Friday, May 27, 2011

Perspectives From the Field: Farewell!!!

It has been, indeed, a blessing to share a few of my thoughts on youth ministry over the past year. On this last piece, I want you to think of youth ministry as a journey you are taking. Before you leave, you will need to pack a few items to take. Below are just a few things that you should have in your carry-on bag for quick access…

1) Have Fun! This does not mean planning social outings every week, rather it means infusing fun into everything you do. Be just as light-hearted as a child. I am not convinced that Jesus was or is as boring as our movie interpretations paint him out to be. Mark 10:15

2) Have Passion! Jesus demonstrated this best when turning over tables in the temple! Matthew 21:12-13

3) Have Sabbath! You cannot accomplish anything if you are always exhausted. Even Jesus knew how to get away for a retreat every now and then. Mark 1:35

4) Have Prayer! One of my church’s greatest moments in youth ministry was soaked in prayer. By that, I mean we prayed and fasted as a community before we did something. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Mark 9:14-29

5) Have Courage! This thing called ministry takes guts sometimes. Remember that God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power, love, and of a sound mind! 2 Timothy 1:7

6) Have Faith! Know that God leads the way and will fulfill all promises made to you. Go forth to serve, “Being confident of this very thing, He that hath begun a good work in you, shall complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

This is not an exhaustive list, of course. If you think that there are other essentials we must take with us, then please comment and tell everyone what else you packed in your baggage!

May God’s peace rest upon you! May God’s blessings enrich you and the ministry you lead!

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

PS We thank Arionne for the insights she has shared over the last year. Her voice continues at AriSpeaks.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Opportunity, Responsibility, Challenge

Those of us who are around young people, whether as parents, youth workers, pastors, observers, know that they are open to change. This does not mean that they do not have fixed positions. They do. However, young people still believe that change is possible and are willing to try new things and do things differently. This is an opportunity; one that calls for responsibility.

Too often, youth are co-opted, often unwittingly, to adults' agendas. An adult leader might have a pet peeve, a dissatisfaction and play into youth's openness and desire for change and use them to advance that leader's selfish agenda. That's irresponsible and exploitative.

However, there are places where institutionally we seem stuck in a pattern that has deviated from the call from Jesus Christ to love God and neighbor. Youth are ideally placed to help us move back to true love of neighbor. Dr F. Douglas Powe, jr makes this point. He notes that youth have not come up with all the societal barriers and stereotypes that adults have. While influenced by some of these, the reality of youth is different. Society is more fluid and they encounter persons from outside of their particular racial, social, physical and other groupings often face to face and definitely through media. Thus they "are in a position to redefine what it means to be a neighbor by hearing the voices on the other side" (Powe 2008, 105). This means that they can notice and be attentive to those who are different and even discounted and in so doing change our understanding of neighbor.

How are you empowering your youth and students to hear the voices on the other side?

Powe, F. Douglas. "Hearing the Voice of Our Neighbor From the Otherside." In Loving God, Loving God, Loving Neighbor: Ministry With Searching Youth, 93-107. XLibris, 2008.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, May 20, 2011

Perspectives From the Field: Summer Connection

Speaking from a standpoint and position where I am still trying to figure out how to keep students connected, inspired, and motivated to engage more deeply throughout the summer this topic is incredibly difficult. What I am realizing today is that students are busier now than at any other time in history. No day is sacred . . . Wednesday’s and Sunday’s are now being filled with games or events at school. These things paired with soccer, baseball, football, cheerleading, choir, vacations, camps, and student/school involvement make keeping kids connected, especially during summer, a deeply difficult task. Here’s what I have been working through in our ministry.

Our kids (and I believe this generation as a whole) want to be involved in something that makes a difference. Sadly, I think young people feel more inclined to volunteer and help in non-profits then be actively involved in the Church. Sadly, this is because they don’t see the church making much of a difference. So this leads us to a few responses. First is trying being creative with times and programs/events. Take your office time and turn it into opportunities to be with students. Grab lunch or coffee with a group of different students each week. Find a group of kids in need of more engagement in the ministry. Target them for specific encounters at the church or out in the community. Play ultimate Frisbee, football, basketball, or board games together. These moments do not have to have a specific purpose outside of just being together. These instances are essential for ministry. I have to constantly remind myself to get out of my office and go. Get out of your office and be with students. This is why we got into this job in the first place, right?

The other area we are emphasizing this summer is Missions. We are making a deliberate effort to provide students with opportunities to get involved in local non-profits that are impacting our community weekly. These missional moments are advancing the Kingdom of God while simultaneously connecting and pushing students deeper into relationship with each other, our ministry, and more importantly with our glorious Savior.

Even with the most creative moments of our ministry and the most powerful ways to keep kids engaged we simply will not prevail against the many things that pull kids in a thousand different directions. In the end, we have to just be okay and joyful in the kids that show up every week. God is in charge of this ministry and is placing these students in my life each week. So each week, let us engage in what God is doing now, trying to ignore our Senior Ministers and the pressures and questions of, “Why are our numbers lower?” and pushing more deeply into what God is doing in the moment. May God continue to bless you all as you move deeper into His amazing and unfailing love. Amen.

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

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Have you noticed how easy it is for us to build walls? It's amazing, isn't it, the obvious and subtle ways we use to decide who's in and who's out. It's a way of propping ourselves up, I guess, because if someone is lesser, then we must be better. I like this excerpt from Desiderata by Max Ehrmann:
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

A more appropriate outlook would be to seek to see each person as God's creation, loved by God and of equal worth.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned Romans 12:3.
The writer goes on to remind us that as Christians we are all part of the body of Christ with different gifts and functions. We all matter. We are enjoined to love each other.

Can we truly love when we erect barriers? They are often subtle, these markers we put to decide people's worth. Sometimes they are such a part of our society, often subtle, that we don't really notice them. Dr F. Douglas Powe, jr points some of them out to us as he talks about how we can hear the voice of the neighbor from the other side:
In many American cities geographical markers divide races and/or economic classes. For example, railroad tracks, streets, and rivers are common markers that serve as dividing lines. To make matters worse gentrification and re-gentrification are creating drive-in churches in many major cities (Powe 2008, 93).
This quotation identifies the physical ways in which we are divided in this society. Are we aware of them? And if yes, what are we doing about them? If we are part of a drive-in church and do ourselves drive in, do we even see the people who live around the church? How do we see them?

Why do we need markers that divide us from each other? Which markers do you observe? Observe as in notice and participate in. Which markers do our students observe? How do we push past these to express our love for God in love of neighbor?

Powe, F. Douglas. "Hearing the Voice of Our Neighbor From the Otherside." In Loving God, Loving God, Loving Neighbor: Ministry With Searching Youth, 93-107. XLibris, 2008.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, May 16, 2011

It's Preparation Time

It seems that no matter how much one prepares ahead, as it gets closer to an event preparatory activities intensify. That's how it feels now that youTheology is just under three weeks away from our annual pilgrimage to the East Coast.

It's a Pan-Methodist pilgrimage during which we trace our early Methodist roots and learn more about social justice issues and advocacy. It's a time of fun, new experiences, deepened relationships with God, increased community, challenge and surprises. But in the present, it's preparation time. It's a good time. It's a God time.

Between now and the pilgrimage we pray for God's help as we seek to ensure all the pieces are tied together. We also pray for God's movement so that we will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as we travel. Preparing and waiting; that's where we are now. It's good. God is good.

If you want a greater sense of the journey, you can trace our steps in 2010 right here.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It's About Purpose

Why do I do youth ministry? Why do you? Is it just because the church needs young people? Is it to keep them entertained and coming to . . . ? What about their parents? Are we doing youth ministry to make parents happy? Could it be that we participate in/lead youth ministry because the church has always done it or a church should have a youth group? What about a bigger purpose? What about God? What about Jesus Christ? What about the Holy Spirit? Where does God figure in our youth ministry? Side note, center, absent? We can do all the seeming right things and even be in the church building, but God could be absent or, at best, only a point of reference.

