Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Our Passions

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 27, 2010

What a Blessing!

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

Friday, September 24, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Worship, Service, and Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

youTheology: Loving God, Loving Neighbor.

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

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another First for youTheology

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

Friday, September 17, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: When God is in Your Heart

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

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

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

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

by Lori Watson
Pleasant Hill UMC
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Let’s Connect

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

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

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

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

My Miniature Assistant

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

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

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

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

Kathy Bray
youTheology Program Volunteer
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: Never Too Young to Serve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wishful Thinking or Reality?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mentor Bites: Find Encouragement

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

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

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

Emily Carroll
youTheology Mentor Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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