Monday, November 28, 2011

Vulnerable Teens

We know that Jesus interacted and reached out to the vulnerable in his society and those who were on the fringes. We are challenged in youth ministry to do the same. However, sometimes we limit our understanding of the vulnerable and people on the margins to people in poverty and/or in other locations other than ours. But there are groups within out midst that we are in danger of ignoring. – Teens with autism often socially isolated

Drawing on research out of Washington University, Jessica Martin reminds us that adolescents with autism spectrum disorders are limited in their social interactions in inclusive settings. This raises for us the question of how can we ensure that our youth ministries are inclusive and that we do not unwittingly leave others out because we do not have them on our radar.

Teen Depression: Signs, Treatment, Help
WebMD discusses the possible signs of depression in teens. Here, Gina Shaw gives teens signs to look out for their own depression as well as intervention strategies. This is a good list for youth workers as well. It is easy to access and can help us as we work with youth who may be depressed to recognize the signs and be in a better position to help them. There are many such adolescents and they also are vulnerable.

Understand your Teen's Wild Decisions | GROW
If you have been around a teen for more than an hour you will start to realize teens make decisions in the world differently than adults.
And so Jennifer Wilmoth reminds us of the vulnerability of teenagers in their process of becoming. Because of the way their brain is developing, they are often driven more by emotion than by rationale thinking, though they have the capacity for great logical reasoning. What she say to parents is true for youth ministers - guide them in decision making.

"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me" Matthew 18:5.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Facebook and Youth Ministry

For many people, using Facebook is like breathing. For others, not so much but it is still a part of their lives. Many of us who work with youth entered the world of Facebook before it was as big a buzz as it is now out of a desire to locate and/or connect with our youth outside the ministry setting.

Ryan Langeland, Director of Youth Ministries at Manchester UMC, gives good guidelines for using Facebook for adults who work with youth. There are many helpful insights in his chapter, "Engaging the Facebook Community," in Youth Ministry in a Technological Age. What's really neat is that he recognizes that even when there is a separate group for the ministry, what we post on our own page can still be seen and needs to be in harmony with what we profess. Very importantly, he advocates similar boundaries to safe sanctuary or youth protection training in using Facebook..

What do you consider appropriate use of Facebook as a youth minister and in using it as a youth ministry tool?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Monday, November 21, 2011

Connecting and Connections and Ah-ha Moments

Last week I was in Oklahoma and had the joy of connecting with members of the youTheology community - alumni, past and present mentors and pastors of partner congregations. This was a joy. I was at First UMC in Enid that Sunday and was able to worship with them and chat a little at the end of service. Something unique happened during my Oklahoma stay. I was able to sit in on a mentor-youTheologian time. This was a first.

Rev Thomas and Brandy reflected on their mentor-mentee relationship and time together. One thing that came out was the "ah-ha moments that happen during that time. The type of learning that happens in a one-on-one setting is different and special. It was also a ah-ha moment for me. Hear them talk about their time together below and think about how you engage your students so that they have those ah-ha moments:

I am very grateful for the opportunity and blessing of connecting with everyone. I give God thanks for you all.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Friday, November 18, 2011

Perspectives from the Field: How to Keep Going in Ministry

I’ll never forget my first youth ministry conference. It was a huge event. I had the cool bag and order of the week. I arrived early, scouted out the place, then sat down to circle all the workshops I would attend. It was going to be packed with learning. I was excited. At the same time, however, I was tired. It was nice though, to focus on ministry by learning instead of teaching, leading, and training. I tried to convince myself that changing my focus was rejuvenating.

Opening worship began. The band played, we worshiped. The event’s organizer came forth to speak. He welcomed us and shared his vision about the week. He said, I want this event to be just what you need. So if you need to learn, go to workshops. If you need to socialize with others in youth ministry, skip the workshops and talk in the living rooms set up around the center.  Then he said it.  If you need to rest, take this time to sleep, pray, and reconnect with God. I was shocked.

It’s true; I needed rest – even if I had to pay for it!

