Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Will You Accompany Them?

We can listen to our high school students and really hear them. But then, what next? Accompaniment. It is important that our youth know that having heard them, we will not abandon them. They have not shocked or bored us by what they have said to the point where we then drop them and move on. Rather, they can count on us for spiritual and moral support. We will be present and listen again empathetically if they need us. We will pray for them. We will study God's Word together to hear what the Spirit will say in the situation. We are invested in their growth and well-being. Moreover, we will not consign them to the judgment of our culture which is often superficial, demanding, and soul-destroying.

I find Patricia Lyons' words to be very penetrating. They come in a section of The Soul of Adolescence where she challenges the way in which adults often, by buying in uncritically to the culture's notions of success, belittle and ignore the accomplishments and contributions of adolescents. She writes: Our work of intervention as adults should instead be to construct and support a child's inner life, to fill them with authentic truths about their immutable dignity and worth. . . . Teens need us to rescue them from the world's shallowness, not teach them to swim in it" (Lyons 2010, 57). This means that our focus should be on how we enrich the inner core of the students rather than simply giving them tools for navigating the tides of their times. This implies that the two can be potentially mututally exclusive and/or that focusing on where students live deep within and building that up will go a farther way to helping them live and participate in society.

The task of soul-building calls for journeying side-by-side. Will you accompany them? How do you help the teenagers to thrive within?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, March 29, 2010

My Call and youTheology

Hi! My name is Alex Wright. I attend Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, where I am a double major in Religion and Applied Philosophy with a minor in Sociology. After my undergraduate degree, I plan to attend seminary to complete my MDiv working towards becoming an Ordained Elder in the UMC.

I participated in youTheology in 2007-2008. That year in youTheology was an experience that I would not trade for anything. Not only did I meet my best friend, and make friends for life, but I learned about my religious history and grew in closer to God. I also grew confident in my calling to ministry. youTheology helped me to work and stay on the path of my calling. It gave me an amazing support system of friends to call on.

Church is a huge part of my life. This year, I am a summer intern, as well as a VBS leader, lay member, and Sunday school teacher. I teach a weekly women's Bible study and participate in the campus pre-ministerial program.

Right now I am in my 4th semester at Simpson of working at an elementary school with a literacy program and at a Hy-vee food store in town. I love to scrap-book, quilt, and read. I also love golfing and fishing.

I was once told that a false god could never surprise you. God presents me with surprises everyday. I feel God’s presence as I see a child’s face light up when they get something, or the child smiles when they see me at Hy-vee. But I would say the places I see Christ most in my life are in the little things: a person saying thank-you or donating money to the Ronald McDonald House. For me experiencing Christ comes in so many ways: prayer, reading, and music.

youTheology taught me an amazing lesson - that if you silence yourself you can hear and see God and Jesus all around you. This is what I try to do in my life – each and every day.

Alex Wright
youTheology Alumna
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, March 26, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: the End of Lent or a New Beginning?

I’ve talked about Lent with my youth, explaining that it’s not just about giving something up. Instead, when they crave the thing they gave up, they should remember how Jesus Christ suffered for us. As an alternative, they might also consider adding a new habit as they commit to spending time with God.

Throughout the month of March, the Friday “Perspectives from the Field” blogs have focused on Lent and Youth Groups; however, this blog appears right before Holy Week.

So, I’d like to talk about a week that runs a roller coaster of emotions from the excitement of Palm Sunday to the somber Last Supper, through the devastation of the Crucifixion, finally to the astonishment of the Resurrection and Easter’s new beginning. It is important to understand that we don’t have Easter without the pain of the Cross where Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us.

For me, the most important worship services of the year are Christmas Eve and Maundy Thursday. Through the years, we’ve involved the youth in these services a few times. If they weren’t involved in the church service, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be there for the service on a weeknight.

The Maundy Thursday service tends to be very dark. Seeing the contrast between the darkness of how things end on Thursday evening and the brightness of Easter Sunday drives home the point of what has happened.

One of the most powerful services involved a Reverse Advent. The service came out of Group magazine (although we modified it) and it started with the Nativity scene and one by one, the characters in the familiar scene left the sanctuary. Finally, “Mary” turned and looked at the cross and dropped the blanket (representing the baby Jesus) and walked out of the sanctuary.

Another service involved the youth using pantomime to show the final events in the life of our Lord. By acting out these events, the youth remembered what happened in a way that they wouldn’t have from just hearing scripture readings and a sermon.

