time magazine article on youth ministry
Tuesday October 31st 2006, 12:55 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, youth work, news

wow — even time magazine is jumping on the bandwagon. not a bad article, really — one of the better i’ve seen. no article like this seems able to please on every point — but this one sure is better than the ny times piece!

here’s a taste:

Youth ministers have been on a long and frustrating quest of their own over the past two decades or so. Believing that a message wrapped in pop-culture packaging was the way to attract teens to their flocks, pastors watered down the religious content and boosted the entertainment. But in recent years churches have begun offering their young people a style of religious instruction grounded in Bible study and teachings about the doctrines of their denomination. Their conversion has been sparked by the recognition that sugarcoated Christianity, popular in the 1980s and early ’90s, has caused growing numbers of kids to turn away not just from attending youth-fellowship activities but also from practicing their faith at all.

thoughts for parents of young teens, episode 2
Monday October 30th 2006, 12:01 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, family, youth work

if you’re a youth worker reading this, please feel free to copy and paste (or email) this in a parent email or newsletter (though a credit line would be appreciated)…

The young teen years summed up in one word: transition

Nikki is 11 years old, and in 6th grade. But she looks more like a 16 year-old. And I’ve had more than one mom comment to me that they would pay big money to have fingernails as nice as Nikki’s. But Nikki still loves to play with Barbie dolls. In fact, it’s not uncommon for her to bring a couple with her on youth group trips. The other kids tease her about it – but she’s naive enough to think they think it’s fun that Barbie is in tow. It’s not that Nikki is neither a child nor a teenager: she’s bits of both.

Then there’s a group of guys I used to call the “Punk Pokemons” (this was a few years ago when Pokemon was big). Their group was five 8th grade guys – all taller than me – who were trying very hard to be tough. They wore baggy pants and spiked their hair. And they never smiled. Never. They were 100% committed to being disinterested. But on a regular basis, they would gather in the back corner of our junior high room at church to trade Pokemon cards (those goofy little trading cards that were popular with kids a few years back). It was hilarious to see the snarling wannabe tough guys saying things like, “I”ll give you two Pekachus for one Mewtwo.”

Nikki and the Punk Pokemons are in transition. Not quite adults, but not kids anymore either.

If you ask me to define the young teen years in one word, I’d have to use the word “transition.” Everything about the world of a young teen is somewhere in-between where they’ve been and where they’re headed.

The signs of “work in progress” show up in every area of a young teen’s life, including her faith. She’s finding that her “childish” faith system isn’t working anymore, faith-bit by faith-bit. She begins the search – sometimes consciously and proactively, sometimes not – for a richer, more complex adult faith system. And much of this is accomplished through experimentation.
Here’s what I mean: your young teen might show less interest in church, but more interest in spiritual things. By spiritual things, I don’t necessarily mean youth group retreats and the church children’s choir. For a young teen, the dimensions of the spiritual life are just opening up, and they’re noticing depth and spirituality in music, in movies, in TV shows, in conversations with friends, even listening in on adult conversation.

But they’re in transition! They’ll continue to have pieces of childish faith and elements of an adult faith at the same time. Just as you would never try to rush the physical growth of your child (by pumping them full of hormones or steroids), it’s a bad move to attempt to rush this spiritual transition also. But you can help them: by listening, discussing, staying open and not threatened. Watch for these signs of transition in faith, and ask open-ended, non-threatening questions to help them develop their faith-thinking.

Share more openly about your own spiritual journey: your longings and doubts, your hopes and a-ha moments, places where you’ve seen God active in your life in the past week.

And most of all: be aware that this transition means they won’t stay this way for long; so cherish this time!

unintended sucker punch
Friday October 27th 2006, 12:49 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, books, youth work

i read jeremy iversen’s brutal and insightful book last week. posted about it here. one of the primary characters is a christian, and not a bad guy, really. but the thinly veiled references to either young life (probably) or campus life were tough to read, because it was an unfiltered description of so much of what we do in youth ministry. the author didn’t seem to have an axe to grind about christians or christian clubs (he attended every week, he wrote at one point). but the whole thing comes off sounding so much like the pep-rally in the movie saved. here’s one of the sections that made me wince:

that evening after dinner, she received special permission from her father to go to spiriteen and come straight back. parents like the idea of christian youth group; brian’s party the next night would need a much harder sell.

seventy mirador people talked on the couches, chairs, and floor of a living room every similar to alexis’s. she perched on a sofa armrest with her can of cranberry juice.

“you came,” said derrick.

she smiled. the room contained a virtual ‘who’s who of asb leadership and nervous underclass girls who wanted to hook up, but no black people and just one asian guy. she smelled weed and alcohol on a lot of people’s breath.

each spiriteen program consisted of three main segments: a madcap activity, a lesson, and hanging out at a strip mall. the activities owed much more to mtv spring break than to the path of christ as understood by, say, saint maximus the confessor.

“whooooo!” screamed one of teh group leaders, a burly college senior in a biola university sweatshirt. “we’ve got a hypnotist tonight!”

music thumped as the hypnotist jogged out, a slick-looking guy in his late thirties. he clapped to the music and everyone clapped along with him.

“mirador high school spiriteen,” he yelled. “they tell me you’re the party school, let me hear you scream!”

“yeahyahhh!” screamed alexis along with everyone.

let this be a caution to you, youth worker
Thursday October 26th 2006, 10:18 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, youth work, news

Principal suspended for giving kid a ‘wedgie’

teenagers and materialism, part oops
Wednesday October 25th 2006, 10:47 am
Filed under: youth ministry, church, youth work

well, the editor of youthwork mag has asked that i wait a while before post the remainder of this article, since the article is in the current issue which is still available in the UK (i wasn’t aware of that timing, i guess). so, sorry — i’ll repost part 1 in a few months, then add the others.

Tuesday October 24th 2006, 12:36 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, youth work, news

fascinating post, linked article, and interesting questions…

By mark balfour

From the BBC website today:

Britain is in danger of becoming a nation fearful of its young people, a report has claimed […]

Julia Margot, from the IPPR, told the BBC Radio Five Live: “In Britain, as opposed to countries like Spain and Italy, adults are less likely to socialise with children in the evenings.

“So we don’t have this culture of children hanging out and playing out in the town square where adults are also socialising and drinking.

“We don’t have a culture where adults go out to pubs and bars and bring children with them, and so there is a problem about adults being less used to having children around.”

The 200-page report says that last year more than 1.5 million Britons thought about moving away from their local area due to young people hanging around.

About 1.7 million admitted to avoiding going out after dark as a direct result of youths gathering.

Britons were also three times more likely to cite young people “hanging around” as a problem than they were to complain about noisy neighbours.

What does it mean for young people to grow up as objects of fear?

Time and again, when a group of people within a culture become objects of fear - and easy fodder for media headlines and ugly stereotyping - then violence and oppression are not far behind.

I’m grateful for the youth work we already have at St Peter’s. I’m wondering what more we might be able to do to counter this fear (including ministry to the afraid)?

(ht to bobbie)

teenagers and materialism, part 1
Tuesday October 24th 2006, 11:53 am
Filed under: youth ministry, church, youth work

here’s part 1 (of 4) of an article i wrote for youthwork magazine in the UK (it was published in a recent issue):

A Different Spin on the Problem of Materialism

Let’s just get this truth out in the open right from the start: it’s a bit odd to have an American write about the problem of materialism to a UK audience. Fair enough. Maybe you could think of it this way: an American should have even more experience with materialism. So stick with me…

I have a friend who’s on welfare. He’s brilliant and creative and funny. He’s a fantastic writer, and has dreams of getting published. As employment, he’s waiting for that dream to come true. His wife had a minor injury at work a few years ago and went on disability. Now, if she gets a job, the disability will be cut off. So they have absolutely no money. And they have three teenage kids (all of whom, by the way, are fully capable of getting a job and helping the family, but don’t).

My friend’s teenage kids, who have an X-box gaming system (same as me), feel completely ripped off that they can’t get an X-box 360 (the newer gaming system). They lounge around the house complaining about how much it sucks that their parents can’t get them the new system, while dozens of games for the fully functional gaming system at their feet retire to the land of forgotten toys.