It seems and feels counter-intuitive, however, in order to persevere in ministry I find that rest is the best. It’s finding time for Sabbath – to be and not do. We are human beings after all not human doings. Each week I have a day of being. When I wake up, I ask God, what do you want to do today? Sometimes I go to the park or listen to music. Other days I stay in my pajamas and play with my dog. I don’t plan ministry. I don’t read the book I’ve been waiting to crack open. I celebrate the God in me.

I’m not sure when you feel there is a lull in your ministry… I rarely felt that I experienced that. We were always on the go. Here’s what I am learning. To keep up a pace of ministry, I need to rest and receive God’s spirit into my life again and again. Jesus invites us to come to him…all of us who are weary and heavy laden and He will give us rest.

I challenge you, if you cannot find time to rest, I ask to whom does your ministry belong? In our might we will exhaust.  Only through Christ and his power can we lead and care for God’s families in our churches.

May you find rest on the journey!

by Charity Goodwin-Rosario
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Youth: Make a Difference

Older generations try to understand youth with varying degrees of success. I think it has to do with our level of interaction with youth and/or our attitude. The two are closely related. It is hard to understand people with whom one has limited or no deep and meaningful interaction. This lack of interaction can lead to stereotyping, which is often negative.

It's hard to have a positive image of young people when you simply go by news reports and the comments of people who see them only through their own lenses and their own desires. These are often people who do not understand young people on young people's own terms.

Of course I'm biased. I've worked with young people, it seems like forever. I see them as people with tremendous strengths and gifts that the church and the world need, now. I'm not uncritical and naive. They have some weaknesses as we all do. And, they are in the process of becoming in a much sharper way than the rest of us.However, all in all, they are delightful and eager to please and make a difference, especially this generation of youth, often referred to as the Millenials.

The Millennial generation is one about which much has been spoken and written, both positive and negative. It's a perspective issue. William Strauss and Neil Howe describe them as "optimists" (Strauss and Howe 2206, 41), citing research in which Millennials describe themselves. I would have to agree. They see possibilities and where many of us pull back, they plunge forward with amazing effectiveness. Just recently, Rachel Wheeler's story made the news. At 12 years old she has already built 27 homes in Haiti. See the Huffington Post. I think also of the youTheology students and alumni who are volunteering at different places and doing amazing things with their lives. Optimism is good when it is purposeful.

Another way of looking at Millennials, young people, is seeing them as idealistic. Ruben Navarrette seems skeptical of this idealism that seeks to find solutions to problem in his piece, "Entitled to Idealism." But then, the conversation he reported put a whole different spin on the "sense of entitlement" young people are supposed to have. It's quite a shift - negative to positive.For me I still see it more as optimism. There is a connotation to idealism that it's difficult to beat. For some, it could be positive, for others negative.

Whether you think of it as optimism or idealism, young people are dreaming dreams and taking concrete actions to make the world a better place. The questions for us are:
  • What example are we setting in this regard?
  • How are we nurturing the dreams and the desires?
  • How are we making space for these stories?
  • How are we helping them to connect these with God's love, reign and mission?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Monday, November 14, 2011

Different Times

So what's new? The times in which we live. Times in which the intensity and venues for bullying, like much else in our world, has escalated tremendously. This leaves us with questions as parents, youth workers, and other caring adults. Questions as to how to prepare students for, protect them from, and prevent bullying.

My heart goes out to the mother of Ashlynn Conner who, as a single parent, did all that she knew to do. Could one have asked more of her? No. And yet, having done her best to prepare her child for what could be a cruel world she now mourns the loss of her daughter. We have to pray for her comfort and the too many mothers who mourn the loss of their children, particularly through suicide related bullying. In Stacy Conner's own words as reported by The Huffington Post: "'"I thought my kids were strong," Connor said. "That my words to them for guidance and advice would have more weight than what these kids were saying. I was wrong.'"The pressure from outside was too much, even with all the positive that was given on the inside.

These are different times.Youth don't only face bullying the in face-to-face space of school, but also online, and through text messages. It is all pervasive. Sometimes it cannot be switched off.