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, March 24, 2010

In Their Own Words

In last week Wednesday's blog, I asked the question, "Can you hear them?" encouraging us to make space in our life to attend to high school students. This recognizes that they want us to take them and their words seriously as we get to know and engage them in God's love story. Part of this hearing comes as we sit and listen. Patricia Lyons encourages us to do this in her new book, The Soul of Adolescence: In Their Own Words. She writes: "What matters to me is what matters to adolescents. If you care about the life and health of adolescents, then you know already that it is more important that young people understand that we are listening to them than it is that we understand what they are saying. . . . love does justify anyone who tries to listen to another soul" (Lyons 2010, 11). Here, Lyons is saying that issues important to adolescents are important to her and that those who are interested in and attending to their well-being have discovered that our listening counts more than our grasping, with love being the legitimization for deep listening to the inner core of adolescents. This reminds us that we cannot presume to understand if we have not first loved and listened.

In The Soul of Adolescence, Lyons quotes the words of an adolescent who has just made the move from Elementary School to help us understand where young people are:
I don't ever remember feeling limited in grade school. You could join everything then. But now . . . no deal. Everywhere I turn, I get shut out, not picked, not cast, and not even called to hang out! I had do idea how few things I'm ok enough to do
. (Lyons 2010, 29)

We know that the transition from elementary to middle and high school is challenging as young people face a new reality that in some ways is more reflective of the wider world. They move from a more nurturing, protective setting to one that is much open. However, hearing it "in their own words" can give us a deeper, more urgent awareness of the cost of this transition as we sense the underlying frustration and inadequacy bordering on hopelessness. As we listen in love, can we pray for wisdom to help our students in this transition as they journey in their new environment?

How well do you hear the words of your middle and high school students in their sojourn? How is God calling you to journey with them?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, March 22, 2010

Teens and the Internet: The Future of Digital Diversity

Useful analysis of teens and the intenet from the perspective of diversity from Pew Internet Project.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Be the Change you Want

My name is Shannon Shellner. I am a senior at Lee's Summit North High School. In the fall of 2010, will be attending The University of Kansas (KU) where I plan to double major in Athletic Training and Sports Management. I was a participant in youTheology in the 2008-2009 year.

youTheology was very informational, and exciting – both at the same time. That year in youTheology impacted me both spiritually and emotionally. It put me in touch with a part of my church that I never knew existed.

My interests, besides church, include sports, especially football. My goal for the world is to do what I can as one person to impact it the best way I can. There are not words to express how much joy God brings to my life. Without God I would not be the same. I can only hope that everyone can experience God's grace, love, mercy and forgiveness at least once in their lives.

My advice to others: " Be the change you want to see in the world."

What's your advice?

Shannon Shellnor
youTheology Alumna
youTheology Intern 2009-2010
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, March 19, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Giving Up for Lent, and God

About three years ago, I talked to my kids about Lent and what it meant to them. I was a mentor for confirmation at the time. So we read through the study book to find out what Lent really meant.

I asked my kids to pray for a couple of days about what would be the best thing for them to give up. After a couple of weeks, I noticed my son was not drinking pop which he usually did on a daily basis. When I asked him about it, he said that was what he was giving up for Lent. But I noticed he continued the pattern even after Easter that year. And, it continues to this day. He gave up pop from that Lent forward. It’s been for three years now.

Every time we would go out to eat, he would order water. Each time he did so, it made me think about God and our relationship with Him. So I would challenge everyone to really make a commitment to give something up for God. Not just during Lent, but for life.

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

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Can you Hear Them?

Can you hear them? They're calling out to you. Do you see them? They're on the streets, in the buses, in our schools, in our malls, on the internet, and yes in our churches. Youth desire meaningful relationships with adults as they seek to navigate life and grow into whom God made them to be. So often youth invite us into their lives to listen to their experiences and feel with them the pain and joy of the adolescent years. Do we even hear them? They are looking for people who will accept them as they are and not turn away when they make questionable choices; not reject them when they lose their way. Will you stand with them? Will you hear them and reach out your hand?

In his book, Hear my Story: Understanding the Cries of Troubled Youth, Dean Borgman notes that, "For too long the adult world has ignored the voices of the young" (Borgman 2003, 12). In other words, adults have not paid attention to young people and what they are saying. In Hear my Story, Borgman uses stories by and about teens as well as relevant research to help us better understand the world of "troubled youth." His insightful approach and recommendations can help us youth workers/ministers better hear the young people around us. Here are some steps he sees included in youth ministry:

~~attracting young people to a safe place
~~providing young people with caring mentors
~~enabling young people to hear someone else's story
~~empowering young people to tell their stories and be affirmed
~~sharing the story of God's love (Borgman 2003, 12)

This speaks of making space for youth in our lives as we carve out a place where they can know that they are safe, have adults who will invest in and attend to them, help them to see beyond themselves and hear others, give them agency and affirmation so that they can tell what is happening with themselves, and engage them in God's love story.

Can we do this? Can we be the ear and support that will enable our young people to grow into their God-intended fullness?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, March 15, 2010

Youth Involved

My most memorable experience in youTheology was the last night of the program in 2008 when we all came together and praised God. It showed that youth are still deeply rooted in the Christian faith. That entire year showed me a different view on how all denominations can work together.

I have been a part of a downtown church in a large city. We have youth from all over the city and surrounding areas. Our numbers of youth have not diminished at all, but grown. And these youth are more into helping others than themselves.

I am currently a freshman at Oklahoma State University, studying business administration of nonprofit organizations. My interests right now include climbing, soccer, camping and church. My goal is to work for the Boy Scouts of America. Currently, I am working with a local scout group as a climbing instructor.

Kevin Woolsey
youTheology Alumnus
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, March 12, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Lent for our Youth: Are They Ready

Most adults that direct youth groups realize how important the Easter Season is to enrich our understanding of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. The question I present to you in this blog is: Are our youth ready to accept this information and apply it to their lives?

Being a youth director, I get excited about this season in the Christian year. But, when I explain the process of the Lenten season to our youth, I sometimes get that glazed look or the deer in the headlights expression. I want the kids to jump up and say, “CHRIST DIED FOR ME AND HE AROSE AND ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN.” I want them to shout it out loud, with joy in their hearts.

Do I get this from my kids on Wednesday nights? No. It’s never happened when I was present. Still, I believe it is important to give them the information they need to be able to truly understand the Lenten season. Only then will our youth make the appropriate choice on how to celebrate the most important days and events in the history of our planet.

Next week our youth group will watch the movie “The Passion of Christ” to initiate our discussion and prayer time. What will you do to teach the youth in a way they can relate, understand the truths of Christ and apply them to their young lives?

Thank you, for all the ways you are serving the young people of the Church.
May God continue to bless you, and those you serve, in abundance during this Lenten season.

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

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Youth: Don't Lose That Gift!

Are you losing out because you think of youth as the people who will run the church somewhere in the hazy future? Are you invested in youth only because they will keep the church alive after your generation has passed? If you answered yes to either of those questions, you're missing out big time.

Youth are God's incredible gift to God's church and world as they bring creativity, passion, questioning, and incredible optimism and faith. How are you receiving them and what they bring?

~~Creativity: Youth dream and bring new ideas, visions, and ways of doing things, engendering renewal and rebirth to what seemed dull, lifeless, and even dead.
~~Passion: Youth get excited about God and the world, bringing their boundless energy and dedication to serving God and the world. This can pull us out of our discouragement and shake us out of our routine.
~~Questioning: Their questioning of long and dearly held positions and practices can cause us to look anew to see what God is doing now and check whether or not our positions and practices are congruent with God's new thing.
~~ Incredible optimism and faith: For youth, everything often seems possible. God can do all things. This can help adults to stop seeing limitations and see opportunities and God's immense resources.

So the next time you see youth, in church or elsewhere, see them as wonderful people created by God. Give God thanks for this great gift. Challenge yourself to journey with them in mutual discovery of the grace of God and God's beautiful creation with their creativity, passion, questioning, and incredible optimism and faith.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, March 8, 2010

Millennials Confident Connected Open To Change

If you work with high school students and young adults or have any interet at all, you will find this SlideShare Presentation to be of interest. Some of the findings will be what you knew or suspected; just confirmed. Some, however, may be surprising. I came across it on through Path of the Blue Eye (


I am probably not alone in liking a certain routine to life. I like coffee every morning. I like to catch up on the late scores I missed when I fell asleep. I like to drive the same way to work every day because it all feels comfortable. Having said all of this, a big part of what I do is to advocate for people to experience transformation (change). Something happens when we think about God deeply!

In all the years I worked with youTheology it has been no different. I am asking the young theologians to experience transformation as they engage the Methodist tradition. It is my hope that they will experience those wow moments as they read, hear and talk about our rich tradition. And the truth is they do. They are open to changing and digging deeper into their spiritual lives.

So I have asked myself the question, “How can I advocate for transformation, but want consistency in my own life?” As I reflect upon my encounters with students, I have realized that what makes youTheology so remarkable is that even though I may want to stick with a certain routine, I have experienced transformation. I have started asking different questions. I have started thinking about learning differently and what it means to be a learning community. I am a better teacher because of youTheology.

The truth is when we are a part of a special community it is hard not to be changed. We all leave different than the way we came. Sure we still have some of the same old routines, but we also are willing to do some things differently because God has disrupted our lives. What makes youTheology special is it changes all of us and that is remarkable!

Dr F Douglas Powe
Associate Professor of Evangelism
E. Stanley Jones Chair in Evangelism
Saint Paul School of Theology
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, March 5, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Engaging Youth in Lent . . . a Few Suggestions

1) Use a night of Bible study to teach on the purpose and practice of Lent

2) Have youth work with your chuch's worship committee on planning an Ash Wednesday service

3) Engage youth in theological reflection on their own personal practice of Christianity--forgiveness,commitment, love, piety, etc

4) Allow youth to explore, listen to, and reflect on music of the church appropriate for Lent

5) Give youth the opportunity to pick ways they will observe Lent

6) Have youth explore the practice of fasting

7) Develop a daily or weekly devotional for the youth, their families, and youth workers to use during Lent

Engaging youth in the practice of Lent can be a challenge if your congregation does not really observe it. For this reason, it is best to develop activities that can be supported by the congregation. Think creatively and be sure that plans are relevant to your context.

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

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Back Up . . . Plan

This morning I was reminded of the joys and challenges of technology when I could not find a document on which I've been working on the computer. After using various desktop search engines and coming up blank, I wonder, was it when I was last on the server and . . . ?

We need to plan our events with high school students. That goes without saying, I hope. Even when it's free flowing we need some kind of plan, something that gives us direction. This is should be something we've prayed for and into which we have a sense of God leading us. Then, any plan needs a backup. Speakers may not show up, the weather may change, etc. The need for a backup plan is always there. However, using technology seems to take it to another level. Audio issues, video issues, connection issues, computer issues, technical know how . . . There's a lot that can go awry. What's your backup when that happens?

Sometimes we have the approach, well the youth can always fix it. Sometimes they can, but sometimes they can't. We still need that backup. But in any case, what does it say about us when we just put our hands down, or throw them up, and say, "the youth will fix it?" It may say that we trust our high school students and are empowering them. However, it may also say that we are not in tune with their worlds. I was reminded of this while reading Born Digital (yes, I'm still reading it). Urs Gasser points out the need to for parents and teachers (I'll add youth minister/workers) to be au fait with digital technology as an expression of practical caring by which we are able to provide guidance and demonstrate responsible use (Palfrey and Gasser, 2008, 280).

This is about being present, relevant, and engaged. It ties into the basic purpose of our upcoming book, Youth Ministry in a Technological Age where we propose that given the interweaving of technology and our students' lives, "It behooves us who minister to/with them to understand the technological world to better serve our teens."

Back up. Plan. Yes, plan the program, but if you need to, plan and prepare for serving in this technological age.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, March 1, 2010

Youth Theology, youtheology, youTheology

What word or words do you see in your mind's eye when we say, "youTheology? Of course, those of us who work with the program know what the word looks like and how to spell it. It's one word that contracts two words. It begins with lower case 'y,' has only 1 't' and 1 'h.' Although the 't' comes in the middle, it is capitalized. We even italicize the word, hence, youTheology. Students in the program are called youTheologians.

I was reminded that it is a totally different word in a recent conversation when the person with whom I was speaking thought I meant youth theology. Now, it could have been two words, or we could have simply joined the two "youth" and "theology." We didn't. Instead, we created something fresh that speaks of youth/high school students:

~~Engaging their faith and reflecting theologically,
~~Becoming more aware of God at work in the world,
~~Connecting their faith and the world,
~~Discerning how God may be calling them,
~~Living into Diversity,
~~Learning more about the Methodist tradition.

It's an exciting program. It's about agency for our high school students as they develop their leadership abilities.

The theological reflection continues with adults who work with youth in our Youth Workers' Gathering where we stay current with what is happening in youth ministry. It is also facilitated through our down-loadable curriculum resources.

youTheology, yes! Thanks for sharing this pilgrimage with us.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor