Friday, December 31, 2010

Guest Blog: An Extended Season of Expectation

John Wesley is widely credited with instituting a tradition known as the "watch-night." The concept behind the event can be hard to explain to people (especially students), but essentially, it's prayer, just prayer, in anticipation for what God will do in the new year. Most watch-night events took place from sundown until sunrise, sandwiching that midnight moment. Perhaps those in prayer could hear the merriment of song and "Happy New Year" greetings in distant homes or bars.

I remember my childhood youth minister telling me that a great preacher named Spurgeon wanted to add a little twist in the early 1800's by preaching through these dark, tiring hours. I'm not sure if he ever actually attempted it, or if anyone came to gut out a 12-hour message. I also remember wondering if enough caffeine existed back then.

African-American churches revived the tradition in 1862/1863 in the United States, as they waited patiently and emotionally for January 1-the day that the Emancipation Proclamation would be signed. The promise was kept. This was certainly an extended season of expectation for them, a season of anticipating a new year and a time of legitimacy and God's goodness.

Truly, it's deep in our tradition to wait patiently and prayerfully, similarly to how we wait patiently for the Lord, in the season of Advent. That attitude of expectation extends into the calendar change, as we think about what God will do, in the coming 12 months especially.

In God's youth ministry at Christ Church, where I serve, I wholeheartedly hope that students adopt an age-old mission statement at the outset of each new year, and that they pray extensively for their parts in it, as well as the part of God:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19)

Just as the old prophet Isaiah was sent to do these things, Jesus Christ continued the work in His few years of ministry. I believe we have this same anointing of the Spirit in our youth groups. This acceptable year of the Lord can be proclaimed in so many ways through the myriad interests and talents of our students.

In this past year, we have known many who have been poor, imprisoned, sick, and oppressed. We have tried to live in the Spirit and recognize them, offering them the love of Christ in tangible and intangible ways. I can't help but think of how this mission is externally focused, but also acknowledges the times of distress of those within our closest circles of friends. In the new year, I hope that our youth will seek out those in their communities who need the proclamation of a year of God's goodness.

This is what we pray for, and anticipate eagerly, knowing we have a part in it. Even if we don't bring in the new year with prayer (which is a great idea, by the way), we should expect wonderful things from God. With these in mind, we go out and minister, because we too are anointed. In some way, let's bring in this new year with prayer for what God will do in, through, and around us and our youth.


by Ryan Langeland
Youth Director
Christ United Methodist Church, Independence, MO
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

That Burning Question

I was looking at OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook, when a question arrested my attention: "Do Our Practices of Youth Ministry Reflect Christ" (Dean 2010, v)? It was accompanied by a question of no lesser importance: "Do Our Practices of Youth Ministry Shape Christians" (Dean 2010, v)? These two were subheadings in the first chapter entitled, "Haunting Questions." Some of the ensuing discussion in the text related to whether or not our youth ministries enable youth to understand the uniqueness and characteristics of Christ and Christianity.

The ability or inability of a Christian youth ministry to communicate the uniqueness of Christ and Christianity natters. Of equal importance is the church's capacity to do this. These two are not as separate as it may seem on the surface. They impact each other. Moreover, it is hard to commit to something that is vague or non-existent. This reminds me of a blog post I did earlier when I noted the way in which growth in the Christian life and commitment to God in Christ Jesus often come at the bottom and made a link to what we teach.

I will pose this question therefore: As we go into 2011, how can we conduct our lives and teach in such a way that it is clear that "living is Christ and dying is gain" (Phil. 1:21)?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, December 24, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Getting Ready for HIS Arrival

It’s almost Christmas!

Advent is a wonderful time as we PREPARE for the arrival of the Messiah. Too often, we instead focus on the arrival of Santa/gifts and make Christ an afterthought.

Sure, I enjoy watching kids open gifts (and I admit I’m looking forward to Christmas with my brand new grandson) but we need to remember the Reason for the Season. Advent is about getting ready to welcome Christ into our lives and preparing others to do the same.

Christmas generates lots of attention. Figure out how to reach out to youth and other members of your congregation as well as your entire community to share the love of God and to demonstrate how God has made a difference in your life.

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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beyond the Fluff

Life is often filled with fluff. You know, the stuff that looks so good but really has nothing behind it. In some ways, Christmas is like that. We've created a lot of customs and expectations around Christmas that really have nothing or very little to do with the big moment: Immanuel, God with us. It seems to me that each year we get some more baubles thrown at us to distract us and make us focus less on Christ, though our language may deceive us as to where our true focus is. Some of these baubles are earlier sales in the stores, trying to be the perfect hosts, cook the perfect dinner, find the perfect gifts . . . . There are many advertisers committed to keeping our attention right there, so that we have little time to really pause and ponder the mystery, sacredness, and gift of Christ's birth: Immanuel, God with us; Jesus, Messiah who will save God's people from their sins. God's rule is among us. Turn around and put yourself under it.

Actually, on the surface the trinkets are easier to deal with. They look good and dazzle our eyes. We can touch them, and, well, everybody is carrying them. Yet, they are fleeting, like the bubbles we blew as children. It's easy to be carried away by their glitter, and yet we're reminded that, "all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever" 1 Peter 2:16-17. Indeed, those who submit to God's rule build for eternity as they deal with the reality of life as we know it lived for God.

Jesus' birth is about what is real in our lives and how we allow God to order our lives in the everyday, so that we experience God's abundant life as we work, as we eat, as we recreate, etc. As Mark Sayers puts it in The Trouble With Paris: Following Jesus in a World of Plastic Promises,
"But it is in the mundane that Jesus begins his program of subverting how we view life. We don't like this, for the hyperreal world tells us that things that are important are glitzy, loud, and astonishing. . . . But that is the problem: fantasy is fantasy, and science fiction is fiction. Jesus begins where we live---in the ordinary. . . . Jesus shows us how to find pleasure in the midst of real life" (Sayers 2008, 127).
Here Sayers points out that what Jesus is about is ordinary life and ordinary issues and not the over the top view that passes for reality in our world today which portrays life as a continuous, amazing drama. Instead, Jesus takes life as it is seriously and teaches us to be joyful in it. How about that? Can we go beyond the fluff and just have an ordinary Christmas where what is amazing is God's love shown in the birth of Jesus Christ?

What would an ordinary Christmas that focused on an extraordinary God look like in your student ministry?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, December 17, 2010

Perspectives from the Filed: Advent . . . Patient . . . Waiting

I will admit it…I am a church dork. I am 26 year old church dork, and I am not afraid to admit it. I love old ladies singing hymns at the top of their lungs, I like robes and stoles. I like mission trips, and I even like church picnics with Jell-0 salads. What makes me really dorky is that I love love love the church seasons. If you didn’t know, the Christian year begins with advent. The colors are blue or purple (I like blue…but purple works too.)

The first Sunday in advent I told my youth “Happy Christian New Year!” and they all looked at me like I was insane. “Justin, New Year is in January. Look at a calendar.” I decided to not teach the lesson I had planned and instead talk about the Christian calendar instead. It got me thinking, as Christians we start the year waiting.

We start the year waiting for Christ to come into the world. It’s hard to remember that when we are running around trying to get ready for Christmas. We start a whole new year waiting, living in a way that we can most fully experience Christ coming into our lives. For me this year that means that I am taking time to not add more things on my “to do” list. It just means that I am paying attention more fully to the things I already do.

Youth (and the adults who work with them) can sometimes get so wrapped up in piling more and more into our schedule. This advent season start your year waiting, don’t add more to life. Slow down, live the life you already are more abundantly. The hard part is slowing down, examining, and asking for guidance. In this way we are truly waiting for Christ to be born in our lives, our families, and our churches. Maybe I’m a church dork…but this advent season I’m going to be a patient church dork.

by Justin Zeigler
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Where is God?