If we are in youth ministry in the name of Christ for the glory of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, then we would begin with God and center our lives, focus, and activities in God. Not only would we start with and center in God, but we would want to be channels that lead our students to life in Jesus Christ. Here is a question from Ministry by Teenagers: Developing Leaders from Within: "How great are your youth ministries if we 'aren't seeing much' of kids putting their trust in Jesus or growing spiritually" (McKee and Smith 2011, 10). In other words, can youth ministries be great if students do not show spiritual growth or come to faith in Christ? This question was prompted by responses to a survey on the use of youth ministry resources in relation to "introducing teens to Jesus" and "teens growing spiritually."

So when you think of youth ministry and great youth ministry, where is God? What's your purpose?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

youTheology: Giving Youth a Theological Voice

So, I asked someone what youTheology means to her. She responded, "young people having a theological voice." You see in youTheology, we allow young people to share how God is working in their lives and in the world. We also allow them to bring the questions they may have, and answers. Yes, we do give content, but we are committed to allowing students to think for themselves, to hear God's voice, and speak. It is space in which they are valued as God's unique creation. Therefore, we do not simply tell them what to think. We affirm that God is at work in and through them.

How are you giving youth a theological voice where you are?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, May 6, 2011

Consumption and Consuming

I was caught. The title did it: Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture. This is an issue of concern to me; the way children and youth are targeted by marketers, media, their vulnerability and response. It's something we need to be aware of as adults because it also impacts us and because the more we know and understand the better we can lead. This leading is not only in terms of discussion and advice, but also by example through the the more informed choices we ourselves make as a result.

So, I've bought the book. Yes. I took a look at it and bought it with the intention of reading it to see what guidance John Berard, James Penner, and Rick Bartlett offer to this issue of our consumer culture and its impact on youth. But I wonder, are you ever aware of our consumer culture and its effect on all of us, particularly our more vulnerable students? How do you deal with it?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, May 2, 2011

Menttor Bites: Be With Them in Their Grieving

As I sat in the unexpected spot of a funeral for the tragic death of a sixteen year old in the community of Orrick last week, I heard that the young people have one thing in common. I serve a small, rural congregation in Orrick, Missouri. The school district is the lifeline of the community. On Friday nights in the fall, everyone is at the football stadium. They are a community who are standing together in the midst of tragedy right now. The microphone was turned over for testimony. And as young persons shared over and over about the young man’s life and how he had affected them, I kept hearing the same thing. Whether they knew Aaron as their date for prom, lab partner in biology or fellow band member, I heard one theme in their questions of grieving. “Now that Aaron is gone from our lives, I am confused about where I belong.”

Grief makes us wonder what might be coming next. Grief makes us afraid. Grief is a normal human response. Grief, by the grace of God, will help us come to faith. In the Gospel of John we find many stories of grief after Jesus has been crucified. This week, in relation to the tragic death in the community I serve, I have been thinking about the story of Thomas. Often we want to say that Thomas doubts the existence of God and we want to blame him for such a thing. I wonder if we would blame the young people we work with for doubting the existence of God when they are grieving. Jesus shows Thomas what he needs to see and grants him peace. I pray we will also sit with our young people when changes and grief are present. I pray we will listen and provide. God be with each of us. Amen.

by Emily Carroll
youTheology Mentor Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Youth Workers' Gathering 2011 - Kansas City: Meaningful and Energizing

It always amazes me how God can reach us in the midst of a group so that we take away what we need for God's work. As a result, different people at the same event will leave with different gems. So it was last Saturday at youTheology Youth Workers' Gathering in Kansas City at Saint Paul School of Theology. See below what two participants found meaningful from this event.

Ready to Go Again from Claire Smith on Vimeo.

Experiences Matter from Claire Smith on Vimeo.

Youth Workers' Gathering 2011 in Kansas City was rich with shared experiences and energizing. If you attended last weekend (April 29-30), what did you take away?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor