The Key To Youth Ministry

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Youth ministers take an active interest in teenagers for who they are, and not for some other purpose, say, fixing their problem behaviors or getting them to church. The thing teenagers should get from church if not from any place else is an adult or two who is genuinely interested in them as a human being.

To the marketplace, teens are consumers. To their schools, teens are producers of test scores. To their sports teams, teens are players. To the church, teens are beloved Human Beings created in God’s image.

It seems to me that, beyond their families (if they’re lucky) nothing else in youths’ lives relates to them this way. Not even other youth. Where else do teenagers encounter a community that recognizes the image of God in them and makes a habit of pointing it out?

This is no specialized skill. In fact, the best way for churches to minister to youth in this way is to minister to adults this way. If church is a place where people give to one another the gift of an active interest in one anothers’ lives, youth will benefit along with the adults, and they’ll learn how to share that gift in the process.

(This is an ancillary benefit of Tapestry. Youth observe a community of youth ministers working with each other as collaborators, peers, and friends.)

What if the key to youth ministry in this era is nothing more than attention and genuine interest?

Monday Morning Quarterback

Stuff I learned on Sunday

The plea for help doesn’t wait until you’re not doing anything else before presenting itself. Christ’s call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked comes while we’re fighting a paper jam in the copier.

Our ability to show compassion can’t depend upon being mentally ready and free of distraction, because 1) when are we ever really free of distraction? And 2) the world’s needs aren’t on hold when we’re busy.

The hour before worship on Sunday morning is one of the most distracted and preoccupied for pastors, and yet that is precisely the hour when a congregant needs to tell you about their medical tests and a couple of strangers arrive to ask for gas money to get to the hospital. The sermon isn’t finished, the Sunday school presenter can’t figure out the dvd player, and yet high school youth are arriving the morning after learning that one of their classmates committed suicide.

The dvd player is much easier to fix than adolescent grief. The temptation is strong indeed to throw oneself into it.

But if we’re not ready to love our neighbor in these harried moments, then I don’t think we’ll be ready in the calm ones either.

Saturday Is For Sharing

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My favorite blog post of the week: Tim Hughes on Pastoral Identity: Costume or Calling (at Pomomusings.com)

Pastoral identity can be a great and mysterious calling, a flash of lighting and thunder on the Damascus Road. But sometimes being a pastor is no more complicated than showing up and marveling that God shows up too.

My favorite podcast of the week: “Why Is Mason Reece Crying? by Reply All

My favorite song this week: “Ohio,” by River City Extension

Stuff I made this week:

A podcast with Aric Clark:

a teaser video for this Sunday’s sermon:

A discussion guide for confirmation class about church membership:

The Layman’s Failure of Leadership

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From time to time, our opponents–those we disagree with, those, even, whom we think are perilously wrong about something we care deeply about–will be threatened and maligned. How we react then will speak volumes about our integrity and the character of our cause.

Will we celebrate their misfortune? Will we claim validation for our opposition? Or will we denounce the forces that threaten them and stand with them to express Christian unity?

I’ve lamented the Presbyterian Layman’s lack of journalistic integrity for ages, but this week the organization revealed the corrupted moral reasoning motivating its project in a way that shocked even me. After four PC(USA) churches in Missouri received letters that warned they could be “burned to the ground” in retaliation for the denomination’s recent decision to allow clergy to perform same-sex marriages, The Layman’s President, Carmen Fowler LaBerge, released a statement saying,

Neither the PCUSA’s abdication of the Bible nor the letter writer’s abdication of the principle of peace are in the Spirit of Christ. Both are a violation of the fellowship of Christian believers who are called to be the very Body of Christ in the world today. Neither the witness of the PCUSA in seeking to bless what God does not bless nor the letter writer’s threat of violence against the visible church make the gospel of Jesus visible or beautiful; and neither should be exalted as a legitimate witness of Christ to the world.

“Neither” . . . “both” . . . “neither” . . . “neither” . . .

It is a bankrupt moral equivalency to condemn threats against churches by placing them alongside ecclesiastical decisions that upset you for shared judgment. You should denounce violence. Period. Using another’s threats as a vehicle for expressing your own grievance against the threatened is a failure of leadership.

Let’s be a church that leads differently.

Being Right Is Not A Strategy

The person with the best description of the problem doesn’t win anything. The one who most completely understands who’s at fault hasn’t undone any damage. She with the highest standards of verifiable deniability is not really making a contribution.

What if we put as much energy into constructing solutions as we did into describing problems? What if the courage we’re deploying to oppose The System were dispatched to build a new system, based on connection and partnership and all the other things we value?

Giving a damn is a much better strategy than being right.

(hat tip to David Menefee-Libey)

I Couldn’t Wait

Delaying gratification is an important skill that correlates to lots of other positive outcomes. So don’t eat the marshmallow. Wait the 15 minutes, and you’ll get two. Plus, you’ll probably score higher on your SAT’s.

Does the imperative for delayed gratification apply to creative work? If we’ve made something and we’re ready to ship it, to share it with our friends, can we publish it early? Would a band ever release their new album a month early because their fans really want it and it’s finished anyway?

Why wait? If it’s done, ship it. Who cares if it’s early?

All this to say that my podcast for this week is a day early. I had a great conversation with Aric Clark, and I’m eager to share it. So I am. Because I can.

Check out all the podcasts here.

Sometimes A Cot Is Just A Cot

I spotted a cot outside my office’s sliding glass door yesterday, the one that opens onto a small fenced-in garden no bigger than 10 X 5 feet and with the statue of St. Francis in the middle. Someone’s been sleeping in there.