What is at the heart of our youth/student ministry, or rather, who? What and/or who is our main motivation? Is it pleasing the local church, the pastor, the parents, the youth? Is it keeping our job? Of course, all of these may be important, but the key question is, where is God? Where does God fit with respect to our key impetus?

Our instinctive answer may be to say that, "Naturally, God is at the center of the ministry," the ministry with which God has entrusted us. Instinctive, but would it be true? How can we really tell? The answer takes us to our departure point and our purpose, which feeds our motivation.

What place does prayer have in our youth/student ministry? Is it the basis of everything that we do, that is, our point of departure? Do we check in with God at the beginning and along the way to hear God's will and ensure that we are pleasing God? What is our primary purpose? Is it to bring glory to God? Is it that students will know God in Christ Jesus? Do we ourselves know God?

There are many pieces to youth ministry. It is easy to get lost among them, easy to lose sight of God. The only way we can keep God at the center is to ground our lives in prayer, spending time in God's presence and in the study of the Word of God. We need prayerful and prayer-filled lives through which our love for God and God's people increase. We also need to accompany prayer with the study of the Bible so that we would know the triune God and God's will more. Out of these ways of being will flow a greater commitment to doing the will of God and we will find our joy and completeness in God. These are Spirit-filled lives. How can we do this, especially at a time when it seems crazier than usual? But it is now that we need to start. Now when it is crazy. If we step back and allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate such lives of prayer, meditation, and study in us at the "wrong" time, how much richer will they be in the "right" time?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mentor Bites: Christmas---Everyone is Invited

I wonder if at first Mary and Joseph were really all that excited to share the very private event of their child's birth with the whole world? We think of them as the Holy Family, the perfect ones who shared their joy of God with everyone that first Christmas night. But what if we stop and think about the fact that they had been forced to travel miles in the days that lead up to this event just so that they can be counted by the government? Furthermore, Mary had to be tired. And they both had to be still confused about what God was up to in this child. And yet, the heavenly hosts invite STRANGERS to come see their precious child that night. God makes the private to be public that night. God makes strangers into friends. God sends Jesus so that all of humanity is connected.

As a Mentor for youTheology, or youth leader, I wonder if you ever feel like a stranger to the world that the young people of the church find themselves in...often. I feel like I will never know what it feels like to be a youth in today's world. Sometimes, I can convince myself that I am a stranger to their experiences; that my age removes me from their problems and that since I do not walk in their High School hallways with them, we have nothing in common. And yet, God sends Jesus to us so that all can be connected.

This Advent/Christmas season, I pray that mentors might find a way to remember that because of Jesus, all of humanity is connected. Our differences no longer define us, except that we are all the same because of those differences.

by Emily Carroll
youTheology Mentor Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, December 10, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: The Reason for a Prepared Christmas Celebration

When I try to prepare and teach the youth the true meaning of Christmas, I get a little frustrated. I know my heart and mind tells me, to never give up, no matter what obstacles arise.

This Advent season, my goal is for our youth to embrace and learn what the term “The Reason for the Season” truly means. Frustration sets in because I am trying to break a long-standing and ongoing cycle with our youth today. For too many youth today, it is all about what they can get for Christmas -- not what they can do to help others, but what gifts will come their way. Many times while working with my youth group, Christ’s name is never mentioned during the Advent and Christmas seasons. They talk a lot, but mostly about where they are going to visit during Christmas and what gifts they had better get!

Most of the kids I work with are from middle and low income families. The youth ask their parents for outrageous gifts that their parents cannot afford. I try to teach them that it is better to give than to receive. They give me that look like: “Are you serious or from another world?”

Actually, I am from another world. I like showing short movies or films showing people from developing countries (3rd World countries) where all they’d want for Christmas is to have clean water and a chance to have an education. I do this for our North American youth, to show them how much they are truly blessed.

When we were at the last Bishop Roundup, we heard a missionary worker tell of her time spent in Haiti. She stated that most of the kids may have the chance to eat every other day. And with extreme cases, families may only eat twice per week. Many people were crying when she went over this part of her trip. I was one of them. Tears were flowing from my face.