Why does this bug me so much? Well, a few reasons. But the reality is, the whole thing bugs me because it exposes everyone’s materialism – certainly my friend’s teenage kids, but also my friend and his wife, and yes, even mine. See, while I really enjoy this friend, and like hanging out with him, I’ve not yet had him over to my own home. I’m concerned that he will only see me as a source for money or other stuff. I don’t have an X-box 360, but I have a lot of stuff. And the potential that my friend could view me as a potential lava-flow of cash only exposes me! If I weren’t materialistic, and a champion-level collector of new gadgetry, my friend’s potential perspective wouldn’t be an issue.

Let’s face it: we’re all materialistic (at least most of us). Trying to say that this generation of teenagers is so different, so much worse – I’m not sure I buy it (ha, get it? “Buy” it!). Anyone young enough to have completely missed World War II (that would be most of us) has no real sense of limitations on spending. So what is different about today’s teenagers and materialism?

Well, first of all, they are materialistic. They want stuff. They have massive spending power, and Madison Avenue and High Street spend millions of pounds to open the pocketbooks of teenagers. This is overly simplistic, but there are a couple key factors in play here:
- There have always been materialistic stuff-hoarding people. But materialism was never embraced as a cultural norm – as something to be proud of — until the 1980s.
- Connected to that reality, teenagers of the 1990s and 2000s embraced the materialism they saw exhibited in their homes and the world around them. They have lived with a heightened materialism their entire lives.

This is one of the reasons we tend to notice the materialism of teenagers. Especially for those of us who were teenagers prior to the 90s (for me, WAY-prior to the 90s!), there is a new embracing of stuff that wasn’t present to the same degree when we were teenagers.

thoughts for parents of young teens, episode 1
Monday October 23rd 2006, 6:41 am
Filed under: youth ministry, family, youth work

i’m starting a new series of occasional posts with this one. i’ll probably only post one every other week or so. but these will be a random tidbit of input for parents of pre-teens and young teens. if you’re a youth worker, feel free to copy and paste these into a parent newsletter or email (though i’d appreciate a credit line).

Welcome to the world of doubts

A nervous set of parents met me in my office. Tears came quickly. Judy, the mom, spoke in-between honks into her tissue: “Johnny, our 7th grader… [honk!]… he’s always been such a good boy. And he’s always loved Jesus.”

The dad nodded.

Judy continued: “But the other night at dinner… [honk!]… Johnny said, ‘I’m not sure I want to be a Christian anymore.’” [honk!]

A big smile broke out across my face, as I slapped my desk and exclaimed, “That’s fantastic!”

As they picked up their sagging jaws, I explained:

Questioning and examining (usually called “doubting”) Mom and Dad’s faith system, or her own childhood faith system, is a necessary part of early teen faith development.

Did you catch that? Parents (and plenty of youth workers) are usually threatened, even frightened, by their kids’ doubts. But teenagers who don’t go through this process will reach their early 20s with a stunted (childish) faith!

Let me back up and explain a bit more fully.

The Task of Discovery
Stephen Glenn, a psychologist who published a bunch in the 70s and 80s, developed a helpful little timeline. He said the first four years of life are all about “discovery”. The next four years (five- to eight-years old) are all about “testing”. And the years from nine to eleven (Glenn actually said age 12, but the average age of the onset of puberty has shifted down a year since then) are focused on “concluding.”

Then a shift of seismic proportions – usually called puberty – comes along and wipes that slate semi-clean. And the cycle begins again: 11 – 13 are years of “discovery”; 14- to 16-year olds tend to focus on “testing”; and those over 17 shift to forming conclusions.

Can’t you see that in your young teen? They’re in the midst of a massive adventure of discovery. That’s why they want to try everything – four sports, three clubs, five friendship groups, a new hobby or collection each month. They’re trying to gather data about the world, about how people interact, about values, about reactions. And, about what it means to be a Christ-follower.

So wrestling with “what do I believe?” becomes a wonderful question for young teens to ask. That doesn’t mean we fan the flames of their doubts (“I can’t believe you still believe that!”). It means we come alongside them in their doubts, rather than interpreting those questions (that data collection) as a real rejection of faith.

How Should Parents Respond?
Don’t freak out. When you hear doubts squeaking out, take a deep breath. Thank God that your budding teenager is still willing to verbalize this kind of thing with you. A strong negative reaction will teach your child that she shouldn’t share in the future.

Encourage verbalization. In other words, talk about it! Healthy dialogue is often all that’s needed. Ask questions, rather than preaching.

Share in first-person. Your pre-teen or young teen will “catch” more from your life than from your words. When you do choose to share words, try not to be too prescriptive (“Johnny, what you need to do is this….”). Instead, share from your own life. Respond to doubts with your own story, including your own doubts (past or present).

Pray. Isn’t that one obvious? Your child is going through the most formative and tender years in faith development. Talk to God constantly!

books read in the last couple weeks
Monday October 23rd 2006, 6:41 am
Filed under: youth ministry, books, youth work

confidential.jpg, by jeremy iversen.

jeremy iversen grew up in mahatten, attended an exclusive prep school (a boarding school, no less), then was at the top of his class at stanford, double-majoring in something like biology and economics. he was on what he calls “the track” — with an assumed after-graduation 6-figure salary from a consulting firm. but at a job fair just before college graduation, he balked. he decided he wasn’t interested in “the track”. moving to hollywood, he considered his next step. sitting one day in a mall, watching teenagers, it dawned on him that cameron crowe had, 25 years prior to the exact month he was living, posed as a high school student to do research for ‘fast times at ridgemont high’. jeremy thought it would be interesting to see what was really going on in the lives of today’s high school students. he narrowed his search down to 270-something high schools in southern california that fit his description of average (not elite or in a highly weathly area, not urban, no monocultural), and starting asking if he (by then a 25 year-old) could attend school as an undercover transfer senior. school after school rejected his idea; but when he was down to only two more possibilities, one said yes.

only the principal and the district superindentant knew his true identity and plan. for six months, iversen fully entered into the life of a high school student, making his way into the popular group of seniors.

he takes an interesting approach to writing the book, due to his agreement with the school that he would keep the school and all its students and teachers (and administrators) completely confidential. he explains this using the metaphor of cartography. when cartographers create a map, they have to decide which things to hold constant or true, and which things to bend. when we look at the most-common views of a world map, for instance, greenland is looming ridiculously huge over the atlantic. of course, we know it’s not actually that large. but the map-makers chose other things constant, and had to forfeit relative size, especially toward the poles. iversen chooses to keep actual dialogue as his constant. so the quotes from students and teachers and administrators (which make up a sizeable portion of the book) are word-for-word, or very close to it. but the characters themselves (including the school) are fictionalized to mask their identity.

the book is fascinating and horrifying. really. certainly, i wasn’t in the popular group in my high school. but i have worked with teenagers for 25 years, and this book is probably the most cage-rattling inside look i’ve ever experienced. this is clearly because there was zero attempt on the part of the students to mask or spin. as a youth worker, it will break your heart. if you’re a parent, it’ll scare the crap out of you and drive you to your knees.

parents should probably read this book — but it’s not for the faint-of-heart. and this book should become part of the library of every youth worker. now, i wish someone could pull off the same thing in the world of middle schoolers.

opposite.jpg, by paul arden.

i heard about this little book on jonny baker’s blog and ordered it. it’s a quick read, as most of the pages are lite on text and heavy on design. not really a “book” in the traditional sense, it’s more a collection of ideas and thoughts (and a few stories) to get you thinking in different ways. i didn’t agree with everything in the book; but i still found it really worth reading, and will likely be one i take a second pass through.

what churches want in a youth worker
Wednesday October 18th 2006, 11:19 am
Filed under: youth ministry, church, youth work

in resonse to my post the other day about exuberance and the disconnect between what churches say they want in a youth worker and what they really want, marty estes has cooked up a little variation on the graphic from that post. hilarious:


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