Monday, January 31, 2011

At the Center

In seeking to develop faithful leaders for a diverse church and world, at youTheology we desire that God would be at the center of everything: at the center of all that we do as a program and at the center of all our lives. The employment of spiritual practices helps us to be anchored in God so that all that we do emanates from a life lived with God. They help us to be in tune with the Holy Spirit. The above photo with the young lady praying in the center of the labyrinth displays this beautifully.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, January 28, 2011

Perspectives from the Field: What’s your Focus for the New Year?

A new year brings new opportunities and challenges. Many look at a new year as a fresh start or decide to make resolutions as they think about ways to improve themselves.

For many, it is a time that we focus on what’s wrong with us and how we need to FIX our faults to make us more appealing. This gives us as an opportunity to speak to our youth about remembering that it’s what’s inside that is most important.

Yes, it’s true that I need to exercise more and eat better in order to take care of myself, but I should also work on my walk with God and how I can do a better job of letting God work through me to show His love to each and every one of them.

It might be time that your group makes a New Year’s Resolution for the overall group. For example, work to become closer to one another, to other members of the church & community, and most importantly - that we all become closer to God.

Another option is to create a focus for the year. I heard on K-Love (a national Christian radio station) about plans to pick a focus word for the year. One of the DJ’s said that his Focus Word in 2010 was “Present” as in be present where you are (rather than having your mind elsewhere) or be in the present, rather than worrying about the past or the future. A listener shared that her focus in 2010 had been “Listen” as in listening to what God wanted her to do, both day to day and in the bigger picture. I like the idea of a focus for the year and perhaps it’s something we can each strive for.

Your group might decide that they want to focus on Service (Missions/Outreach) or Photo (being an example to others of what it means to be a Christian) or perhaps Love (as in the Focus of youTheology: Loving God, Loving Neighbor.)

Happy New Year!

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, January 26, 2011

Spiritual Practices

Spiritual practices are an important part of youTheology. We use them to frame our day and call to mind God’s work and presence among us, to prayerfully reflect on the day as it draws to a close, journal, and to allow intentional Sabbath time when youth are able to come apart for a couple hours to more fully experience God’s grace. These practices are an adapted form of the Liturgy of the Hours in which the day begins, is punctuated with and ends with communal prayers; the Examen, which is a process of self-examination done in the framework of a small group; journalling which is prayerful, reflective writing and more of a solitary activity; and Sabbath time which gives the opportunity for other spiritual practices such as the Labyrinth and Lectio Divino.

Through these practices, young people in youTheology have a greater awareness of God, are better able to recognize God in the totality of life, and grow closer to God. Sabbath time is particularly impactful as they connect with and experience God in new and deeper ways. OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook speaks of spiritual practices this way: “Spiritual practices offer young people concrete ways to participate in an ancient tradition of faith, while simultaneously creating space for holy encounters that are immediate, personal, and transformative . . .” Dean 2010,76. This is a way of saying that what these religious exercises give young people are concrete ways of sharing in age-old rites. At the same time that this is happening, a place that is in the moment has been made in which young people can meet the sacred. The space has intimacy and results in deep change. We do notice, in youTheology that young people see God and others differently after engaging in spiritual practices. They become more aware of God in the everyday of life.

The spiritual practices we offer in youTheology also remind us that we belong to a tradition that predates us, and that even predates Methodism. It is good for us to be aware that we are part of the Church Universal and that Christians in every age have called upon the Lord, and developed ways of more fully living into God’s grace. We follow in their steps.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Thursday, January 20, 2011

With Christ

Adult involvement in youth ministry is important. Adults who are willing to share the journey with youth play a meaningful role in their spiritual development. They can provide a listening, sympathetic ear, a sounding board, be able to give sound advice when asked, and be people with whom youth study the Scriptures and share in acts of worship and other spiritual practices. Youth are thrilled when an older person in interested enough in them to journey with them and will speak of the impact such people have on their spiritual growth. However, as adults, it is important to realize that in ourselves we have nothing to offer. It is only as we remain connected with and growing in Christ that God can use us to positively impact youth in a deep rather than superficial way. As OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook, ed Kenda Creasy Dean puts it, "As our lives and our hearts become more closely aligned to Christ's, young people experience God's suffering love for them through us" (Dean 2010, 49). This shows that when who we are at the core of our being is in line with who Christ is God can work through us so that youth become acquainted with God's suffering love. This isn't about perfection but about rootedness in God. And so we can pray this ancient prayer together:
For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1:9-10.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bigger Than One

We celebrate the life, vision, and accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. This is important in an age where we are encouraged to broadcast and promote ourselves, to enlarge ourselves and achievements. Martin Luther King Jr. had a vision that was larger than himself. He had a vision of a world characterized by non-violence, peaceful co-existence, equality, reconciliation and the resolution of strife, and the lifting up the oppressed all emanating from the love of God. This love pushes us beyond ourselves and causes us to invest in the the welfare of all. So as we celebrate and remember Dr King, we cannot afford to ignore the vision. We must go beyond ourselves and reach out with God's love for the common good.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

"Mobile, Social, Games, Text . . . Health" from Pew Internet Research - January 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Perspectives From the Field: God Knows Your Strugges and Pain

With every New Year we think about how THIS New Year will be different and how we can make it better than the year before. I think that as a Community we need to look at helping our Youth cope with the daily struggles and pain they endure while trying to conform to worldly expectations of them.

We have them for 2 hours each week. During those 2 hours, we have to teach them that God loves them and that God knows their struggles and pain. God is here for them. God wants them to knock at the door, so the Lord can answer. God wants them to go to him in prayer, the Lord will answer.

The challenge is to get our Youth to believe this reality and to take some action towards building a long lasting relationship with our Lord. This is hard for so many of the Youth to grasp and put into action in their lives. A lot of time the Youth in the church will watch the church leaders to see if we are living in a way that is in keeping with the our words and is pleasing to God. If we are out their cursing, drinking, doing drugs and acting crazy; the youth will use that as a reason to fall away from the church. I always tell the youth that no one is perfect. We all fall short. But God loves us in spite of our shortcomings. As church leaders we need to work to the best of our Christian abilities to live the way we preach and teach. We will make mistakes, but we do not want to lose the opportunities to let God work through us to help bring our youth closer to God.

Keep praying and working diligently to get our Youth to trust God to heal their hearts when they are in pain. We often say, “The kids are our future.” I hear this over and over again from many people within every community. If this is true, then we have the greatest opportunity in the world. To teach and show them the love with which God has embraced us. In turn this will help develop our youth into Spiritual leaders, now and long into the future.

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

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Knowing Christ

There are those who think of Christian youth group primarily as providing moral development and/or constructive outlet and/or preparing young people to be successful. To me, this way of thinking is sad and misses the essence of who we are as the people of God. These may be by products, but surely those of us who name the name of Christ have more to offer than any other civic organization. We have a message unlike any other. There are various ways of putting this, but in Christ we can be brought back together in a harmonious relationship with the God of the universe. This is good news. We can know Christ and we can know God. This goes beyond morality and success. This is about the deepest part of us and addresses our brokenness and alienation. Yet, at the same time, it shifts the focus from us, from the youth and places it on God in Christ Jesus.

The importance of bearing witness to restoration to God in Christ is one of the reasons I found a sentence in OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook, ed Kenda Creasy Dean refreshing. It comes in the midst of a discussion on the challenges of post-modern culture and the post-Christendom era for the church and how youth ministry fits. As the church's story and the "truths" of post-modernity are discussed, we get this statement: "The church's story is not a modern, objective one; it is an intimate, subjective one---a love story that calls, invites, and involves us. The point is not to know the story; the point is to know Christ, intimately and relationally, through his story, and in so doing, come to know ourselves" (Dean 2010, 2008).

This statement reminds me of our Inter-School/Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship theme in Guyana: "To know Christ and to Make Him Known."

How are you making Christ known in your youth/student ministry? How are you sharing the story in a way that invites your students to enter into intimate relationship with Christ?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mentor Bites: Journeys

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it means to go on a journey. The year of youTheology that young people commit to is certainly a journey of sorts. The mentors travel with them. At the end of the year, the journey culminates with a different sort of journey, a pilgrimage to understand our collective history as a Pan-Methodist tradition. The experience of youTheology is a journey for all of us...youth, youth workers, mentors and the staff are all on a journey and we hope and pray that God will lead us to the grace and love that is shown in Jesus Christ.

I will travel out of the United States for the first time in my life in just 12 short hours. I just turned in the first huge amount of paperwork that is required for the journey to ordination in the United Methodist denomination. Do you see why I might be thinking about what it means to be on a journey?

And we just celebrated the day of Epiphany in the Christian year where we recognize that the wise persons were on a journey to find Jesus Christ. The star led the way for them. But I think it's interesting that for the journey home, the biblical story does not mention the star reappearing in the sky to lead them home. I wonder what occurred so that they would not need the star to appear anymore?

Something changed for them on the journey... This year it is my prayer that something changes for you on your journey, no matter where you might end up. Blessings.

By Emily Carroll
youTheology Mentor Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, January 7, 2011

Perspectives From the Field: Youth Ministry Challenges in 2011

What happened to 2010? It may be just me, but it seemed to have whizzed by faster than any other year in recent memory. 2011 has become our new reality. And as we consider the journey for the year ahead, we make plans and resolutions to help us get to where we hope to go. The new year very often brings a freshness and inspiration like no other time of year. We make wishes, dream dreams, and the few bold ones among us actually set out to chart new waters--to do something new.

This is true in our personal lives and in ministry.

As we go forward, we are sure to face new challenges and meet new opportunities. A few challenges we face in youth ministry:

1) Understanding our role in supporting parents as they try to raise strong, smart, and bold young Christians. Sure, parents are the primary caretakers and nurturers. And yes, we youth workers are committed to supporting our young people in their faith walk. But it just seems to me that we need to work more cooperatively with parents. I am asking the question, "How would God guide us in leading the parents?" We constantly seek God about the youth, but what about the parents?

2) We are also challenged to do more in helping our youth in the area of their sexuality. This is becoming an increasingly complex issue. Youth have real questions about who they are sexually. And this exploration of their identity should happen in a loving environment that is supportive and free of judgment. How do we love and support youth who are homosexual, bisexual or transgendered? How do we help those who are promiscuous? What is our role here?

These are just a few of the challenges before us. Though they are great, we should not fret. "...the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." 1 John 4:4 (NIV). These challenges are an opportunity for us to learn to trust God more and be led by the Spirit of God. God will show Himself mighty! Let us go forth to work and to serve by the power of our God.

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

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Changing Adolescence

One of the issues that OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook addresses is the current difficulty in defining adolescence. It's not just that the context has changed. Young people are also changing developmentally. This is clear in the literature such as A Study of Interactions: Emerging Issues in the Science of Adolescence. We can look at markers but cannot pin adolescence down exactly. This hazy period, like everything else, has its challenges and opportunities. It is in this context, that as OMG looks at youth ministry in a broad sense that includes families of youth, it notes: "What we can say with certainty is that churches can no longer afford to limit youth ministry to teenagers who gather in the church basement. The research on adolescence, and our citizenship in a global village, require us to extend our reach" (Dean 2010, 26). This means that we need to get out of the shell or cocoon in which your ministry with students may have become enclosed.

As youth workers, we need to educate ourselves on what is happening in the lives of our students developmentally and contextually so that as we continue to seek to be faithful we are informed and better able to minister to and support them. We also need to extend our reach.

How can you extend the reach of your youth ministry?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, January 3, 2011

youTheology in 2011

This new year is an exciting one for us at youTheology as we look ahead to what God has in store for us, known and unknown. It presents us another opportunity to share with our friends of various ages, to learn from them and minister with them. It is a great time as we gear up for our programs with youth workers and get ready to recruit for a new class of high school students. God has been good to us and we are grateful. Please continue to hold us up in your prayers and join us in our activities.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor