Friday, April 30, 2010

Guest Post: Connection & Reflection

When Claire asked me to contribute to the youTheology Blog, specifically on the topic of “change in youth ministry,” the first image that popped into my head was: the sombrero. We have a sombrero in the youth room at First United Methodist Church North Kansas City. It’s not really for fashion, but, instead, is turned upside down and used as a receptacle for cell phones. For our swift-fingered kiddos and their need for constant communication, it would be nearly impossible to facilitate youth group events or faith formation classes without confiscating the cell phones.

A delightful side benefit is that the youth have embraced this practice. One night as youth group was getting started a 9th grader approached me and said, “Can I go get the sombrero? My phone won’t quit and it is distracting me too much.”

I recently read an article from the New York Times about a middle school in the Bronx that decided to experiment with a two-day texting reprieve. Students were encouraged to take a break from Facebook, Twitter, texting, and other forms of instant communication for 48 hours. The results were enlightening. One student said she typically texted her mother at least 10 times a day. The authors spin it this way: could you imagine reaching out for mom ten times a day? That would seem odd. But texting blurs the lines on that one.

I’ve recently read a book on church leadership titled Simple Church. The authors address the fact that as our world technologically advances around us and becomes more complex, simplicity becomes more and more attractive. (They describe the simple technology of iMac as an example of this.) I don’t know that collecting cell phones is a simplification process, but it’s a start to something. As the church, if we expect to attract young people just by reflecting the busyness of the world all around us, chances are they won’t be interested. But if we have a recipe for slowing down, or a concise explanation of the ministry and space we have to offer – that may just be the ticket.

From here on out, I’m sure that texting, Facebook, and other forms of technology will be the main tools I utilize in communicating with young people. However, just as the school in the Bronx was willing to experiment, I think the church is up for a trial run, too. I think we have an opportunity before us as mentors and shepherds of young people to point them to Christ and offer reprieve and rest from the bells and whistles that seek to distract from that relationship. It’s more than just a sombrero and a cell phone collection: it is a protest (part of our tradition, right?) against the busyness of a world that often tries to crush our spirit. My hope is that in the rest and pause between so many activities and responsibilities, our youth will find themselves connecting with the Spirit of God.

Kendra Thompson

Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Youth Culture, Youth Ministry

Sometimes in youth ministry we run ourselves ragged trying to keep up with all the latest trends in youth culture. Or, it may be that we feel inadequate because we can't keep up because of limitations of time, finances, etc. Not all of us in youth ministry are full time. We may have the heart for it but there are tons of other things happening in our lives and it is all we can do to prepare each week and be present for the students at youth group as well as other times. Now, we can't ignore youth culture totally and there are people who study it whose work we can follow. But still between a full-time job, family commitments, and other church commitments many of us are not able to master it the way we would like.

If this fits you, David White in Practicing Discernment with Youth: A Transformative Youth Ministry Approach has a real and encouraging perspective. If the above description doesn't fit you, it's still worth paying attention. David's viewpoint may even be challenging in a positive way. "Youth ministry that seeks validity solely from youth's attachment to culture lacks a fundamental trust in the goodness and beauty of God" (White 2005, 56). In saying this, he indicates that basing the legitimacy of ministry with youth completely on youth in relation to culture displays that confidence in aspects of God's character, namely "goodness and beauty," is missing. This points to the need to examine our foundations of youth ministry.

It is not that David White dismisses culture. He points to the way in which Jesus was in harmony with his context as seen in the relevant images in his ministry. Nevertheless, he notes that Jesus' use of culture was not uncritical. It challenged. Neither did Jesus use it so to make what he offered more palatable (White 2005, 56).

We need to pay attention to what's happening around us, especially in the world of the students God has called us to serve. However, we need to do this with a critical eye, that uses the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We should strive to move beyond compliant use to discernment for ourselves and our students.

How are you grounding your youth ministry in the character of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, April 26, 2010

Youth Workers' Gathering 2010

youTheology gives God thanks for Youth Workers' Gathering 2010. We were reminded of how youth ministry has changed but also challenged and equipped to be more effective youth workers. Of course different people will take different lessons from the time together. I'll list just two that stand out for me:
1. From Rev Keith Cordier: The importance of being passionate about what we believe and ensuring we are wearing the armor of God.

2. From Dr David White's keynote address: the importance of integrating youth in what we do, ending the abstraction they are so often confronted with.

Here is what one participant had to say about Youth Workers' Gathering 2010:
This was my 2nd year attending the Youth Workers' Gathering and it was great to once again hear from the experts and brainstorm with colleagues working in Youth Ministry. Inspiring worship, informative presentations, and great discussions made for a wonderful weekend.

Click here for photos.
Click here for more comments.

Consider joining us next year. We'll make announcements about date and theme mid-May.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, April 23, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Changes in Youth Ministry

When I agreed to help with the church youth group back in ’95, I had no idea that I’d still be involved with the group in 2010; most of my youth hadn’t even been born back then. While I started as a volunteer youth sponsor, my role has changed a couple times and the youth have changed many times as well.

Back in ‘95, the youth were active in School, Sports, Scouts and Song but it was nothing like today. It’s a challenge to find a time that the youth are available. When we put together this year’s Confirmation class, we felt fortunate to find one hour during the week that everyone was available most of the time. Even so, we have at least one person missing each week during our class.

One of the lessons I’ve learned is to find out what they’re interested and figure out how to be a part of it. We have a Youth Sunday each year and when we discovered that some of our youth weren’t interested in speaking in front of anyone but had artistic talent, we made that the theme of the service. We had one youth that brought his sculptures to church while another has done creative dance (ballet one year, tap the next) as part of the service. Another youth used his leadership skills to create Northland Youth United, a group for the United Methodist churches north of the river. Then, another one of our youth directed a play for one of the NYU worship services that involved several churches and allowed a creative approach to worship.

Our youth are so busy that I’ve learned the lesson that you should only do one activity per weekend to avoid their lives getting any busier than necessary. Of course, we have had a few exceptions through the year but you don’t want them to get church burn-out. Another lesson learned is that sometimes you need to go to your youth. I’ve gone to soccer and basketball games, watched the Marching Band play at halftime of football games, and been to orchestra concerts and school plays. In some ways, that’s had a bigger impact than any program or lesson that I could lead on Sunday.

Our congregation has embraced our youth and celebrated them for who they are. This year, they’ve even served as mentors to our congregation class and helped our church family to build inter-generational relationships.

The bottom line is to show the youth that they are loved and to each day live the theem of 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)
Advisory Board for youTheology / Marketing Coordinator

Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Use of cell phone for pictures and video popular across age groups | Pew Research Center's Internet

Use of cell phone for pictures and video popular across age groups | Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project

Posted using ShareThis

Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wake Up, Take Notice, Live

Youth ministry, at its best, seeks not to introduce youth to the nice but unrealistic story of the gospel or to cultivate a Christian identity indistinguishable from popular notions of national or commercially manufactured identity, but engages youth as partners in the Kingdom of God, mobilizing the skills, practices, and attitudes to sustain a countercultural Christian faith beyond adolescence into adulthood.
So writes David White in Awakening Youth Discipleship. In this quotation, White indicates that youth ministry is not about creating people who will confirm to the status quo as mediated through society nor about presenting youth with a gospel that is romantic and impractical. Rather, it is about involving youth in a way that allows them to develop an enduring faith in which they can live in ways that are contrary to the flow of the culture, yet faithful to God. This means allowing them to be coworkers in the Kingdom of God with the concomitant behaviors. White's words signal that we must empower our teenagers to wake up, take notice, and live. Wake up to who they are in God and to what God is calling them; Take notice of the world around them and the ways in which God is moving in the world and in their lives; Live into the fullness of life Jesus promises and they move into their call to join in God's mission and live faithfully according to the values of the Kingdom rather than the values of the culture. This makes me think of Jesus' ministry.

Jesus continually challenged people to wake up, take notice and live. The example I'll choose is found in Mark 10:17-22. Verse 22 is sad. This man wanted to inherit eternal life. However, Jesus' way required too much. He was content with keeping the commandments, but to take his wealth and hand it over to the poor? To give up his treasure now for treasure in heaven? To wake up to those around him and the kingdom or God? He preferred the status quo rather than the life Jesus offered. And yet, there are people who were able to follow Jesus' way. Simon and Andrew did in Matthew 4:17-20, as did others.

How do you and can you empower your students to wake up, take notice, and live?

Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, April 19, 2010

See What's Happening with youTheology

It's almost here, Youth Workers' Gathering 2010. This weekend we'll gather as adults who work with youth around the theme, "The Changing Face of Youth Ministry." Keynote speaker is Dr David White. We also have a great group of resource people to lead the other sessions. We're looking forward to a wonderfully engaging time of worship, connecting, and learning.

At the same time, we're getting ready to process applications for our one-year program with high school students. The deadline has passed, but we will take a couple more if you get them to us quickly. Our program with high school students is a great time for sophomores, juniors, and seniors to worship, serve, learn, and explore together in diverse places, with diverse people. Some of the places we'll travel to are Harlem, New York; Baltimore, MD; Philadelphia, PA, and Washington DC. They'll be together with other youth from around the Midwest and Southwest. Yes, this year we will also have a site at Lydia Patterson in El Paso, TX. The year also gives students a time to learn with seminary faculty and students, in addition to leaders in the wider community. Lots of fun is in store.

There are other exciting events in the works. On September 25, 2010, Oleta Adams will be in concert at St James UMC in Kansas City, MO in a fundraiser for youTheology. We are excited about this.

Note that youTheology will be moving to other sites. Who knows, we may even be coming to your area. Keep checking. We'll keep you posted.

Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, April 16, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Youth are Not Leftovers

In the years since my children have been in youth groups, I have seen changes both good and not so good. In our community, it seems like that the kids want to go wherever there is more “entertainment” than actually where they will grow closer to Christ. Also, I have noticed a decline in adults wanting to be involved with the youth and an increase in adults having very little tolerance for youth. In our congregation, we have had four youth leaders in as many years. This is hard for the youth because they need consistency in their church life. They come to feel like they are leftovers. It is our responsibility as parents and youth leaders to help our youth grow into being confident young adults who know that youth groups aren’t just about how they can be entertained.

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

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Isolation or Discernment?

We live in a world in which it is easy to create and relate to discreet groups. Moreover, it seems that in spite of the many opportunities to connect across a wide spectrum of interests and groups, we still tend toward isolated individuals and groups. Ironically, the same media that make it possible to relate broadly also make it easy to relate narrowly. We behave as if we expect and accept this, especially as it relates to teenagers, high school students. As others, such as Kara Powell at Fuller Youth Institute in "Is the Era of Segmentation Over" have pointed out, teenagers are segregated even at family occasions. Many adults would be surprised, and I daresay annoyed, if the youth opted to remain with the adults for social time.

Why do we think that it is normal and acceptable for groups to have little or no relationship with each other? I have no idea. It was a surprise to me when I first encountered the expectation that teenagers would continually be on their own, even when a family was together as a family. It is not the norm throughout the world. It certainly begs the question, how do we understand community? What does it mean to be one body? Does it mean that each finds its own interest and goes about their pursuits without regard to the other? Yet, that is contrary to who we are as human beings and how the world works. We do so at our own peril. Guyanese poet, Martin Carter, once wrote: "All are involved, all are consumed." Isolation is really death.

I'm not sure why we find it strange when teenagers who have been abstracted from adult companionship resort to the herd mentality and act in ways that are destructive to themselves and others. David White addresses the issue of teenage and adolescence isolation in a comprehensive way. In Practicing Discernment with Youth: A Transformative Youth Ministry Approach,he names the fracture and displacement that they face. He calls on us as adults who work with them to practice discernment with them so that they may be healed. He says:
In the deliberate practice of discernment, young people will seek to be faithful in the hundreds of minute decisions that face them . . . One decision at a time, the orange crate of culture that limits our young people's growth can be dismantled and discarded, and youth will finally find more appropriate—and genuine—ways to support their flourishing as disciples and saints.
White 2005, 85.

Here, David White recognizes the potential of students for full Christian discipleship and proposes a process of discernment toward this end. This process will enable them to grow and creatively engage and be liberated from the inhibiting aspects of our culture.

How could you help your students to discern?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, April 12, 2010

youTheology Provides an Anchor

I attended youTheology in 2003-2004, the first year of the program. The program was a great way for me to connect with other Methodists in the Midwest and delve into a deeper understanding my own faith. While focusing on the Methodist faith, youTheology also branched out to touch on other religions as well (we visited a Mosque, had a talk on comparing the depiction of the Garden of Eden in the Pentateuch and the Qur'an and visited Stonehenge), which later helped reinforce my desire to pursue a degree in religious studies. The pilgrimage to England was also a deeply spiritual journey that touched upon the deeper spirituality of Methodism and other faiths. It was a true blessing to experience this with other like-minded individuals. youTheology allowed me to view my own faith tradition, Methodism, within its historical context and in relation to other faiths. This has been an invaluable anchor of reference for studying and understanding religion and spirituality in a broader context. It has also helped me to grow deeper in my faith.

Currently, I am in my second year at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, so studying and classes fill most of my daylight (and nighttime) hours. Hopefully, when all of this is done, I will be an Emergency Medicine Physician. I also did my undergrad here at Mizzou, completing a bachelor's degree in Biology, Philosophy, Religious Studies & Psychology. Through undergrad and medical school, I have also had the opportunity to do quite a bit of research within the field of religious studies. In undergrad, I researched Valentinian Gnosticism my freshman year and Logos language in Philosophy, the Gospel of John & Valentinus my senior year. I just finished co-writing a chapter for a book on doctor-patient communication about religion and taking a "spiritual history." At some point, I plan to attend seminary and pick up my M.Div. I would love to become a hospital chaplain once I retire from medicine or while I am still practicing medicine.

I am married to Stephanie Beisel, an alumna of youTheology. We are the proud parents of two mutts (lab & gold retriever mixes), Maeby and George-Michael. I am personally an avid reader (when I have the time). Some of my favorite authors include Kurt Vonnegut, Jose Saramago, Hermann Hesse, Soren Kierkegaard, Thich Nhat Hahn, and many others. I also love reading about religion from an academic perspective and for spiritual enrichment. For those that haven't read Martin Buber's "I & Thou," it comes highly recommended as an existentialist theological exploration. I am also a music nut, but I will spare you those details. As for my personal involvement in the church, I am not currently involved in a local church here in Columbia. I simply do not have time for the social aspects of being involved with a church at this time, for that is one of the main functions of a physical church: to bring people together in Christ. Thus, my religious growth and experience is currently part of the "church" in the more ecumenical and catholic (universal) sense, outside of any particular church body. My interaction with other students and patients brings me closer to God every day and deepens my faith. In this respect, I am deeply blessed to be able to see and experience God in all I do.

by Adam Thomas
youTheology Alumnus
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, April 9, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: The Changing of Time

I can remember when I first began working with youth within the church. That was way before Facebook, Twitter or the many other social networking forums. My main focus back then was just to get the youth to build a relationship with GOD.

Every week I would struggle with the question, “What can I do this week?” I would let the Holy Spirit guide and lead me for the content and details. Still, I knew I had to keep it fresh and new each week. I tried having Youth Group on different days of the week. We went with Monday, then Wednesday. It didn’t matter as long has the kids would arrive, I thought. But, I also came to realize that we must continue to change with the time.

Let me stop here and say to those who might be saying “No, I am not going to change the way I teach the Word of God,” If you do not adapt to the environment of your congregation and/or the youth you serve, they will stop coming. You can continue to preach the Word of God, but it will be to an empty space if you are using the old blackboard with chalk and lecture all day technique. The kids hear that all day at school and they are tired of that way of teaching.

Instead, try using Christian movies or YouTube clips. Show testimonies or gospel music videos. Use Facebook to announce gatherings. Explore the many other new ways to keep the mind and heart of our youth engaged with Christ. You can use these new channels of communication and not lose the flavor of God in your message.

Over the years, we also realized that if the youth have empty stomachs, their main focus will be on getting some food. So we added a meal to our Youth group meetings. We discovered that for some of our kids the Wednesday night meal at Youth group was their only after school meal all week.

We also had to change the expectation of the Youth Leaders that things always had to be done their way. On certain Wednesdays, we let the youth lead the sessions. We even designated one Wednesday a month as game night. We still have worship on that night, but after worship they get to play games until they leave.

Learning the needs of the youth we serve, sometimes means that as Youth Workers, we must humble ourselves and modify the way we think and act in the name of Jesus.

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

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


It is tempting and often seems easy to just adapt uncritically what appeals to youth. We want them to come so that they can hear the good news of Jesus Christ and accept the salvation that God freely offers through Christ. A few weeks ago, I wrote a little about the need to be critical and discerning as we seek to be relevant and gave some guiding questions. David White goes even further in Practicing Discernment with Youth: A Transformative Youth Ministry Approach. He emphasizes the importance of moving beyond the expectations and modes of our culture where adolescents are concerned and adopting an approach to youth ministry that is "framed by the practice of discernment" (White, 2005, 60). We will look some more at this over the next few Wednesdays as we prepare to look at "The Changing Face of Youth Ministry" with keynote speaker David White at Youth Workers' Gathering 2010, April 23-24.

Given your context, what do you think of youth ministry that is framed as discernment?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, April 5, 2010

youTheology and my Relationship with God

I am in my second year at Central Methodist University. I plan to be a high school drama teacher. My interest lies with children. I run a church camp.

I was a youTheologian in the 2005-2006 year and was the first youTheology intern in the 2006-2007 year. I found youTheology has pushed me to expand my relationship with God based on my own findings both spiritually and intellectually. It has opened my mind to a new kind of thinking about God and the relationship I have with him.

Donnie Howell
youTheology Alumnus
Loving God, Loving Neighbor