Talking to Teenagers About Failure

Last week in youth group, we talked about dealing with failure. It’s a subject that I find that we Christians do not talk about directly enough (I looked through my notes, and I won’t admit here the last time I talked about it).

Here are few things that I have learned about teenagers and failure:
1. They think about it much more than I think they do. They apathy that we think they walk around with is part of the self-defense mechanisms in hopes of repelling adults from pointing out even more flaws and failures. (This is happens even if they are not consciously trying)
2. Teens are susceptible of allowing failure to shape their identity. Often they carry this into adulthood.
3. Youth ministry training needs to have more adolescent psychology because I know I am only scratching the surface here.

I chose the end of the year to discuss this topic for obvious reasons. Among them is that not everyone is going to finish the year the way they hoped. Final grades are coming to fruition, sophomores and juniors are getting their SAT scores and seniors are opening up acceptance and rejection letters. Oh and then there are all the normal pressures of high school life, prom season, family issues, etc.

It’s here that I hope that young people lean on their faith rather than see it as another source of potential stress.

We opened our time with some of my favorite quotes on the subject:
“Try is the first step to failure.” – Homer Simpson
“No matter how good you are at something, there’s always about a million people better than you.” – Homer Simpson
“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes” – Oscar Wilde
“Remember, no man is a failure who has friends” – Clarence Oddboddy from It’s a Wonderful Life
“Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again …” Proverbs 24:16

Sadly all of us from students to adults fail in a number of ways, morally, physically, spiritually, alone, and in community – it’s a part of life. I take comfort that many of the “success” stories in the Bible are born out of failure. To name a few, Abraham, Moses, Jacob (who’ve been talking about all year), David, Paul, and Peter. And that’s the best part for me.

I love that we serve a God that not only forgives us but also strengthens us to overcome the difficulties of life. I have many hopes regarding this idea, but as a youth pastor, my prayer is that young people don’t go through life alone (or leaning on only a few friends), but in community relying on the grace that only God can give.

How Youth Workers Can Avoid Camping-like Tendancies

Primary Audience – Fellow Youth Pastors/youth workers
Secondary Audience – Anyone Who Wants to Eavesdrop

You may have heard by now that Harold Camping has updated his doomsday to October 21st. There are a few things that this Camping hype was good for. One is the needed conversation about the return of Jesus. There is a lot of fear and bad theology out there and it was good to identify and hopefully offer something in the midst of the hoopla. So while there are numerous annoying aspects to these doomsday predictions, there are some excellent opportunities for conversations as well. The second benefit is all the great jokes we got to laugh at.

But that’s not the point of the post. As youth pastors, we all have the potential to take ourselves too seriously. We could spend another post just on that line. There are many reasons ranging why  from responding to the perceived disrespect to lack of self-awareness to our anticipated entitlement to the sincere attempt at addressing problems in the Church. Certainly these things are not limited to our profession but I have found that anytime one is competing for attention and attendance, these demons creep up.

Enter what we can learn from Harold Camping. Clearly, he took himself too seriously and obviously this is not a recent development for him. In a previous post I asked if he was delusional or deceitful (and I still think it’s a bit of both), but I think he is motivated by wanting to be remembered as a significant figure in the Church. He wants fame like Billy Graham (I mean the name of his ministry is a rip-off of Dobson right?) and I speculate some of this outlandish behavior is a cry for that. Clearly he is not self-aware and has no one in his life that can help with constructive criticism here.

Now, I don’t really know any youth workers who can compete with the scale of Camping’s hysteria but I have seen damage caused my unchecked egos, a lack of self-awareness and the hurt caused by desperate acts. Even at our seemingly most sincere moments, the desire to want to be remembered and regarded as important voices in the lives of our students can turn against ourselves and those we hope to serve if we are not Spirit-led.

Here are a few thoughts on what we can learn from Harold Camping.

1. We carry all of our unresolved issues throughout our lives. But worse, they mutate to uglier disorders that will cause more hurt as we age.
We must pray for strength to confront the issues in our lives, surround ourselves with godly people and be diligent in spiritual formation.

