Friday, April 29, 2011

Guest Blog: The Theological Voice of Youth

“I am so sorry all of this has happened to you, but we are here because we believe God cares.” I won’t forget those words. This was solemn sentiment spoken by a fourteen year-old girl to a woman with little hope on a hot summer day in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee. The girl, whose name I have long forgot, was the part of a youth group mission trip to the mountains in which I was serving with a non-profit organization committed to rebuilding and repairing houses for the rural poor. The woman this group was helping had just lost her job, her son in a custody battle, and to add insult to injury, the backside of her house when a tree had recently fallen. Things were bleak, but a group from Indiana had come to help make her house livable again.

I have worked with many youth and young adults over the years and time and time again I have been amazed by the wisdom youth demonstrate. Theology is most exciting when it is evidenced in the life of a community. The fourteen-year old girl spoke from her heart that day, but in so doing she expressed a deeply theological view of the world. Academics have often labeled the sentiment she was straining to convey as missio Dei—the conviction that God is at work in the world. In the midst of brokenness and pain, Christians assert their hope on the basis of God’s self-giving love for the world. This love was most perfectly demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This love regularly breaks into the world in acts of love and justice. “I am so sorry all of this has happened to you, but we are here because we believe God cares.” These words are deeply theological.

The church often does not know what to do with its young people. Quarantined to youth rooms and special Sundays in the middle of low-attendance summers, we miss too often miss experiences like the one I was privileged to witness on that summer day. Good teachers know the pattern: tell, show, let. Teach the theological truths of the Christian faith as plainly and thoroughly as possible; demonstrate these beliefs in real-time and in real-life; trust the Holy Spirit to guide and direct youth into places others did not think they would explore. Church leaders must fight for opportunities for youth to articulate and demonstrate our theological convictions. Youth must be encouraged to test and train their theological voice. God is at work in the world! May we entrust youth to the leading of the Triune God. May we wait expectantly for unbelievable contributions.

by Lucas Endicott
Director of Campus Ministry
Central Methodist University,
Fayette, MO
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, April 25, 2011

After youTheology

What happens after youTheology? How relevant is it to everyday life? In this video Nile, youTheology class of 2010, shares how he applies what he learned in youTheology.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pause and Remember

It's Good Friday, again, thank God. It is a holy day, but not necessarily a comfortable day. What do we do with it? We can't commercialize it. We can't jump up and down in glee saying, "he died, he died." We often don't know what to do with holiness; don't even want to talk about it. The easiest thing to do is to rush on to Easter, to the eggs and bunnies. That's where the money is. That's where we can get happy with friends and family, and even some shouts of "Hallelujah" and forget . . . Forget the uncomfortable truth that God came in human form, God lay aside God's glory and suffered indignity and torture, and died on the cross. Another inconvenient truth. But let us pause and remember, and let us help our students to remember, that our sins are forgiven with a price.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, April 18, 2011

Perspectives From the Field: How Do I Do Theology With Youth?

Dealing with theology is an incredibly important aspect of ministry. I believe that we too often leave out deep theological discussions and lessons for fear that it might go over the heads of our students. This is a devastating belief for both our ministries and for the future of the Church.

When dealing with theology and students I have found the most success in prayerfully and thoughtfully teaching page by page a book of the bible. For example, over the course of the last three years our High School ministry has gone through the books of John, Hebrews, and Paul’s letter to the Romans. When walking through the scriptures exegetically it is crucial to not simply pick and choose which scriptures that you enjoy the most. The point of going page by page through the scripture is challenging you, as the teacher, to teach things that normally you would not teach. This is fundamental in the creation of a holistic and theologically diverse understanding of scripture for students.

In preparation for these messages in our ministry we try to extensively look at the scriptures. We utilize many different commentaries, opinions, and thoughts to develop what we believe are the most theologically healthy and accurate interpretations of the original texts and meaning. (One of the joys of being a part of such a beautiful staff here at Church of the Servant is that I have a bunch of biblically gifted Elders and staff members to bounce thoughts and scripture thoughts off of.) Secondly, we prepare the base of our messages emphasizing the general message we want to convey and what we desire for students to take home. The main building blocks in our teaching theology to our students are these; stress the importance of scripture (in both the message and in students personal life), emphasize the centrality of Jesus in all scripture, giving scripture relevance to the daily living, and lastly, we will always give an open invitation to question and have conversation on what was taught and other aspects of scripture that are confusing or unclear. Giving the students the ability to think critically and question scripture is not only ok, but she be encouraged!

Theology is of enormous weight in ministry. It is the backbone of what is taught in each of our programs and small groups. Beyond this however is the call we have as ministers of truth to put Jesus at the forefront of any teaching or lessons we give. So in the end, we ask the question, “How did my teaching reveal Jesus to these students?” This question should drive everything we do in ministry and in life.

I end by extending my prayers out to you where you are today. I pray that God is moving in power in your ministries and I pray that you are constantly being renewed in your depth and knowledge of Jesus’ grace and love.

His Grace is Sufficient,

Jay Smith
Coordinator of High School Ministries
Church of the Servant
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Perspectives From the Field: True Life Lessons

For every breath we take, we are blessed. God is so good, all of the time. God would never put more on you than you can handle. God loves you, no matter what.

I can go on for days with statements on the goodness of our Lord and Savior. But, earlier in my life as a youth, living in a city where death was on every corner, I had very little faith and no true relationship with God. I often wondered, where is this God that my mom spoke of, and why would this God allow so many of my friends to die at an early age. I did not have a real connection with the goodness of God. It was not until I met my wife in college and started to attend Saint Mark UMC in Wichita KS, that I learned that God is inside each one of us. If things are going to get better we must get in step and do God’s will.

