Thursday, July 29, 2010

Guest Blog: “Not now, I’m waiting ...”

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been editing essays for an interesting new book about youth ministry and technology. (I’m sure our friend Claire will let you know when it’s available later this fall.) The various authors are examining the seismic cultural shift occurring because of the pervasiveness of technology and its effect on youth ministry. They’re writing about technology and how it relates to communication, worship, boundaries (or lack thereof), conflict, and generational differences. As a result of this editing project, I’ve been thinking about technology as it relates to patience.

I like to think of myself as a patient person. I’m a GenXer who comes from a long line of Kansas farmers (even though I don’t even plant a garden). But I did learn the associated lessons along the way: always save for a rainy day; good things (e.g. the harvest) always take time; if it can be fixed, you don’t need a new one yet; etc. In other words, I learned that patience is a virtue.

Now when it comes to major purchases, I am definitely patient. I do research, shop around, worry about the cost, justify the purchase to myself, shop around some more, and then buy ... maybe. My wife of almost one year has a very different approach. She might wake up one morning and decide it’s time to buy a new car and buy it that afternoon. (She actually did that once!) To be fair, she’s not that impulsive, and has usually been thinking about the purchase for a while, but our styles are quite different.

But last weekend, we reversed roles. I impulsively bought a new computer without my usual “process.” Apparently, my farmer-inspired virtue doesn’t run all that deep! When the salesperson suggested I could save a significant amount of money by waiting two weeks for a special “tax-free” day, I couldn’t do it. I had to have it ... right then. I couldn’t wait another day, let alone two weeks! So what was that all about?!

At the risk of stating the obvious -- we live in a world of instant gratification. While technology didn’t cause this NOW existence, technology definitely feeds it. When we have a question, we just go online NOW and find an answer (and sometimes, it’s even correct). We expect our email or phone call or text to be answered NOW. After all, it isn’t like we have to wait for our important communication to be hand-delivered by the mail carrier! We hate to wait, whether it’s being on hold (“Your call is very important to us.”) or in line at the grocery store. We want it NOW, NOW, NOW!

While this NOW condition affects us all, the current generation of Millennials is especially immersed in it. After all, they’ve never lived in a world where it can take some effort (research) or an actual conversation with another human being to find the answers to questions. They’ve never lived in a world without voicemail or answering machines -- where you have to call back if someone isn’t home to answer the phone. They’ve never lived in a world where you have to wait days or weeks for a letter to get to your friend before they write back.

So one of the challenges for young people (for all of us, really) in our sped up, technology-driven existence is to practice patience. Slow down and breathe deeply. Take pleasure in the process. Make time to be quiet. Turn off the phone, the computer, the iPod. WAIT. It isn’t easy ... especially in our hurry up, NOW world. But ... “they that wait upon the Lord (i.e. are patient), shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Is 40:31)

By David Schoeni
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Room for All

Many people come from places where a space is made for each person who desires to speak in discussions to do so. Hence, they are disadvantaged in contexts where the more aggressive voices are the ones that are allowed to dominate. Yet, all voices have value and each person has something to share that we all need. How do we make space in our youth groups for everyone's voice, especially recognizing that we come from different places and are diverse? How do we ensure that each person is heard? This is not about putting people on the spot and making them feel awkward about being silent. Rather it is developing an atmosphere and pertinent skills that empower each participant in our group. Kathleen T. Talvaacchia addresses this and other issues in Critical Minds and Discerning Hearts: A Spirituality of Multicultural Teaching.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, July 26, 2010

It’s all in the Journey – Reflecting on youTheology’s past year

It was Orientation Weekend and a new group of youTheologians arrived on the campus of Saint Paul School of Theology ready to encounter the unknown. They had heard that they would learn more about the Wesleyan tradition and visit where American Methodism started, and yet, they entered the doors in August unaware of the journey that would be a part of who they were forever. In looking back over the past year, this is the freshness that youTheology offers to youth ministry and it continues in a cycle of energy that occurs with each new life that is touched by God’s desire for spiritual growth and renewal. Through the youTheology program, the youth and their selected mentors discovered servant leadership and what it looks like when a community is reflecting God’s presence in the world. As the youth and mentors, in August, were learning about American Methodism and the challenges for people to live as a faithful Christian community in a diverse world, they encountered such challenges of their own during the development of community worship and community fellowship. Prayer as well as celebrating spiritual gifts became an integral part of their orientation experience.

When the youth gathered in November, the focus was understanding how their own faith choices had become a part of their own history as they unpacked what Loving God, Loving Neighbor, and Loving Self means in the life of the church. As the youth became a more cohesive and connected group, several shared how they felt comfortable being surrounded by others who were of like mind and spirit, and that they were able to discuss those tough issues of faith, ministry, that they are not always able to discuss with peers at home in their community . As discussions ensued, and conversations increased, the youTheologians eagerly awaited the next weekend, to share what happened in their lives since the last encounter, to share how they handled a situation or issue, to share how they responded differently in ministry due to their youTheology experience. Watching all of this unfold, was amazing; knowing that God was growing them as individuals, but also in their relationship with each other.

Preparations for the Pilgrimage in June began and excitement was in the air. Parents e-mailed with questions, youth were filled with anticipation, and travel plans were arranged. As the youth prepared to leave for the pilgrimage, I thought to myself, they will not return the same. What they see and encounter will be images held for a life time, moments pressed on their hearts, and knowledge that will be so great that they will burst in anticipation of sharing when they return. During closing weekend, all were joyful to see each other, but also subdued, kind of like that feeling after Christmas, when you have experienced something so awesome and then you say, “Now what?” They had learned so much about personal and social holiness, Pan-Methodism, Urban and Rural Ministry, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, prayer, worship, discipleship, Loving God, Loving Neighbor, and Loving Self, and now they were challenged to take all this back to their own faith communities.

I know that this experience is now a part of who they are. The youth at closing weekend were definitely different than the youth I encountered in August. This experience opened their hearts even more. I celebrate how God will use our youTheologians in the building of the kingdom, and how the world will be changed because of their journey.

God’s Peace,

Kathy Williams
youTheology's Planning/Logistics Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, July 23, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Planning for the Year Ahead

In a few short weeks, school will be back in session. So, this is a great time to check in with your youth and your parents about the year ahead. It’s also a good time to talk to God about what the Lord wants to do with your group this year and where God wants you to lead them.

If you have a team of youth sponsors and Sunday School teachers, take time to meet as a group about what you each have planned for the year ahead so that your programs and lessons can reinforce each others with links between what’s being done in Sunday School, Youth Group, and at home.

Plus, I’d encourage you to include youTheology in your plans for 2010-2011. We’ll have a one-day community service event for youth on September 18th at Saint Paul School of Theology and surrounding community service organizations in the Kansas City area. Just a week later, an Oleta Adams concert is taking place at Saint James UMC, also in Kansas City, MO. The day of service is an opportunity to interact with other young Christians and help the community. The concert is a fundraiser for youTheology. Looking ahead to Spring, mark your calendars for the Youth Workers Gathering. It is never too later (nor too early) to be talking to youth about the year-long youTheology program for High School students.

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, July 21, 2010


I have to agree with Kathleen T. Talvaacchia that real listening is really hearing and understanding the other at a deep level. It is easy to think we are listening when we're not. This can happen when we're preoccupied with our own affairs and needs and/or not interested in the other person or what they're saying. Sometimes it might be better to let the other person know this is not a good time rather than pretending to listen and not hearing. If our ear is really needed at that time, let's pray for focus on and love for that other person, and work on really attending so that we can hear at various levels, understand, and empathize. Talvaacchia wrote:
Listening demands attentiveness to another, an active participation in what that person is revealing. But the goal of listening is not hearing but to understand. . . . When we listen deeply, we can begin to comprehend another.
(Talavacchia 2003, 39).
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, July 16, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: Include Fun in Your Plan

The planning of youth group activities can be very tricky to accomplish. This is so because you want to have the right amount of fun to keep youth interested, the right amount of learning/worship to teach about the faith, etc., and the right amount of service so that they know the importance of helping others. Also I think you have to take into account the chemistry of the group. There might be a year where you have very out–going youth and another when it is like pulling teeth to get anything out of them. It takes a special group of leaders to be able to recognize the personalities and how they will mesh and work best together. Plus, I think you need to involve the youth in this planning as well. I know in the past we would have a round-table with the youth discussing what they wanted to accomplish during the coming year in the three areas mentioned above. I believe it is extremely important that the youth have ownership in the planning. That way they feel invested and are more likely to participate.

One way to do this is to write all their suggestions in the three above-mentioned categories on a blackboard, or divide a large piece of paper into those three sections. Next, have the youth prioritize the order of each category. In the past, we would have one fun activity per month, one service activity per month, with learning/study sessions the other two weeks in the month. The learning/study sessions would always be a serious study, though sometimes they would be conducted in a fun way. Maybe they would watch a Rob Bell video and then discuss, or prepare a mock church service. Sometimes they would play a game such as standing in a box while the rest of the group pulled questions out of another box to ask about such things as the Bible, their beliefs with something very funny such as what color socks they had on thrown in.

An important thing to remember when working with youth is that you have to keep their interest piqued or they won’t show up.

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

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Can You Partner?

If our youth group is homogeneous, how can we creatively help our students to come to a deeper understanding of themselves as Christians through engagements with others who are different? One way is partnering with a youth group that is dissimilar.

When I use the concept of partnership, I remember the prhase Magda Pollard in Guyana once used: "Equal partnership." She emphasized the word, "equal." We were talking about women and men in ministry and I guess after her years in women's affairs and as women's activist she understood that the words "partnership" and "partnering" could be little more than smokescreens for one group to meet its own agenda at the expense of another. By partnering with another group, therefore, I mean entering into an association of mutuality where the goals and content of the relationship are jointly negotiated.

Relating across discreet lines is important, especially when we think of ourselves as part of the church universal. How can this be real when even within our own geographical borders we limit our meaningful interactions to people just like ourselves? As Kathleen T. Talvaacchia says in Critical Minds and Discerning Hearts: A Spirituality of Multicultural Teaching, "We learn who we are in the process of learning about others" (Talavacchia 2003, 26). Here she is pointing out that discovering who we are involves finding out about other people. This means that our students need to engage with others to discover who they are as people of God in Jesus Christ. It is also a fuller way of being part of the body of Christ.

With whom can you partner to enable your students to more fully discover what it is to be a member of the body of Christ?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, July 12, 2010

Introducing youTheology Southwest: Lydia Patterson Institute

We are excited about doing our youTheology program with high school students with Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, TX. When we begin Orientation on Thursday, August 5, 2010 students, mentors, and leaders at Saint Paul in Kansas City in will be joined by their counterparts in El Paso, Texas. We are delighted. Both sites will follow the same schedule, use the same materials, and key activities will be conducted by video link. Mr George Miller, Chaplain/Vicepresident for Religious Affairs is our main contact at Lydia Patterson. We appreciate all that he is doing to make this a reality.

Orientation for the incoming class will be held from Thursday, August 5 to Sunday, August 7, 2010. It will include one day learning about and participating in rural ministry in Osawatomie, KS. It will be energizing.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, July 9, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: A Time for a Change

Please read the title and reflect on the past year of your youth group activities. List the things that worked and the things that did not work to reach and teach your youth about their spiritual life, as well as strengthening their relationship and understanding of Christ.

The fact is that many of us, including myself, hate change. We want it to be the same way for ever. It is much easier to leave everything the same. Yet, we must stand up and ask the hard questions. What did you learn during this year? What can we do to make your experiences more heartfelt and informative? How can we help your spiritual life grow?

Let’s get real with our Youth. Ask questions that may have answers that you will not be ready to hear! Fact: there is no “PERFECT YOUTH GROUP,” no where, at no time. Just like there is no “PERFECT CHURCH.” Once we can truly accept that fact, we can start learning and teaching from ground zero.

To prepare for the upcoming year, we need to know our failures and strengths. We can correct the things we did incorrectly and build on the things we did right. Attention All Adults: stop thinking you know everything. Get some input from the youth. Add some of their flavor and some of your flavor, but keep the main ingredient: God’s Recipe for life. Once you do that, believe me, you will not go wrong.

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

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Homogenous . . . Multicultural . . . Aware

It seems that many youth groups are increasingly aware of their homogeneous nature. Youth Workers with this realization see the importance of helping students become aware of a world beyond themselves. Mission trips are often a part of this program. However, this is not necessarily stated. In addition to the service component that is integral to a mission trip, adults often hope that students would get an appreciation of what they have and that they will understand that there are persons who live differently from how they do.

There are pluses and minuses to this approach. Of course, it is necessary that we recognize that the world is diverse. With the increasing awareness of the plurality of the world and with "the world" coming more and more on our doorstep, a homogenized approach to life can be a disadvantage. Although the populations of schools, businesses, etc is changing, it is still possible to go back leave these arenas, return home and act as if we are all alike and that reality is, well, not quite a part of us. Thus, we never fully embrace each other and never cohere in any degree. So, yes, there is still a need to recognize the other. Then there are those who are able to build a cocoon around themselves and their children so that "the other" is someone outside (or below) their life. All this to say, there remains a case for intentionally exposing students to those who are different. But there is a downside to the way in which this is often done through mission trips.

The ways in which youth groups sometimes seek to use mission trips to enlarge awareness of others, can leave in place the concept of "those others." "Those people" to whom we go remain "the other" to be pitied and helped, leaving us feeling virtuous. However, they are not engaged as God's creation who have been placed in particular socio-economic spheres for various reasons and who bring unique gifts for the world. Thus, often, the space is never critically examined nor the gifts affirmed.

What would be useful would be an explicit acknowledgment about the need for a greater understanding of diversity and the development of the requisite tools with which to do this, and this could include the mission trip. What Kathleen T. Talvaacchia said about a spirituality of multicultural teaching is apropos here. In Critical Minds and Discerning Hearts: A Spirituality of Multicultural Teaching, she wrote:
A multiculturally sensitive pedagogy attempts to develop a spiritual sensitivity that allows us to see those we teach more fully and completely as human beings, and thereby meet their learning needs more effectively (Talvacchia 2003, 4).
In other words, a method of teaching that is aware, discerning of and responsive to a plurality of cultures will better meet educational goals because in it we will seek a transcendent way and lens of being responsive through which we will recognize and therefore teach the full humanity of persons who are engaged in the educational enterprise. This is linked to her understanding that we need to know the student as individual as well as the group from which he or she comes. In knowing the group, one understands the complexity of its politico-socio-economic location in the wider society as well as the complexity of relations within it. Thus, although Talvacchia is speaking in the context of the classroom and to teachers in a multicultural context, the idea of developing that spiritual sensitivity that allows us to see others as "fully and completely" human beings is relevant.

How can you enable yourself as youth worker or pastor, parent or volunteer and enable the youth with whom you work, to develop a spiritual sensitivity which allows them to see those form their culture and others as full human beings?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, July 2, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Great Tips for Annual Planning

-Be sure to have ministry goals, which will guide the planning. Goals should be developed in conversation with church leadership, youth workers, youth and parent representatives.

-Ask youth workers (if you're coordinating) to submit their ideas for plans one month before plan is enacted.

-Work out all scheduling with the youth ministry committee and the Church office.

-Disperse the plan widely to parents, youth, and church leadership.
Definitely utilize technology.

-Finally, get the annual plan approved by the relevant person or body.

Idea for the Planning Meeting
Invite all youth workers, and any others helping to plan, to a planning party! Have food or refreshments for attendees. Make the tone of the planning party serious, yet enjoyable.

At this planning party, you will want to foster a spirit of creativity and collaboration among workers. Arrange seating that encourages conversation and interaction. Provide ample time for discussion and decision-making related to previously submitted ideas. Since the environment will be somewhat relaxed, be sure to keep the team focused on the task.

Pray before and after. Follow the move of the Spirit, and believe God for the best outcome. Happy planning!

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