2. There is a tendency to misuse the Bible to forward our own agendas thereby polluting its message of salvation, redemption and hope.
We must read the Scriptures intelligently, faithfully, and humbly.

3. Even with sincere attitudes of wanting to see change, increase numbers and impact, all leaders/speakers have the potential of objectifying their audiences/listeners. When this happens, we have betrayed our calling and betrayed those we claim to be serving.        
We must remember the possible consequences to our words and actions and must be sure that our intentions are Christ-like and void of personal agenda.

4. It’s one thing to predict who your favorite sports team winning a championship and it’s another thing to guess the gender of a unborn baby but never publicly predict anything apocalyptic. Never. And should you be stupid enough to do it once, don’t do it again and again and again and …

5. Anyone got anything for number 5?

Talking to High Schoolers About “End of the World” Fear

Back when I was in Jr. High, the world was scheduled to end. It was 1988 and there was a popular book out called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988. It was written by Ima Krazeman but he went by the name Edgar C. Whisenant. For whatever reason, my dad drove me to school that unfateful day and I asked him if it was true that the world would end. He gave me that look like, “Are you an idiot?”, but because my father is loving, he changed his face and tone and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll see you at dinner.” Which turned out to be true so I regard my father as more qualified at predictions than Whisenant and Harold Camping.

There’s always an “End of the World” prediction lurking somewhere in pop-culture. Whether it be a Nostradamus prediction at the checkout line or a summer blockbuster movie or a guy on a New York street corner preaching that it’s time to “turn or burn”. There are also more sophisticated ways of communicating humanity’s demise – like the Discovery Channel’s many features or Y2K or Al Gore’s televangelism ministry. I mean speaking of Gore, besides not literally standing on a street corner and having nicer hair, I’m not really sure what the difference is between him and the “bullhorn guy”. His “scriptures” are the scientific research that he puts his faith in. In any case, it seems every 10 years or so, we have an end of the world prediction from a rich white guy.

For many of us, this is all non-sense and even after a few moments of letting our imagination run away, its relatively easy to dismiss. But I have found for young people like Sr. High students, that there is a good bit of fear created. If you ask some, they are inclined to tell you that a scenario like Jake Gyllenhaal’s “The Day After Tomorrow” is possible because of what we are doing to our planet. What I also found is that many of our Christian students (and Christian adults!) are afraid of the return of Jesus.

A quick pause here because I know some of you – I’m all for stewardship of our planet (in fact, I was just voted “Greenest Youth Pastor” at a recent local youth pastor gathering. The prize was a used napkin). But the scenarios in these doomsday movies don’t hold much merit for me. In a world where anything is possible, it seems the wiser thing is to trust in a God that cares for humanity and creation than to fear cosmic destruction from arbitrary means. But I digress.

It’s been my observation that the people who talk most about the end of the world and the rapture are generally older people. From my thirty-something perspective, it seems that they want to avoid the process of dying. It’s been my experience and continued observation that those who most resist the idea of the end of the world and the rapture are younger people. Among the reasons, they too would like to experience the joys of physical intimacy or to be blunt – sex. Mention this to a bunch of young Christian married couples who were raised in church and they will all tell you some version of the nightmare they had about Jesus ripping the roof off their sanctuary after the pastor declares them husband and wife. “Noooo, we read I Kissed Dating Goodbye and now were going to Punta Cana for our honeymoon, please Jesus, come back next week!”

Things like the “Left Behind” series that create this idea of being “rapture-ready”, sermons and youth group lessons that only focus on the “Christ coming to judge the world” and listening to someone say, “If you are paying attention to what’s going on in the Middle East then you know these are the end times. It’s predicted in Scripture as plain as day …” has created a theme of fear that has been picked up by our young people. In the hope of creating urgency to live faithful in anticipation of the return of Jesus and our fascination with the more sensational elements of Scripture has blinded us to the more beautiful aspects of Scripture.

As a youth pastor, I try to find the balance of these things. Frankly, I am enjoying this season of life and am grateful to God for many things. I understand that not all people feel this way. Theologically I also understand that being in the presence of God will be the greatest experience beyond our imagination. When asked ‘What will heaven be like?’ I try to explain that if you have never wanted a moment to end, that’s a foretaste of something even more beautiful than that. In a good season or a tough one, this seems to be a helpful way of understanding the hope of the afterlife in the presence of God.