I will continue to teach kids about Christ and his love for us. I will never give up, no matter what. I will shout it, sing it, text it, write it or just do whatever it takes to let our youth know that they must be prepared for Christ. They must have Hope because God’s promise will come true and they must have Joy in their hearts, because we serve a loving God who truly loves us, no matter what.

The Reason for the Season is all about Christ. God is our light out of the darkness.

Earl Williams
Grace United Methodist Church
Youth Group Leader and Safe & Sacred Trainer
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why Not You?

The church needs adults who are will commit to nurturing youth. Everyone cannot be involved in the formal youth ministry of the church. There is a level at which everyone should not. However, we do need adults who will invest in students in the church, getting to know their names and take an interest in their activities. People who will notice when they are present and when they are absent and encourage them in the faith and in life in general. These adults need to be teachable disciples of Christ, willing to learn with and from youth. They also need to be compassionate with a sense of humor and very importantly, see students as God’s gifts. Everyone can do this.

What we often miss is that students long for recognition and affirmation from non-related adults. In addition, there are those who do not have positive adults models in their homes. Many students are hurting and feel they have nowhere to turn. Yes, they need adults who they know care enough about them to listen to them and support them. The problem is that too often we as adults are so wrapped up in our own fears and insecurities that we fail to reach out to our students.

Yes the church needs adults who will commit to care for youth. Students want adults who will invest in them. Why not you?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, December 6, 2010

Great Conversation in St Louis

In the blog post, "Looking Ahead," I mentioned that a key question as we move forward is: "How do we truly live into the diversity God has given to us?" This past weekend in St Louis, I was privileged to be in discussion with two pastors where we wrestled with how youTheology might take shape and be presented in a new environment. I am grateful to God for the time commitment of these persons and their diligence in thinking through a new space for youTheology. As we continue to live into our diversity, I was reminded again of the need to identify the uniqueness of each situation and group and to make space for that distinctiveness to thrive. And so we move on.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, December 3, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: Advent Or Excess?

We have entered the season of advent in the Church. This is the time of the Christian year when we wait with expectation for the coming of Christ. In one sense, during advent we should be nearly on the edge of our seats looking for our Savior. We are waiting with the entire world for Immanuel who will bring love and peace for evermore. His coming means our reconciliation with God. The Church says that this is how we should be spending those four weeks leading up to Christmas.

But the truth is that it is hard to experience advent this way, with all the distractions of the retail industry. They have already declared like that famous Charlie Brown Christmas song that “Christmastime is here!” And that means spend money! All the money you can. Between Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and Macy’s all of our consumption needs can be met. There is no waiting involved here. No expectation and no anticipation. Get it now, this week while it is on sale. If we are not careful we will find ourselves bordering on living excessively and miss the true experience of advent.

How do we resolve this?

Simply put, spend some time with God. Turn off the TV. Get off the internet. Put your cell phone away. Spend some uninterrupted time with God. This is the only way we can experience advent. Pretend for just a minute that Christmastime is not here yet. In those few quiet moments each day, allow yourself to wait for the blessing of Christmas, when Christ truly comes to meet us at our point of need. And in your waiting there is peace, rest, and blessing. This advent, may you be strengthened in spirit and your faith deepened as you wait for the coming Lord.

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Community . . .

When I look at the various ways in which people connect and the many online opportunities it signals to me that we continue to desire and seek after community. Of course, community means different things to different people. For many, unless there are relationships within the particular grouping that embrace more than surface realities in each others' lives and in the world, there is no community. For some, it is any kind of connection within a demarcated area. We could go on. What is clear, is that the absence of community leads to a stifling of personhood since we were created to be with others. It is a necessary part of how we come to know ourselves and how we grow. Maria Harris in Fashion Me a People puts it this way: "We are only fully persons when we are in community" (Harris 1989, 29). She is saying that it is solely as we are in meaningful relationship with our fellow human beings that we completely come into ourselves. We do need each other and we need to relate to each other in ways that are genuine and life-giving.

How are you providing opportunities for genuine and life-giving relationships in your student ministry?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor