Paying For Youth Ministry

The parents of the students I work with are asked to contribute to the cost of the church’s ministry with their teenagers multiple times during the year, and I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t a better way.

Like most churches, ours conducts a stewardship drive in the fall to raise pledges toward next year’s operating budget. Youth ministry staffing and youth ministry program expenditures are in that budget.

Then we conduct fundraisers toward the costs of mission trips. The entire congregation is invited to participate in this, of course, but the backbone of involvement is the families of students. What parents give at a pancake breakfast or bake sale is in addition to the “suggested contribution” toward the trip’s costs we’ve already asked them to give.

We also suggest a parent contribution toward the cost of retreats.

There is money in the operating budget for mission trips and retreats. Parents support that operating budget with their pledges and offerings. But then we also ask them to contribute toward those events’ per-person costs and to kick in for fundraisers.

The dominant feeling I have about this is gratitude for the faithfulness and generosity of church folk when it comes to supporting ministry with teenagers. Many, many of those givers are not themselves parents of students, and the ones who are know full well they are supporting more than just their own kids. I think that’s marvelous.

But I’m also curious if it’s the norm, this multiplication of asks from parents. Does your youth ministry do this, too? Do you plan on parent contributions toward things like mission trips and retreats?



I put the registration link on the website three months before the event. I sent that link out on a flyer, and then I included it in the weekly e-newsletter a half a dozen times. It was plastered across the mailing we mailed a month out. And yet the week prior multiple people say they’re not coming because they don’t know what it is.

Note: they know THAT it is. They don’t know WHAT it is.

Information is not the same thing as interpretation.

A few descriptors, a couple of concrete details about the process–it doesn’t take much more than this to create a sense of expectation, which we really should do, because, absent ours, people provide their own, and that one’s not very good (a student asked me if he was required to wear a suit to the church retreat).

Retreat. Lock-in. Mission Trip. Youth Group. Worship. You know what these things are, and so do the students who are already there. Unless you can show what they are to  people who aren’t already there, though, those people will keep finding reasons to stay away.

They have a bunch already.


So much feels like provocation.

The slammed door.

The mutter.


When I answer provocation, I am most of the time playing to a crowd I can’t see. They’re watching, I know, arms folded, eyebrows raised: “Are you going to stand for that?”

“Yes” is an option, though it almost never feels like one.

Provocation wants to move you. You still get to choose when and how you move, though.


The spider webs at the camp where we held our Confirmation retreat were something to behold. At night you saw them stretched from the tops of outdoor lights to the pillars on which the lights were mounted, two, three, even four of them, inches away from each other, and each one occupied by a massive host. The gnats drawn to the light kept the webs twittering constantly.

They were fascinating. Though there was a time when such a sight would have repulsed me and filled me with terror. You grow out of that, maybe.

What else can I grow out of?

I Only Added The Killers And Phoebe Bridgers To My Library Today

The Killers haven’t released an album since 2012, but they haven’t released a Killers album since Hot Fuss, the 2004 debut that nearly everyone loves. I can’t say if Wonderful Wonderful reaches those heights (reviews so far are tepid), but I do love that there’s a song on there about the Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas fight.

The only other new release that catches my attention this week is Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps. I’ve not heard her sing a solitary note before today, but Album of The Year says she’s on Dead Oceans, the same label behind Destroyer, The Tallest Man on Earth, and Japanese Breakfast, all artists who make rich, atmospheric, poetic music. It only took listening to the first two songs on the album to click “Add To Library.”

Happy Friday!

Maybe When The Church Backs Down Teenagers Step Up

The students I work with, like the students you work with, are committed to many valuable things. In addition to their families and their schoolwork, they have dance rehearsal, lacrosse practice, and, of course, church. They also are devoted friends to their peers.

Church is not the most elevated activity in their lives. It’s not even the most important extra-family, extra-curricular activity.  I’ve made my peace with that. First I stopped insisting that church should trump soccer and band out loud, and then I stopped complaining that it didn’t to my colleagues and thinking that it should to myself. I started to say that church should be the thing that backs down.

So now when parents ask me, “How important is the Confirmation retreat?” because Arthur has Friday night football, my answer is that it’s important for sure. But it’s not required. How could it be required? What will the church take away if Arthur doesn’t come? Football will bench him for skipping. Church won’t.

So Arthur comes on Saturday morning, driven three pre-dawn hours by his dad. He joins 17 of his peers there. That’s only about half the Confirmation class, but nonetheless it’s 18 8th graders, many completely unknown to one another, voluntarily sequestering themselves at a church camp for an entire September weekend. That feels pretty huge.

Maybe when the church backs down teenagers step up.

Anxiety Is The Enemy of Collaboration

I have a retreat to lead this weekend. My monthly and daily logs are jammed with tasks related to it: order the supplies; plan the games; design the lessons; collect all the consent forms.

I have five leaders coming on this retreat.


It’s an embarrassment of riches. And yet it took me until yesterday to give any of them anything meaningful to do. How does that happen?

Anxiety is the enemy of collaboration. When I’m worried about getting something done well, about not failing at it, I bury my head in tasks and barely stop to account for the team I’m working with. It’s no good.

Hopefully five days before the retreat is not too little time for my team to feel involved and prepared.

Why I Don’t Have Much of A Blog Post Today

Some mornings I get up and write a blog post before I do anything else.

This morning I wrote emails.

The emails took more thought and care than most of my blog posts do, so I’m pushing down the disappointment about not writing a very good post today.

Writing is writing.

I’ve Been Getting Something Wrong About Confirmation

The subject of the verb “confirm” in my church’s description of Confirmation is “the church.” The object is “them,” “those baptized as children.” Following the object is this prepositional phrase: “in their baptismal identity.”

“. . . the church shall confirm them in their baptismal identity.”

Two things about this.

  1. Almost every Confirmation class I have led has included youth who were not baptized as children. We have adapted the process to welcome a broader range of students, recognizing that the present intention of a student matters just as much as the past intention of their parents.
  2. Nearly every Confirmation class I have ever led has also included youth who choose not to “make public their personal profession of faith and their acceptance of responsibility in the life of the church.” And yet, though they are not received by the session as active members, they are still presented to the congregation during a service of public worship and confirmed in their baptismal identity. Their identity as beloved children of God does not hinge upon their profession of faith.

I’ve made of habit of telling Confirmation youth and parents that “getting confirmed” is not really something you do in a Presbyterian church. You make a profession of faith. I see now where that has been wrong. Some students make professions of faith. All of them get confirmed.


Friday New Release Focus: Emily Haines And Deer Tick

Emily Haines of Metric has a new solo project out today, the same day that Americana band Deer Tick releases a two volume project. These are the two releases I’m excited about this week.

The summer I moved to California, 2007, I spent a lot of time learning the freeways and listening to Grow Up And Blow Away, the Metric album beloved of indie music fans for its dramatic history–recorded in 2001, its release was delayed by the band’s label until a different label bought the rights and released with only minor revisions. I learned the Inland Empire to that album. Here’s my favorite song from it:

Here’s a track from Haines’ album out today, called Choir of The Mind. It’s released by Last Gang Records, the same label that released Grow Up . . . in 2007 (and, incidentally, the label for a bunch of stellar north-of-the-border acts, like Stars and AC Newman).

“Planets” doesn’t blow me away, but Choir of The Mind goes in the library on the strength of Metric’s resume.

Born on Flag Day is a Deer Tick album released in 2009 that was my introduction to that Americana band. I loved it, and my love has everything to do with John McCauley’s scratchy vocals. Everything. Deer Tick had me at “Easy,” the first track on Born . . . 

I am a little suspicious of the “Vol.1, Vol. 2” convention they’re employing with what they’re putting out today. But I can’t argue with “Card House,” one of the songs they released from the project last month.

Any new music releases you’re excited about today?