Adolescents are at a vulnerable stage in their development and bullying attacks them in all the vulnerable areas and places of development: physical, physiological, emotional, social, etc. It is a different time for them; a time when they need support  and affirmation as they seek to discover who they are and who God has made them to be.

While we do not have all the answers in youth and student ministry, this does leave us with some questions?
  • How are we creating safe spaces for youth to tell their stories so that their hopes, fears, dreams, aspirations, and real life situations can be brought into the light and they get the help they need? Safety in terms of confidentiality, a non-judgmental, open and accepting approach in a space that is unhurried and where the focus is on the students and not the program.
  • How do we teach our students the various ways in which bullying occurs and help them to see that what may seem cool to some can be and often is detrimental to others?
  • How do we help them to see that bullying runs counter to our faith and loving God and neighbor as we are commanded?
  • How do we give them the resources to deal with bullying, whether it be speaking against it, reporting it, educating about it, etc?
  • How do we point them to God?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Friday, November 11, 2011

Just Serve

I was privileged to have conversation with a young lady earlier today whose chosen path is public service. She is still in college, getting ready to graduate but is very clear on her chosen path. Specifically, she has an interest in education, recognizing the inequities in the educational system and the way in which certain sections of the population are undereducated.

What is noteworthy and admirable is that this young lady is not waiting until she fulfills her career dreams and is an elected official. Right here and right now she has begun to make a difference. She works with young people who are poorly educated in school and helps them to move beyond where they are and where their circumstances seem to allow them to be. She is teaching them and helping a younger generation dream bigger dreams and prepare for college.

This raises some questions. How are we faithful in the here and now with what God has entrusted us? Are we serving faithfully or are we waiting for that big moment.

What type of care and concern do the students in our ministries show for those who are underserved and how are we encouraging them to be involved in an ongoing way, whether small or big, to bring change? This would be to walk as Jesus walked.

If our students are underserved, how are we inspiring them and practically helping them to move beyond where they are?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Perspectives from the Field: When you “Run the Race” is it a Sprint or a Marathon?

For those of us that work with youth, we often focus on the next meeting or next event but we need to make sure that we’re working with long-term and the end goal in mind.

Many times we’re not going to see how our youth turn out or how their faith journey evolves.  However, that doesn’t mean our role in that path is any less important.  Sometimes we are planting a seed and might not see the growth.  Other times, we’re the ones that benefit from the work of others as we see the light turn on as someone accepts Christ or grows in their faith. 

One way to increase your chances of seeing someone catch a spark is by getting involved with youTheology.  The high school youth in the year-long program are able to explore their faith with a mentor and it culminates in the Pan-Methodist Pilgrimage. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of the youth I once led grow up to be active members of my congregation.  I even have one of my “alumni” that now has a son involved in Youth Group.  The son spoke during the youTheology One Day event this Fall while the father is joining me in the youTheology Think Tank.

Encourage your youth to learn and grow their own faith so that it’s not dependent on the next big event or youth trip.  You want to make sure that their faith can make it through the hard times and not just the fun, exciting ones.  Of course, the same goes for you as a Youth Leader; you need to have a support system to help your faith endure through the hills and valleys of youth ministry.

What do YOU do to help your Youth Ministry endure?

by Mark Whitaker

Youth & Young Adult Director, Communications Coordinator, & Scouting Rep
Avondale United Methodist Church in Kansas City MO (North of the River)
Advisory Board for youTheology / Marketing Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Meaningful Connections

We like being connected. At a deeper level, we need to be connected. But is it as simple as having many friends and/or connections  and/or followers online? That may be a part of it, but always, we will need more. I guess that's why online groups and communities spring up; some open to anyone, some closed and only for a particular group. Having myriads of connections simply does not cut it.We want, make that we need more.

One of the things I say in Youth Ministry in a Technological Age is that "Substantial relationships are necessary to our being. . . . God has made us in such a way that we need God and each other. . .  we need to relate to each other in ways that are genuine and life-giving. Membership in a significant community is a necessary part of how we come to know ourselves and how we grow."

Many students come to our ministries seeking significant relationships, meaningful connections. How significant are the communities of our student ministries for faith development? What do you see?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor