Youth Group Gathering Recipe Box

I want to get really good at leading gatherings with youth, and I want you to help me. So I’m sharing the recipe for a gathering I and three very talented volunteers led for 6th and 7th graders yesterday in the hopes that you’ll look it over and comment.

Also, feel free to use it.

A note about structure. As I’ve written in this space, I’m a big fan of Stanley Pollack’s Moving Beyond Icebreakers and so I structure youth gatherings with name and warmup exercises, springboard activities, clearly defined work, summation, and evaluation. I’m open to comment about that structure, which comes entirely from Pollack.

A note about content. If “great artists steal,” then youth workers are world-class thieves. Some of the activities in this agenda are taken from a Spice Rack lesson on Psalm 23, which you can buy here. Other pieces are applied from Pollack’s work, and still others are original to me.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Note: Monday Morning Quarterback is a weekly post reviewing Sunday, the busiest, most stressful, most gratifying day in the week of a pastor/parent/spouse/citizen.

Song of the day:

6:00. Awake to alarm. Wonder why it’s ringing on a Saturday. Silly alarm. Snooze.

6:30. Arise, unnerved by the mysterious acceleration of time.

6:52. Sit down to continue outlining the all-church retreat I’m leading next weekend. Subject: The Trinity. What could be weird about that?

7:24. Contentedly chewing Grape Nuts. Or, rather, the Ezekiel 4:9 brand equivalent, while flipping through Michael Pollan’s Food RulesAllow myself a moment’s congratulations for breakfast.

7:54. New shoes on. Ready to tackle the world.

8:12. Out the door, bag stuffed with Trinity books that have been strewn around the condo over the weekend.

8:13. Listening to some sort of God-denying anthem en route to church (see Song of the day). Smirking at my defiance (of the anthem, not church).

8:43. Standing in the sanctuary with Head of Staff and Children’s Director, gazing up at the chancel cross, now studded on each side with shelves, massaging the finer points of a lenten art project that will see those shelves hung with handmade crosses of clay. Or foam core. Or plywood. Painted. Or colored. Or glued. I’m useless in these discussions.

9:05. Cajole an adult ed. forum attendee into the room. He’s standing outside, looking longingly toward the parking lot for promised coffee. A puppy at the window.

9:06. Introduce Jane Dempsey Douglass to the adult ed. forum. Stammering, telling dumb jokes. Facepalm.

9:13. Deliver coffee to adult ed. forum attendee, to no applause.

9:22. Poke my head into junior high Sunday school to recruit an acolyte. He’s hesitant. “Uhhhh, do you need me to?” Consider that the coercion of a pastor is the worst of all motivations for Christian service. Consider also the spectacle of unlit chancel candles. “Yes. I absolutely need you to.”

9:41. Sitting in now with the high school Sunday school class. At my suggestion, they’re doing the Youth Ministry Architects “Spice Rack” lesson called, “Bonehead Bible.” Its best feature is a pneumonic for remembering the major narrative blocks of the Bible: “P’Pej K. Dersgee.” We’re writing our own pneumonics for those letters now. Pretty Porcupines Engineer Jelly Kites Down Every Road Since Getting Extremely Envious. Boo ya!


10:15. Wife escorts four year-old up front for Time with The Children. Four year-old’s got a doll tied around her in a sling. Wife’s not feeling well. As kids scramble up the chancel steps, husband and wife rearrange their schedule for the rest of the morning: she’s going home. He’s bringing daughter home after post-church meeting but prior to post-post-church training. How easy was that?

10:17. The chancel is full of children. It’s lovely. That is all.

10:22. As children file out the sanctuary door for their programs, The Choir Director whispers congratulations into my ear about the four year-old’s doll sling. Take all the credit.

10:26. Reading Luke 4 (the temptation of Jesus by the Devil in the desert), resisting the temptation to replace every instance of “The Devil” with “Elmer Fudd” and “Jesus” with “That Wascally Wabbit.”

10:47. During Head of Staff’s sermon, cross my legs to show off my new shoes to the congregation. Uncross them after four seconds. Did you see them?

11:26. Leading my first meeting of the Adult Education Committee. A woman I’ve invited to join us is the daughter-in-law of the late Chair of several years. Only just now realizing that, as she’s congratulated warmly by the rest of the committee.

12:11. Collect four year-old from nursery, where the Director has graciously stayed over for the meeting. Not only that, but she’s given the children cupcakes wrapped in cellophane. Four year-old spends the walk to the car negotiating the precise terms under which she will be allowed to eat her cupcake. “After lunch,” I say. “After all of lunch, or after half of lunch? And can I have a piece of candy before lunch, since I can’t have the cupcake til after?”

12:33. Sit down with four year-old’s lunch: leftover deli sandwich from the day before. She wants PB&J instead. Get up from my lunch to make her PB&J. Sit down again. Now she wants water. Get up from my lunch to get her water. Each time I rise from the table to meet one of her requests, she flees the kitchen for her bedroom and must be recalled again.

12:51. Eat the leftover deli sandwich.

12:53. Leaving for afternoon training. Wife asks, “So you’ll be gone until . . . late tonight, right?” Yes. “Good luck with that.”

1:33. Sitting in a “Listening” training, texting youth group members and volunteers about evening programs.

1:42. Practicing a one-on-one conversation with another trainee, a college junior. He’s describing his six month job at McDonald’s, causing me to recall my one week job at Taco Bell. Clearly, he’s a better youth than I was.

2:43. Conversation with a trainee who reads Monday Morning Quarterback. She says she laughs out loud in her office when she reads it. Wondering if I could prompt her to laugh on cue. Say . . . NOW?!

3:12. Making jokes with the person next to me about the “three sheets” we’ve just been handed. I’m so tired.

5:12. Training ends in time for me to join the last half of junior high youth group, being led expertly by my three adult volunteers. I only sit in the back of the room with my feet propped up on a couch, fist pumping the air at student comments.

5:43. Prompted by the Stations of The Cross curriculum we’re using, a student relates the death of her Black Labrador with emotion and restraint. The room falls silent.

6:02. Team Youth Pastor loses game of Pictionary when Team Adult Volunteer successfully guesses “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.” Between you and me, that drawing featured a giant “W,” which makes it bogus. But I ain’t bitter. Team Adult Volunteer dances in celebration, showering cheese puffs like confetti.

6:07. Disgruntled youth vacuuming up cheese puffs.

6:34. Using the hour between youth groups to introduce Intern to “The Harlem Shake.” The mantle of leadership is heavy indeed.

7:08. Adult Volunteer arrives for high school youth group carrying a box of Speculoos cookies from Trader Joe’s. Fall to my knees and weep sugary tears of cookie joy.

7:10. Confused by the celebration, Youth Choir Director tastes a Speculoos. “It’s a graham cracker.” Vision turns red. Hands begin to shake. Blackout.

7:38. Using new Soul Pancake book for discussion starter (hat tip to Adam Walker Cleveland for this): “What would you try if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Student answers, “Engineering.” Me: “You’re going to do that, right?” Student: “No, I’m not good at math.” Me: “Bologne.”

8:12. Adult Volunteer now teeing up conversation from Theoblogy series, “Questions That Haunt Christianity.” Soliciting “haunting” questions from students: why do we need Old Testament laws? Is it true that in heaven you’ll forget everyone you knew if life? Why is the Bible down on homosexuality? Where did God come from?

8:14. Student eagerly volunteers to lead next week’s conversation. Happy.

8:21. Not content to let a good thing last, wonder to myself if this Big Issue Discussion format keeps other high school students away, though the ones here knock my socks off with their thoughtfulness and engagement. Push that thought aside.

8:43. Crouching in the Fellowship Hall, downed by foam football. Scatterball has broken out. Trying not to bend the toes of my new shoes.

9:10. Third game of Scatterball ends with winning student running exultant laps around the Fellowship Hall. If I could, I would hoist him onto my shoulders and parade him through town.

9:48. Home. Grateful as ever for the Presidents who have granted us a day off tomorrow.