I saw it in the morning but didn’t say anything to anyone as I did my work. Whatever needed done about it could wait, I figured, until I’d knocked out the tasks most urgently needing done. There was nobody there now, anyway, so why make a fuss? But then I left in the middle of the day and forgot to say anything to anyone about it.

I was ambivalent. On the one hand, if somebody with no place to sleep at night has found sanctuary on the church grounds, I don’t want to wreck it. That seems inhospitable and the opposite of what Jesus might do.

On the other hand, there are other church staff to consider, and, more importantly, a preschool. You can’t really have people sleeping on the campus when teachers and parents are arriving at 6:00 in the morning all by themselves.

I grappled with it for awhile. I even texted some friends to ask what they would do. At the very least, I decided, I needed to tell my colleague about it, and so I texted her (on her day off): “There’s a sleeping cot outside our office doors.” She replied within minutes:

“I know. I saw Laura and Faith put it there yesterday.”

Laura is my daughter. Faith is her best friend.

Sigh.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Stuff I learned on Sunday

The informational meeting doesn’t work for me anymore. Send out an email a couple of weeks in advance inviting people to come hear about, say, the youth mission trip–how to sign up, where we’re going, what it costs–Sunday after worship, and nobody comes. Well, one person comes. And you share the information with three families before worship and two more after. Also, the email about the meeting had all the information in it.

As we get more prolific with our digital communication, are we losing something of the face-to-face assembly of people for sharing information? Emails and Facebook page and group announcements have all the information in them (or links to that information) that you’re going to hear at the meeting, so why come?

To be assured. To assess the leaders. To inquire: about sleeping arrangements, about provisions for allergies, about the color of the T-shirt. The great substance of the event is in things not on the flyer and not on the website, and you should come to ask about those things.

Also, you should come to connect with the other people who are going.

Are we at the point where leaders need to withhold information in digital form in order to coerce people into coming to the meeting? Probably not. No, surely not; more information=better, almost always.

Are we at a point, then, where leaders need to get better at these one-on-one conversations, the ones that are happening before and after the publicized meeting time? I think so. I’m planning a round of phone calls this week myself, to share all the information one more time with one person at a time.

Sunday Game Plan

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How we win the day

Phase 1: The Biblical Story

This just got organized on the plane back from a week in Chicago yesterday, so we’re harnessing our powers of improv a bit. Start with “The Handoff” down on the floor in front of the first pew, then ascend the chancel steps to tell “The Exam” from the chancel’s left. Move to the center of the chancel for “The Crowd’s Choice” and then down the steps on the right side to tell “Extraordinary Rendition” from the floor on the right side.

So many unique features to this story that demand thoughtful decisions on the part of the storyteller. Jesus’ “That’s what you say” to Pilate–what is that? Is it defiant? Is it submissive? Resigned? Likewise the shouting of the crowd. I prefer not to shout, but the story makes a big deal about the increasing volume of the crowd, so you kind of have to. Finally, how do you relate the torture of Jesus by the soldiers? Matter-of-factly? Slowly, drawing attention to every awful detail so as to maximize the visceral? Is the storyteller angry? Sad?

My colleague suggests getting real with these details, so I’m taking a cue there. Purple robe, crown of thorns, salutes, blows to the head with a stick, spit, mockery: they’ll all have their day.

Remember That Time When Someone Interrupted Diana Butler-Bass?

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I’ve written about Diana Butler-Bass on this blog a lot. So let me use this space to tell you about the time she was speaking at an event I helped organize and someone in the audience stood and shouted out in the middle of her presentation. Yeah, that happened.

“I’m sorry Diana!” she abruptly shouted from the balcony, and every muscle in my body tensed up. I knew something like this might happen here, on this second evening of our national conference, when, concurrently, Butler-Bass would be addressing a sanctuary of over 700 people and two presbyteries on the east coast would be casting potentially decisive votes to ratify 14-f, the amendment that will give PC(USA) clergy permission to perform same-gender marriages. We warned her beforehand that, should news of a decisive vote hit Twitter during her talk, there could be some disruption.

I knew it could happen, and still everything in me froze. It felt wrong and rude and like a derailing of something I’d worked on. I sighed a deep sigh as the interruption continued. “Amendment 14-F just passed. Everyone can marry!” Immediate applause. Almost as immediate standing ovation, an ovation that lasted well over a minute.

With each passing second of that ovation the tension I felt between decorum and consideration on the one hand and righteous celebration on the on the other hand relaxed and reclined into celebration. We firmly believe in creating space in the middle for people who don’t agree to feel heard and respected, and some feared that this celebration compromised that middle space. But I think the middle has moved on us, and trying to hold this space is like holding a hotel reservation long after the band has left town.

Diana was gracious. She welcomed the Presbyterians on behalf of the Episcopalian Church, which is years ahead of us in recognizing same-gender marriages. Then she incorporated the event into her presentation like it was planned all along.

I heard someone denounce the celebration as evidence that NEXT has made up its mind on this issue and is not truly neutral. But the NEXT church was always going to be about inclusion, inclusion as a practice and an ethos, though, and not simply an Issue. This gathering normalized inclusion in concrete ways; preachers told stories about transgender members and about their same-gender partners. And, of course, the entire assembly stood and cheered the achievement of marriage equality.

I don’t think that celebration compromises NEXT’s ability to be a space for people who disagree or who aren’t lauding 14-f’s passage. It seemed to me an authentic response that demonstrated the heart of the Church that will be NEXT.

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