Now lets fast-forward 30 years. Today I am dealing with youth who were like me, living a life without Christ. I see the despair in the eyes of the kids I work with on a daily basis. I ache for them. I hate to see them living without knowing that God wants them to come to him when they are sad, or even when they are happy. How can we change their outlook on Christ and strengthen their understanding of God’s grace and love?

We have to prepare the youth and adults in the church to go beyond the walls of the Church -- going beyond the walls to preach the word of the Lord. You do not have to give a sermon on the street corner, or pass out flyers saying you are going to Hell if you do not come to our church. But, you can plant that seed through your daily living. Praise God when things are going good for you and when God brings you through the dark moments of your life. Every time you shake a hand you can say, “God loves you and so do I. ” You can ask your friends or neighbors if they would like to go to Bible study or church with you. You can plan and setup events at your church, not only for members of your church, but also for the community.

Growth will never happen overnight. It needs to be watered, nurtured and permitted time to sit in the sunlight. We must pray and continue to work hard to reach all of God’s children, young, old and any age in between.

If not us, then who?

Earl Williams
Grace United Methodist Youth Director
Safe and Sacred Trainer
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Beyond Violence

Our students are experience violence in various ways. We looked at that in last week's blog. I also made reference to Jeanne Hoeft's action for caring for youth in this context and moving beyond violence. I will share her four alternatives with you in this blog. They are:

~~helping [students] to name the violence for what it is,
~~sharing resources from the Christian faith that will help them understand the nature of violence and will help them live with courageous hope in response to it,
~~building relationships of mutuality, and
~~engaging them in activities for building a just and loving world.

Thus, there is a place for sharing experiences and situations and being honest about the times and places where violence has occurred, whether we were victim or perpetrator. We don't stop at what we and others have experienced, however. We use our faith to help us interpret what has happened and move forward. Moreover, we work to relate to each other in life-giving ways that are reciprocal and move to action.

~~What are the resources from the Christian faith that you draw on in dealing with violence in your student ministry?
~~How are you building relationships of mutuality?
~~What activities do you and your students engage in that will build a just and loving world?


Hoeft, Jeanne. "The Protected Generation: Fear, Violence, and Perfect Love." In Loving God, Loving God, Loving Neighbor: Ministry With Searching Youth, 108-126. XLibris, 2008.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mentor Bites: On Reconciliation

I have been thinking a lot about reconciliation lately. There are a lot of reasons for my fixation upon this topic in the last few weeks. One reason is because I am currently in a class at Saint Paul that is comparing Christianity to the practices of our Native brothers and sisters. We are learning what we did not learn in our textbooks as young people. The native people were colonized and shown God’s “love” in some horrific ways. We are talking about what role we play in still continuing a cycle of sin by ignoring certain points of order in the Book of Discipline that connect us with Indian Missionary Conferences. We are talking about it. What do we have to be sorry for? What can we do about it.

Another reason reconciliation has been on my mind of late is because of a transition that is coming soon in my life. I will be going to serve somewhere else after I graduate. As I prepare to leave my current appointment, I still see so much hurt and pain in the congregation. I see many places where people simply need to apologize to one another. This is why each week during the Lenten Season I have offered a time of healing and prayer for everyone gathered together. It has been eye opening to see people forgive one another.

As a person that works with young people, I implore you to ask what sorts of things come to mind when you ask that young person about forgiveness. What biblical images come to mind when we talk about God’s healing love? What did Jesus say about forgiveness? Who might they need to forgive? Have these conversations. Reconciliation is not easy but it will happen. Thanks be to God. Amen.

By Emily Carroll
youTheology Mentor Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Where There is Violence . . .

We often make assumptions about our students and where they come from and so fail to address the issue of violence that affects or has the potential to affect them personally. But might we be doing them an injustice? What could we be missing? Jeanne Hoeft makes the point that "if we look closer at the individual lives of these young people we might be surprised at the level of violence that they encounter on a daily basis---as victims, as perpetrators, and as witnesses" (Hoeft 2008, 109). The young people to which she refers are those of a '"typical" Midwestern suburban United Methodist Church" (Hoef 2008, 108) where on the surface all seems well but if we go deeper we would be amazed at how much violence they encounter as recipient, the one who experiences it, or the one who sees it. I daresay this is true beyond the Midwest suburban UMC youth group. Hoeft goes on to talk about violence and the places and ways in which it is encountered. She moves us away from the stereotypes that seek to locate violence in particular communities and/or racial ethnic groups.

In discussing violence, Hoeft also talks about the fear that is often at the root of violent acts. Thus, in proposing ways of practicing care in dealing with violence she offers four alternatives to "instilling more fear" (Hoeft 2008, 123).

~~How do you deal with the issue of violence in your student ministry?
~~How might you be, unknowingly, instilling fear?
~~How can you help your students face their fears and the violence they encounter?

Hoeft, Jeanne. "The Protected Generation: Fear, Violence, and Perfect Love." In Loving God, Loving God, Loving Neighbor: Ministry With Searching Youth, 108-126. XLibris, 2008.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, April 4, 2011

Reflecting and Looking Forward

In the video below, Kelsey shares her thoughts on Youth Workers' Gathering 2011 in Oklahoma City. It is good to pause and reflect, but we cannot stay there. We now look forward to Youth Workers' Gathering 2011 in Kansas City from April 25-26 with Charles Harrison of the YouthWorker Movement and others. The theme is Grace-Filled Youth Ministry: Reaching the Hearts and Minds of Students."

Kelsey on Youth Workers' Gathering 2011 - Oklahoma City from Claire Smith on Vimeo.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor