in, but we're not in. Yet, when we look at Jesus' life, in many way, he was a part of the culture. He was comfortable with it and people, unless they represented the status quo, were comfortable with him. At the same time, he constantly confronted aspects of the culture that did not conform to God's law of loving God and neighbor. These were aspects that distorted and dehumanized God's creation.

In our quest for relevance, therefore, we need to be critical of what is around us and discerning in our use of the various tools and cool stuff that keeps coming up. What is behind it? What does it seek to do? How does it conform to the kingdom of God? How does it engender love of God and neighbor? Do we need to modify it or leave it alone? I like what Michael Warren says in Seeing Through the Media: A Religious View of Communications and Cultural Analysis when he speaks of the religious culture as a culture of resistance: "Such resistance does not call us to take the world less seriously but more so. It seeks to escape not the world but the trivialization of the world by which other persons become instruments of my self-will rather than temples of the living God" (Warren 1997, 24). In other words, we recognize the reality of the world while refusing to buy into the aspects that make people others' pawns rather than dwelling places of God.

Relevance is necessary. However, in youth ministry it must be on God's terms. Do you agree?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Call Came Through youTheology

I certainly remember youTheology quite fondly, especially the pilgrimage to England. It was the inaugural year for the program 2003-2004 – a year full of good fellowship and serious reflection.

youTheology was my first real experience with the idea of becoming a minister of God's Word. Now that I am embracing that call, I look back on my youTheology time as a beginning of what was to come.

Presently, I am studying hard at Duke Divinity School, working toward my Master of Divinity. I look forward to being let loose on the world of Kansas Methodism in a few years! Eventually, I will complete all the requirements to become an Elder in the Kansas East Conference of the United Methodist Church. youTheology was the springboard for my deeper involvement in the church – to the point of seeking ordination!

My interests right now are dominated by general seminary life: preaching, theology, scripture, and liturgy. I try to write poetry (when I have the time!) of a theological and devotional nature. I am making a concerted effort to add to my collection of dead languages (currently Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Anglo-Saxon; while working on Syriac).

I have discovered over the last few years that God has been cultivating in me a pious awe and holy reverence for the sacrament of our Lord's body and blood. I have developed a sacred desire for this most blessed communion.

To all my fellow young Christians who have been raised to look for God mostly in the words of prayer and preaching, or in the beauty of music, I would commend the contemplation of this mystery. There is no song so inspiring, nor sermon so convicting, nor prayer so consoling, as this sacrament. It is one thing to hear, and another to taste, that the Lord is good.

Austin Rivera
youTheology Alumnus
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, February 19, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: My Journey as a Parent in Youth Ministry

I remember the first few times I went to help out at the youth group meetings at our church. My daughter was not too happy with the idea at first. But, soon she enjoyed having me there.

It is great being an involved parent. You get to see the progression of the youth, including your own. It also helped me as an adult -- with my faith walk and in my understanding youth of today.

One of the joys of being a youth worker and a parent is the relationship you can develop with your own children. It is amazing to see the growth of young people as they become adults. Plus in today’s society, there are so many temptations youth face daily.

To me, it was important to be a youth worker because I wanted a firmer relationship with my children, and the people influencing them – those with whom they hung out. As time has gone by, relationships developed between myself and the youth I have worked with over the years. That process of engagement also helped me to be more comfortable with doing more in my church.

Every parent should be involved in some way, shape or form with the youth of/in their congregation. What better to show your children that you really care about them? Even if they complain at first, they will come to enjoy having you there.

Lori Watson
Pleasant Hill UMC, Pleasnt Hill, MO
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent in Their Way

And so today, Ash Wednesday, we begin Lent. It means different things to different people. Many of us think of our humanity, need for repentance, and use it as a time of self-denial. It means something to us. The question is, how can we help our young people find meaning for themselves in Lent?

I was struck while reading Born Digital of John Palfrey's and Urs Gasser's outline of the way in which many of our young people, digital natives, get information. Palfrey and Gasser describe a three-step process: "Grazing, a 'deep dive,' and a feedback loop" (Palrey and Gasser 2008, 241-244). Grazing is pretty much browsing through multiple sources online; Deep dive entails seeking significance by focusing on a particular subject that has captured their attention and/or imagination; at the feedback loop (not embraced by all) the learner shares an opinion publicly regarding a subject through retelling, commenting, etc. It seems to me that we can employ this process with our high school and other students to enable them to "discover" Lent for themselves.

Encourage them to go online and find out what they can about Lent. There can be a general sharing about what they discovered. Have them then identify an area they want to learn more about. Here leaders can work with them to help them consult authentic and reliable sources. Students can then decide if and how they will meaningfully retell their story. If you are blessed enough to have enough computers in your ministry space for this to be done right there, it could probably be done over two weeks. If however, you need to send them out to do this exercise, I would suggest three weeks, building in enough time for sharing throughout.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, February 15, 2010

youTheology: Youth Matter

I first heard about the youTheology program during my sophomore year of high school. My youth director approached me with this program where I would learn about some of the history of Methodism and it all ended in a trip to England. Learning about where my religious roots started had an appeal, but the major attraction was the trip to England. To this point in my life, I had never been out of the country, with the exception of a cruise to the Caribbean. I was not accepted my first year due to the number of applicants and my younger age. I was a little discouraged by this, but decided to apply the following year, which is the year I was admitted into the program.

After going through the program, the trip to England was pretty cool and I learned a lot about John Wesley and the beginnings of the Methodist church. For me the best part of the program was the relationships I developed. Going into the program, I knew there were four weekends and then the pilgrimage at the end. I was not sure this would be very much time to form deep and lasting relationships, but I was wrong. We all came together from different backgrounds, with different issues we were facing, but for those weekends, we were able to get away from our daily lives. We were able to come together with a common interest and just be ourselves. Those were very important relationships in my life and I think anyone who has been through the program would agree. Unfortunately we do not still have those structured weekends to get together and away from our daily lives so time passes by with little communication. But when something does pop up about someone, the memories come flooding in, and for that I am grateful.

youTheology has changed a lot over the past years since I went through. The focus of the study has gone from a United Methodist focus to Pan Methodist and the cherished trip to England has been moved to the states due to the shift in the focus. Though the curriculum and the pilgrimage have undergone changes, the most important part is still there, the relationships. Students are still able to get out of the grind of daily life and form lasting relationships with people they can lean on for support.

Many young people feel that they have no voice in the church, or their voice is too small and no one will listen to it. I felt this way. I felt like my opinion did not matter and I did not have as much experience as the adults around me, so they know more than I do. But over the years and with the help of youTheology I have realized that my thoughts and opinions are a big part of the life of the church. No one is too young or inexperienced to have an opinion and to share that opinion. It is important to have all the generations represented in order to have a healthy and successful church. Otherwise churches will die due to lack of new ideas and not attracting younger worshipers. I have always been an active member in my church: in youth group and the church choir. But, it was only recently that I started serving on committees within the church. I feel that it is important for me, as a younger person, to actively serve on committees in the church and share my ideas and opinions. So, that is what I am trying to do now.

I discovered while in youTheology that many people are called to serve in the church setting, but I have never felt that was the path for me. But I do know that regardless of my career path, God will use me in that place to minister to people. It just will not be in front of a church, but in a much smaller venue. I am currently working towards my Masters in Accounting and am excited to see how God will use me. I know God has a plan for my life and I know I will stumble along the way, but God has given me the tools I need to get through those struggles and people I can call on when I need a hand. I am truly blessed and thank God daily for all the wonderful things placed in my life by our amazing God!

Elizabeth Waterland
youTheology Alumna
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, February 12, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: Parents Sharing Christ With Their Kids

Over the last 14 years of working with youth in different capacities, I realize that when parents show an interest in their child’s spiritual growth, it helps increase their child’s understanding of God’s love and amazing Grace. God has given us, as parents, both the responsibility and the tremendous opportunity to help our kids grow strong in their faith.

For youth directors, it can be a little disappointing when they see very low parent involvement within the youth ministries. In my current context, we serve about 40-60 kids each Wednesday. A lot of parents will drop their kids off without coming inside to see what their kids are learning. Other youth walk or find a way on their own to get there each week.

As youth leaders, we must continue to invite and keep some kind of communication with the parents. This can come in the form of calling them, sending information home with the youth, or just inviting them to one of the many activities during the week.

We must keep focused on the youth who come each week. And at the same time, we need to continue to pray that parents realize God has specifically placed the responsibility for motivating their children’s spiritual development on themselves because they are the parents.

In the Bible, we read in Deuteronomy 6:6-7(NIV)

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

I love the quote, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This is true in all aspects of our children’s lives, especially their spiritual life. They need the Church, the community and their parents.

Thank you God for our youth!

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't Throw Technology at Your Ministry

I'm still thinking about technology and youth ministry. Part of the reason is that we are working on our upcoming book, Youth Ministry in a Technological Age. Another piece is that I am doing an online course in distance education, which is helping me to think through the implications of a shift to using more technology in youTheology in the future. It is really important that we do this move prayerfully, working to ensure that technology supports our goals and community. We don't want to be haphazard or careless in our employment of technology. Moreover, our participants have indicated very clearly that the creation and maintenance of community is critical.

An aspect that I'm fascinated with currently is how we use technology to enhance learning. In my blog last Wednesday, I mentioned that if we use technology in a structured learning environment it should be "current, relevant, and well-integrated into the program." John Palfrey and Urs Gasser in Born Digital also make the point that the issue is the effective use of technology and that technology "should be applied in support of our pedagogy, not for its own sake" (Palrey and Gasser 2008, 247). This says that we do not use technology because it's there and trendy but because it will undergird our educational philosophy and activities. It raises some questions for us in ministry with high school students:
~~What is ministry?
~~Where is God in our ministry?
~~What is our reason for engaging in this ministry?
~~What is it we seek to teach as part of this ministry?
~~How and why?
~~How could we use technology to further this?

Only after we have answered these questions are we ready to even consider if and how we will use technology in our ministries. Only then are we ready to invest money and avoid using technology for technology's sake. In other words, we'll avoid throwing technology at our ministry.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

6 Ways Parents Can Help Kids Cope With Social Cruelty - On Parenting (

This month on Fridays our features bloggers are looking at "Parental Involvement in Youth Ministry." The US News article that is linked below looks at how parents can help kids deal with social cruelty. It seems that those of us in youth ministry can work with parents on some of these suggestions. We also have an additional resource in our faith and can work with parents to help kids see themselves as God's unique creation, loved unconditionally by an omnipotent God.

How do you handle this in your student ministry setting?

6 Ways Parents Can Help Kids Cope With Social Cruelty - On Parenting (

Posted using ShareThis
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, February 8, 2010

youTheology Makes Me Serve

I was a member of the 2007-2008 youTheology class. As a member of youTheology I learned the journey of John and Charles Wesley, as well as the different cultures that came out of Pan-Methodist. Beyond what we studied about Methodism, I built relationships with other Methodist around the Midwest. Some of the people that I met through youTheology I still get a chance to see around at other events, and another youTheolgian and myself make an annual trip every year to visit each other. Through that relationship we are able to grow as friends and build each other up spiritually and make it through some tough times in life. My experience with youTheolgoy only lasted one year, but the knowledge and relationships I built will last a lifetime.

youTheology showed me that there is much more to ministry than getting behind a pulpit every Sunday. I always knew I wanted to play a part in the church, but have never felt the calling as a pastor. One thing that I took with me is my continued involvement in the United Methodist Church. I am still figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. The one thing I know is that I want to continue my faith in ministry whether as just a lay member or serving on a committee with my local congregation. I will find a place to serve in the Church.

I am a sophomore in Mechanical Engineering at Missouri S&T in Rolla, Missouri, where I have the pleasure of serving on the Wesley Campus Ministry Leadership Team. Wesley has given me a place to call home while in college. Having this campus ministry I have been able to connect with the local congregation by attending service every Sunday and dinners on Wednesday night. Along with Wesley Campus Ministry I am the Vice President of the Robotics Team and a member of Kappa Delta Sorority on Campus. As a young adult I have also been given the opportunity to represent the South Central Jurisdiction at Global Young Peoples Convocation and Legislative Assembly in Berlin, Germany this July. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and youTheology helped me to see that I want to make a difference in the Church. I hope I can share my knowledge that I gained through the program with others around the world at Convocation. College is just another chapter in my life, yet I am glad to have the opportunity to keep God very much a presence in my everyday activity.

God Bless,
Miriah Anderson
youTheology Alumna
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, February 5, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Parental Involvement in Youth Ministry

The truth is that youth ministry can be tough! We who are called and commissioned by God to nurture the young among us know this first hand. It seems we are constantly pressed for time, and challenged to develop plans for ministry (often with limited resources) that help our youth grow up, heal in their broken places, and think deeply about faith. And I could go on and on about our societal context and all the obstacles that make it difficult for us to carefully carry out our work. However, I would like to reflect for a moment on one incredible resource given to us: parents!

You might be saying, “Parents, a resource? How? ”

I am convinced that the most fundamental thing we do in youth ministry is build relationships. I believe this because relationships are the key to our life of faith — relationship with God and neighbor. That is primarily what we have been called to do:
love God and neighbor. And as we go about working with our young people we find that we are not very effective until we have been able to build strong meaningful relationships with our kids and their families.

We are often caught up in the brainstorming, planning, and implementing, but so much of what we do is about getting to know the young souls with whom we have been called to journey. And we must never lose touch of who they are. And who better to keep us in touch with the needs and issues of our youth than their parents? In my work, I often find myself too engaged in the busy work of ministry. Whenever that happens, I know that it is time to pull away and spend time with the people I am serving. Having even a brief conversation with a parent often helps me to refocus myself on what is really important. I am reminded of the great task I have been given and energized to work diligently on it.

I guess, in that sense, parents help me by keeping me accountable. They do this often without knowing. When they ask me questions about our plans, I am reminded of their expectations. Not that I am working to please parents, but their inquiries and even their presence helps me to remain faithful to my work. This I think is a gift from God; for we are encouraged in our faith to hold one another accountable in love.

Moreover, parents are great folks to talk to when making plans for the youth. They offer such a rich reservoir of knowledge about their kids. Just recently, I had a conversation with a parent that confirmed some ideas I had planned for her child. It was a great way to spend time with her, get to know her better, and learn more about her child.

Talk to parents. Even when they complain, or express discontent, there is something for us to learn.

By Arionne Williams
Minister to Youth and Families
Metropolitan AMEZ, Kansas City, MO
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Social Media and Young Adults

This SlideShare Presentation from Pew Internet looks at current social media usage as well as how it as changed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Technology or Community?

I was taking another look at Bob Pletka's Educating the Net Generation: How to Engage Students in the 21st Century. It's a book I've found to be helpful. What struck me this time was his highlighting the isolation of the classroom. In it he says: "While members of the Net Generation may have greater opportunities for connecting to community and friends through their ubiquitous access to communication technologies outside of class, their experience of isolated classroom learning starkly contrasts their typically connected life and may exacerbate feelings of alienation and separation" (Pletka 2007, 19). What he says is that while not in the classroom, members of the Net Generation, our high school students, live continually connected to others through the pervasive presence of technology. However this changes in the classroom where they are disconnected. It is possible that this detachment deepens their sense of estrangement. In Educating the New Generation, Pletka is concerned about the dropout rate in high school and the way in which many students are disengaging from studies even while being physically present. He critiques an increasing teacher-centered, lecture style approach and calls for greater student-centered learning that is relevant with collaboration and the use of technology. This is not technology as an unnatural extra but as part of the core curriculum, responsive to our increasingly collaborative environment. An increase that is accelerated by our technology.

This reminds me of a recent conversation with a couple middle school students. Their school was using software that was complete with chat features. However, it was being used for homework. It wasn't essential to learning in the classroom. The students couldn't see its relevance and there was some resentment that some teachers would require that this program be used for homework. Given the option, these students chose not to use it.

Using technology in youth ministry, as in classrooms, is tricky. The technology needs to be current, relevant and well-integrated into the program. If not, it is better not to attempt to use it. However, there is something else in the quotation from Pletka: Community.

As mentioned in a previous post, we often encourage our students to take a break from technology to experience fuller face-to-face community. However, what I am reminded of as I read this book is our need to be intentional in ensuring that with or without technology, each student experiences a sense of belonging that comes from being loved, nurtured, and attended to in an environment that honors her or him as God's unique creation created to be in community with others. Therefore, we are mindful of our students in our preparation. As we plan, we call to mind their faces, hear their voices, think of their situations, strengths, and weaknesses so that our lesson/activity, with or without technology, is relevant, God-honoring, and collaborative. This should not be hard for us to grasp. After all, God said, "Let us . . . ." Moreover, in Philippians 2:3-4 we read, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others."

How do you ensure relevancy and collaboration? How do you avoid "alienation?"
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Pastor Learns from youTheology

I was welcomed into the youTheology family in the spring of 2006 as a mentor for one of the youth participants who was a member of the church I serving as a youth pastor. After speaking with Claire and a few others I decided to heed the call to take a more active role in youTheology as a small group leader in the fall of 2007 and then did so again the next year. I had the unique opportunity to serve as a small group leader for a youTheology class who ended their year with a Wesleyan Pilgrimage to the United Kingdom, and the next year serve as a small group leader for a youTheology class who ended their year with a Pan-Methodist Pilgrimage to the East Coast of the United States. Because I have served in different roles in youTheology and been fortunate enough to have a wide range of experiences within it, I believe I can accurately attest to how important it is for the educational, social, and spiritual development of the youth participating in it. I also believe this can be done by relating my personal experience with youTheology and its impact on my life and ministry.

While serving as a small group leader for two years in youTheology, I was able to witness the power that intellectual and spiritual exploration has on a young mind. As the youth progressed throughout the year, and became more aware of the world around them and the nature of God within it, it became very humbling for me to see the level of impact that adults have on the lives of teenagers. By virtue of witnessing their transformation and their spiritual evolution through the process, it has had a lasting impact on me to be aware that my presence, words, and actions are witnessed very closely and should always reflect the highest ideals.
However, more than just a sense of humility, the youth within the youTheology program also taught me very valuable lessons about life itself. Listening to their experiences and how they relate to God and the social dynamics of their world has given me great insight into how younger generations approach life and faith. Although I am still in my twenty’s, the relatively small gap in age carries with it a substantial weight and has given me a new outlook on the future of theology.

The final means of transformation for me has come from the youTheology program itself. As a theology student I was obviously interested in the subject matter of youTheology and as a small group leader I was able to learn a great deal from the structured programs of youTheology. The wide variety of learning tools - from the variety of speakers, professors, teachers, pastors, and leaders, the innovative worship services, communal activities, and projects - within youTheology not only had an important impact on the life and ministry of the youth, but on myself as well.

By Adam Leathers
Pastor, Wellston UMC, Wellston, OK
Loving God, Loving Neighbor