And then we turn to how the New Testament describes the return of Jesus. Often, it is described as a wedding and the church is described as the bride, and Jesus is the groom. I find that very fitting and mildly surprising. A lot of different types of imagery could have been used but Paul, John and the author of Hebrews use the metaphor of a wedding. Feel free to check out passages like Ephesians 5:23-40, Hebrews 12:22-23, John 3:28-3 and Revelation 19:6-8, 21:1-2, 9-11.

Every bride anticipates her wedding day and this is how the Church should anticipate the return of Jesus and our students responded well to that. Now this whole post is contextualized to the believer of Jesus. I have no answer for those outside the Christian faith. I think it’s extremely important that Christians not use the return of Jesus as an “evacuation route” and evangelize with tactics of fear and hype but rather to see Jesus’ return as a loving, hopeful, beautiful thing – describing it like the greatest of all weddings.

Can a Youth Ministry Be Missional When We …

… irregularly participate in local service projects, not be Jesus out in the world and neglect our spiritual formation. Can we be missional and donate inconsistently to clean water projects and anti-trafficking campaigns? Are we missional because we want to do these things, talk about them frequently, and hope that we one day will be more consistent? These are questions I regularly ask myself but not because I’m mad/disappointed at our students/church/myself but with the hopes of being faithful with the calling and opportunities the Lord has placed before us.

Here’s our context. We are an evangelical, suburban church 20 miles outside of NYC. We haven’t gone bowling in years, never have seen a Mercy Me concert, and if you ask them who Josh McDowell is, they’ll likely tell you that he was a inconsistent attender who graduated the other year. There’s so much I love about our ministry: We have committed volunteer leaders (some have been serving for more than 10 years), some awesome students (I mean that), and a church leadership/congregation that highlights student ministry regularly. We have amazing movie themed retreats, youth group gatherings that tackle tough issues, go on life-changing mission trips, lead music on Sunday mornings, and have gone the second mile, individually and collectively on numerous occasions.

Among many things, we have students run their Invisible Children Schools for Schools campaigns at their public schools. They’ve hosted screenings, walk-a-thons, benefit concerts, and have sold shirts they’ve designed. It seems everyone has a story of being thought of “weird” or “crazy” for being a Christian by friends in their schools. I’ve heard their regrettable confessions and have witnessed many moments of them being “salt and light” in needed and dark places.

So obviously, I’m proud of our students, grateful for the ministry but still wonder are we being faithful to the mission God has called us to and secondly, can we attach the adjective “missional” to our name?

Here’s what I know – our students and families are busy. Everyone is. It’s unfair to label us as self-absorbed, undisciplined, forgetful (although which one of us doesn’t suffer from any of these?) but guilty more regularly than we wish to admit. And we are discontent and are constantly at war with this reality.

I look at my own life and wonder things like “Am I missional enough?”, “Am I serving efficiently and effectively enough?”, “Am I Christian enough?”. These are often very humbling moments for me and from numerous conversations, I am grateful that our students, leaders, and congregants wrestle with the same questions. I suspect that numerous other youth pastors, senior pastors, and all who serve the Kingdom vocationally or not wrestle with this too.

I know a few more things – we care and want to care more. We try and wish we could do more, we fail and beat ourselves up and then pick ourselves up and plan new things. We’re overwhelmed at times, disappointed with ourselves and are self-aware enough to know that we drop the ball from time to time. But we don’t wallow in our missed opportunities but ask the Lord for strength to be faithful in the next one.

I am not sure if we are missional, I don’t know if we are not. I know I have wanted us to be growing followers of Jesus serving in the Kingdom and I know we collectively want this. As a youth pastor, as an individual, I submit this question to the Lord Himself. He will judge us, He will forgive us, He will empower us. This is perhaps my favorite aspect of the time the Lord gives us in this world. We don’t know the number of our days, there’s next week, next month, and tomorrow and in the meantime, may we pick up our crosses and follow the One who has asked us to be, serve, love in the name and way of Jesus. May He find us faithful.

A Youth Pastor Watches His First Season of The Jersey Shore Part 4 – We Watch Because We Are Bored

Yesterday’s post focused on the idea that if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, then the Jersey Shore life is a good option because in the words of the Apostle Paul himself we might as well, “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Today, I want to start with the simple question, “Why do we actually watch?”

Now, a few things to be clear. I am not calling for any type of a boycott of the Jersey Shore shore. If it fulfills your need of entertainment, great. And as the second post already mentioned, I do think it’s important that we take inventory of the messages we receive in our media, but I am not suggesting that the JS is the worst thing on tv  (but let’s agree that it’s not good quality television).  Today, I want to make the point that we will always have a Jersey Shore type of phenomena, Brittany, a Mel Gibson or Charlie Sheen, or some type of other pop-culture hype, controversy, or outrage. It’s not just money, it’s because as a society, we are bored.

The reason we are bored is because we struggle to find identity, meaning or purpose. As a result we pinball our way through the rat race of life. We bounce off of events into tragedies into triumphs into droughts of mundaneness that are interrupted by moments of transcendence. We search for hope, truth, and goodness and when they elude us, we look to escape the pain and emptiness by finding ways to escape.

And that’s what things like the Jersey Shore really are. I doubt most people actually want to be like one of them. People may envy their fame, money and newly acquired lifestyles but I doubt strongly that are a lot of guys out there who really want to be Mike “the Situation” or Snooki. This does not mean that they are terrible people but most people watch the show to be entertained by the mess or as others have put it, “to watch the trainwreck“.

No one wants to watch a show where people are reading, playing with their children and where their spouse is grateful when the dishes are done -even 80’s sitcoms were more entertaining.  Sadly, people want to see a girl barely 5 feet tall get punched in the face in a bar in Seaside.   But as the cruelties of life will show us, one day we’ll be laying on the dirty floor realizing that we are wasting our days with such meaningless things.

The resurrection of Jesus offers the abundant life, now and forever with the Lord. A life that desires to serve the world, the community, the home. A life that offers meaning instead of escape, hope in the face of evil, purpose in the vast emptiness, and salvation from death itself. And the good news is that it’s for every cast member, every tough guy, every sweetheart, everyone. May we continue to discover and enjoy the life that Jesus offers.

A Youth Pastor Watches His First Season of The Jersey Shore Part 2

So what does a youth pastor do when he’s recently graduated seminary in a post-Lost world while waiting for baseball season to start? Answer – he watches the Jersey Shore.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, if the Jersey Shore is simply mindless entertainment – no harm, no foul – we all like weird stuff. But what I can’t get over is how the Jersey Shore has permeated our culture. And not just our culture – one of our college students who graduated from our youth group is studying nursing in Finland and says that it airs there! In Finland! They haven’t yet forgiven us for sending them Baywatch and for refusal to buy Nokia phones – this is just rubbing it in.

Anyway, the Jersey Shore is a part of culture and I find this disturbing because certain messages leak through and as a youth pastor (and not to mention, a young father, a fellow motorist, and a member of society and so forth), I am a little concerned. Now the last thing I want is for this blog to be among the many “watch dog” sites that announces “Jersey Shore is ruining our kids!”. It’s not really (at least not in that sense). When compared to the pressures facing high school students today, apathetic parents, etc. watching the Jersey Shore is not a central issue. So please keep this post in perspective and I’ll try to do that too.

For me, the Jersey Shore represents the life that says, “i’ll do whatever the &*$#I want to do”. I think that’s the basic summary of the show – right? Where to begin? The drinking, the partying, the objectification of self and others, the casual sex, the vanity, the spitefulness, the lack of self-control and the sense of entitlement leads are constant themes of the show. Now I know it’s a reality tv show and the goal is to be as entertaining as possible but unintended or not, the show still gives a message.

I think most young minds watching Jersey Shore have some of these thoughts enter in:
1. I am definitely not as messed up as these people so I must be doing something right. I mean if Snookie can get arrested and her career grow (not to mention her general behavior), I’m sure I can make it too.
2. Image is almost everything. The other part is getting your image out there.
3. Sex is my right.
4. If you even try to hurt me, you deserve my full wrath.
5. All that matters is that I have fun, do my thing and be happy.

Of course, I could write a sermon about each of these messages but I’ll spare you from that today except to say, the show is extremely antithetical to the message of Jesus.

Now remember, I don’t think these people are real but rather they are playing extreme parodies of themselves. Whether it’s all scripted, semi-scripted or not, these are the message as I see them. The producers are concerned with creating revenue and the more Snookie and Mike the Situation become cultural icons (a word that means so many different things to so many different people), money will continue to flow – it’s that pragmatic.

Any messages I am missing? Feel free to add or push back. Also, anyone find anything redeeming about the show?

Tomorrow’s post is the about the one thing that Jersey Shore does better than anybody. Hope you stop by.

A Youth Pastor Watches His First Season of The Jersey Shore Part 1

In some ways, seminary puts you in a time-warp. It’s hard to keep with everything and since finishing last year, I’ve been trying to catch up on some of my pop-culture. I remember where I was when I heard someone say, “Jersey Shore is awesome!” (I was driving the church van). Having seen bits and pieces of the first season and consequently changing the channel, I had thought that everyone knew it was lame but were watching more out of a “guilty pleasure”. In the parts that I saw, I caught the egotism of “The Situation”, heard Snooki’s voice and saw how they danced – I really assumed that everyone was laughing at them. Again, I could not believe that some thought they were cool so this season, I decided to see what I was missing.

I watched every show of this third season, including this past week’s reunion show. It was all pretty regrettable with bits of entertainment. Now, I sleep at night believing these people are not real, but rather, characters based on caricatures they created out of their personalities. I am often told that I am wrong about this but this is how I see it.

I am not sure anything could have prepared me for just how egotistical “The Situation” really was (and what a terrible friend). I could not believe how much respect Snooki actually got (She’s on the cover of Rolling Stone!!). Her friend, Deena is unstable to put it mildly. JWoww seems to be the most “normal” but I lament the way she objectifies herself. Vinny has the personality of a mannequin and I am not even sure what to say about Ronnie and Sammie. Someone said they reminded them of the high school couple that would break up and get back together. I’d like to apologize to every high school couple that was included in that comparison but let it be a warning, this is what people think you look like :). Had I known to eat a cannoli every time one of them said “I’m *&$%#@ done with this!!!”, I’d be bigger than Vinnie Pastore (Sal on the Sopranos). No wonder people are always trying to beat them up when they go out – they’ve watched the show and it’s terrible! About halfway through, I found the show funny. But not funny because of their humor (although if you can get past the hair and the fact that he’s 30, Pauly D is funny and I liked his fake voicemail prank – that was the highlight of the season), but funny that this has become such a popular feature of pop-culture. I can’t get over it and I’m obviously curious.

I also thought that by watching the show, it would create some conversation with some of my students (I already knew many could not have cared less but I have quite a few that genuinely enjoy it). What it really did was create a reference point counterbalancing the Christ-centered self-sacrificial humility with than exaggerated super-ego creating drama for the sake of self-fulfillment (more on this part later).

Now for those watching because it satisfies a need for entertainment in the way that movies and sports do for me – hey, to each his own. But the problem for me is that in everything we “consume”, there is a trade-off, in many cases, a worldview that we are being exposed to and my goal is to attempt to interact with some of these ideas in future posts.

One of my hopes is that the all the cast members are really brilliant at making themselves look “this way” (interpret that however you like). And the only reason I say that is in the beginning, they all pull up in BMW’s, Benz’s and a Lincoln. In the last scene they all leave in their great cars reminding the viewer that you, the viewer, is the real loser. Not because you don’t have a car like this, (hey you might), but because the viewers created the audience that created the revenue that allowed for this dysfunction that created a series of paychecks. In some way, we created this and I truly hope that these people are self-aware enough to capitalize on society’s voyeurism; not because money is the ultimate reward, but because it would demonstrate some self-awareness. Please tell me that these people don’t “really” exist. Again, I know many of my friends think I am very wrong about this.

Got a bit more to say but feel free to comment – are these people real? is this show any good?

Thoughts on Last Weekend’s YSPalooza

Two weekends ago, I took our youth leaders to YSPalooza in Philadelphia and we really liked it. So for those of you in the Dallas, TX area (and for those of thinking of 2012 already), I wanted to suggest you go too. This is ideal for youth min teams who are in somewhat normal churches. What I mean is that I have a fantastic volunteer leader team, a limited budget, and in a traditional/blended church model with a facility that does not draw in outside students (although we have a cool youth room). So, attending the National Youth Workers Conference in Nashville as a team is not going to happen for us – YSPalooza is a terrific solution.

The Challenges For Us
Even with the cost being affordable ($100 bucks now, but early bird group  was $79), to bring 10 people and find hotels still takes a bite out of the budget.
Without exception, all of our volunteers work real jobs for a living. So the 1pm Friday start time was a challenge.

Our Solutions
We started talking about this possibility back in the Fall when it was announced (thanks YS for the heads up – we needed it). Even so, for some it still came down to a last minute decision.
Though our leaders are extremely busy (which isn’t conducive to the most time and energy draining ministry of the church), our leaders are committed to this and they sacrificed the time for it.
We are taking a bite out of the budget that is reduced each year because we believe in leader training. (And if the trustees have a problem with that, they can host the next Jr. High Lock-In at their house :) By the way, an All Night Lock-In Tour at trustee houses would be a great idea).
For the leaders whose jobs made it impossible for them to miss Friday, they left at 5am Saturday morning to meet up with us for the first Saturday am session. (I told you, they were dedicated, well except for one because well you know, there’s always one :)

What I Liked:
For years, I have been a fan of YS but with the owner transitions going on the past couple years, I admit, there was a hesitation on having too high of expectations. So the first thing I want to say about the YSPalooza was that it seemed to be very YS.

The second thing I liked was the same schedule, same seminars, and same workshops for everyone. No options, no extra stuff, no one running around looking for room 303 and wondering which seminar to attend.  This format for this type of event significantly helped our conversations.

I liked that it was pretty stripped down in terms of set and signage. The bands played through the house speakers (though it was a bit loud and I found the color lights distracting but I’m not used to worshipping that way but again, it looked like it was all part of the church).

Duffy Robbins and Jim Burns still got it.

I really liked the schedule and the way it all flowed. Liked that it all ended before dinner on Saturday too. I know that it will never be perfect but I think this format works quite well.

Though not a tremendous amount, I liked the racial diversity that I saw. Also liked that Harvey Carey was a speaker there (though I think he was a bit too hard on white people. But it was funny and I can laugh because I am an Egyptian serving in a predominantly North European church).

I liked the free coffee/tea, water, soda, snacks, and professional, non-shady, body massages in between sessions.

Appreciated Mike Harder’s and Branchcreek’s hospitality. They also opened up their renovated barn that is their youth space and gave tours – it’s pretty awesome.

Wasn’t Crazy About:
I think I’m Starfielded Out. Great bunch of guys, great hearts, great music, for YS regulars though, it may be time for a change. We really liked Audrey Assad though.
The commercials for some of the sponsors were umm, well, uhh, well, they weren’t great. I did like (UthStuph’s idea of providing a meal for every shirt you buy though).

Dear Harleysville and Hatfield, PA,  You need restaurants and roads.

What I Loved
I especially loved the Learning Labs. Mark Matlock’s message on our generational trends and differences was fantastic Youth ministry needs some good doses of sociology.
Tic’s thoughts on the “10 Essential Values for a Thriving YM” was excellent, especially for newbies (and veterans who need a reminder :-)
Kara Powell’s “Sticky Faith” was great to listen to, she is an incredible presenter and the content was great.
Marv Penner’s “Helping Hurting Kids” was saddening, eye opening, and energizing. (although I always feel they should rename that to “Helping Kids Who Are Hurting”. If you didn’t know any better, it sounds like it’s a seminar on how to hurt kids further but besides that, the words and stories are powerful).

So much could be said about each presentation, they really did a great job.

I also really loved the moments of personal reflection and group discussions following many of the sessions and workshops. Some of the weekend’s best thoughts and conversations happened right there.

Again, our church is blessed with great youth leaders and as we have been going through our church-wide vision process, we have been emphasizing the need to equip our volunteers. Further, there is just something powerful and validating when a speaker echoes something that you have said to your leaders. When Mark mentioned “moral theistic deism”, one leader looked at me and thought, “Hey, I heard that before.” Another looked at me and thought, “We are so blessed to have Tim as our youth pastor” and then the other thought, “He may be an idiot, but at least he’s saying the right things sometimes.” Satisfied, I stopped reading their minds and tuned back in.

It will be interesting to see what they do next year but it’s definitely on our radar. If you can get to Dallas, the next one is this weekend. Here’s the link that has registration, schedule, and line-up and check out Tic’s message.

Come see the new Invisible Children movie Tony next Wednesday

Our youth group has been involved in Invisible Children for the past few years. In addition to hosting screenings at our church, in their schools, creating School for Schools campaigns, this tragic issue of trafficked and abducted children forced to become child soldiers has been on our hearts.

Next Wednesday (March 16th, 7:30p), we are hosting the new Invisible Children film, Tony at our church (141 W Grand Ave. Montvale, NJ). If you have never seen an IC film, consider coming, they are well-made documentaries that have an incredible soul to them.

The event is free and there will be tshirts and dvds for sale to help support the cause. Hope you can make it and hope you bring a friend.

You can learn more on their website –


Reflecting on My Experience Leading an Adult Sunday School on the Faith of Teenagers

Primary Audience – Youth workers and those interested in youth ministry.

Last month I had the privilege of leading an adult Sunday School class that I entitled, “The Faith of the American Teenager”. I’m grateful to say this four week class for parents went pretty well. I have always known that a youth pastor my age cannot teach a class on parenting but I was hoping that I would be credible in sharing on the faith of a teenager. Relying on the research from the National Youth and Religion conducted by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton was the key for me. From the research, Smith and Denton released a book called Soul Searching, and from that book, there is Kenda Creasy Dean’s contribution called, Almost Christian. It was Kenda’s book that I had based much of the Sunday School content on.

Here’s what I learned:

Being in youth ministry for a few years truly helps in providing enough anecdotes to make a class like this a bit more personal. When the research says, “The average teen sees God as a cosmic butler”, you probably have a few stories helping to unpackage that. As the class went on, I found that I needed more stories than I realized to help communicate the findings of the research.

Don’t make the class a commercial for youth ministry. If you understand the research by Smith and Denton, you’ll know you can’t because parents are the key to a student’s spiritual formation; the youth ministry is to serve as a support to the home. Namely in nurturing a Christ-centered teen community that equips, challenges and inspires the Christian faith.

Allow people to see your passion and your thoughtfulness concerning the faith of their children and the youth ministry you are called to serve in.  As we all know there are a lot of stereotypes concerning the youth pastor position, allowing parents to see you “in action”, helps them understand a little more about you and your ministry.

Presenting research in this type of a setting allows for questions, push-back, discussion that you as the youth pastor do not need to defend or take personally. I truly felt like an ally to our church families.

The use of disclaimers is helpful in talking about other people’s children. Research and commentary tells a big-picture story. Just about every week, I offered the reminder that not all of this is necessarily true of their own child. In fact, for many of our families, they represented the highly committed statistics (evidenced by them being at the Sunday School class).

Allow for discussion. There are so many different types of people/parents. Some can lead a company and not a home – some can do both and then some. Allow for their voices to be heard. Our last Sunday, we broke up into discussion groups and allowed the parents to respond to the 11 Findings of the Research (found in the appendix of Almost Christian)

I was encouraged by the positive feedback. But I admit, I was a bit surprised that quite a few of our students had a lot of good things to say about the parents taking the class. Some felt very validated that they were the subject and others shared stories of resulting conversations with their parents. They convinced me to present a condensed version of what I shared with their parents. I’m interested in seeing how they respond to what was shared on their behalf but I believe most will find it very helpful.

The need to do this more often, maybe quarterly? I drafted a few ideas like “Teens and Social Media”, “Teens Dealing with Stress” and “Teens and Love”. Feel free to chime in if you have thoughts for other needed discussions.