in every small group…
Thursday May 31st 2007, 11:22 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth work

josh treece has a great post about the kids you find in every small group. i think he’s right, IF the scope is narrowed to, “the kids you find in every middle school guys small group”:

The Late One- No matter what we’re doing; no matter what time it starts, this kid will be at least half an hour late. And, somehow, it’s never their fault. I could announce that I’d be giving away free monter trucks filled with money and they would be tardy.

The Human Tapeworm- Snack cannot come quickly enough for this kid. Nor can it come in a proper amount. Maybe it’s the Middle School growth spurt or that they go all day at school on nothing but a pack of Sour Skittles and a Dr. Pepper. Either way, when they raise their hand during group, they’re not wanting to ask about why Nehemiah wanted to rebuild the walls, they want to know when they can gnaw on some Oreos.

The Spleen- Whatever this kid ate before they came should be illegal. Make sure to have proper ventilation…

The Gun Jumper- Things you can’t use as a part of your teaching style around the Gun Jumper: rhetorical questions, stories that build to a point, or any idea that has more than one part. This one wants to ask the final point before you get to it. On the one hand, you want to applaud because of their ability to grasp what you’re talking about. But on the other hand, you want to throw your shoe at them for messing with your set-up that you’ve worked so hard on.

The Megaphone- This student talks… all the time… and loud. No matter what you try, short of surgical sutures, they won’t stop. They’re usually the ones you want to read the verse out loud…

The Quiet One- They could be shy… or mute. Who knows? You can’t get them to say anything! There’s a lot of variations of this type of student. My favorite is the one that you can never get to open up at group who then goes home to tell his folks that he can’t wait until next time because Small Group is his favorite part of the week.

The Alpha Student- A natural leader always emerges. Sometimes, they use their powers for good. Sometimes, they turn to the dark side. If you can hook them in, you’ve almost always got the rest of the group.


jh pastors summit notes, part 2
Thursday May 31st 2007, 6:26 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth work

this year at our junior high pastors summit, we invited psychiatrist and adolescent brain specialist, todd clements, to join us. todd also brought a co-worker with him, dr. mike meier, who talked to us about parents, disorders and other clinical and therapy issues. this is part 2 of a 6-part series of the notes from that time. this particular section are notes from mike’s presentation to us. it was a bit of a departure from our intended discussions of adolescent brain development (which the notes get back to in the posts to come), but was still helpful. the notes are a bit cryptic at times, i admit. i’ve cleaned them up a bit from what was useful for those who attended, but it would take too long to fill in all the gaps — so i’m posting them somewhat as is, in hopes that they’ll still be stimulating to some.

“’Christian’ Family Dynamics” – there is so much going on under the waterline that we will never know about. Why?
- Divorce rate is higher than at any other time
- Pornography is rampant
- Isolation tools are more available (ipods, computers)
- Parents have unprecedented pressure – this pressure is causing a lot of kid problems and pressure
- Sexuality – oral sex is common in 8th grade
- Verbal communication skills has been replaced by short hand text messages
- Normalized divergent behaviors – homosexuality etc…

Family will always have a better opportunity to impact kids than youth workers – they spend more time with them. But don’t minimize your role as a counselor and clinician. What you are hearing is the tip of the iceberg. Magnify what they say – they will minimize, you will minimize. Don’t slip into this.

How can we maximize the family effort to help a kid?
U – understand the players and the history:
- Who has influence in the family and who are the players?
- What’s going on and don’t underestimate the history of the family
- They will not voluntarily give you information, dig for it
- Where are they spiritually?
R – recognize the bias
- Everyone you talk with will be good liars. Get the story from all sides and put the story together
- Don’t rush the judgment
- World class gossip and amateur psychology are the hallmark of Christian counseling
L – lead the family band
- Get them all playing the same song in the same key at the same time
- Unity is key
- Consequences are going to trump lecture

Content: What is being communicated?
Process: How that content is being communicated

Content: Where can you find agreement? Be the objective “crap” filter. Help parents major on the majors and minor on the minors.

Parents will focus on what they have control over (they are worried about the messy room and not about the drugs that can kill the kid). Help parents see the big picture and focus on the things that matter. Help them see reality.

Process: How can you help the parents communicate in a healthy way?
Moms often use too many words
Dads often get angry
Consequences are not followed through

1 in 5 teens has a diagnosable disorder

What are the trouble signs?
- Anger
- Privacy – wanting to much
- Lying
- Change in peer groups, attitudes
- Extreme mood swings – depression to elation
- Sleep patterns
- Grades and interests

Teen depression – significant in scope and dangerous in actions – know the

5% of kids are struggling with major depression
20% struggle with some disorder
20-40% have more than one episode of depression in a year. Many can last for more than 8 months
2% are suffering from disonia – a long term state of depression

SIGECAPS – a way to diagnose depression

S – Sadness and Sleep – sadness in kids could be more irritability
I – Interests have fallen off
G – Guilt
E – Energy – loss of
C – Concentration
A – Appetite
P – Psychomotor abnormality – monotone speech, depressive movements,
S – suicidal – active (I’m trying to kill myself), passive (I wish God would kill me – “I want to die, but I won’t do anything to kill myself), para (send you a message, they will go through an activity like take ten aspirin or cut wrists without doing that action to the level that will actually accomplish the goal).

- Little Parent: when the parents are so dysfunctional that anyone in that environment would be driven crazy, these kids take over
- Family Hero: Kids will become heroes and fulfill the family values. Good students or spiritually active kids because they are trying to exemplify what the family values. They will excel at whatever the family things is important – good or bad. They will put aside their needs. They feel the family depends on them.
- Mascot: Fun guy – class clown – terrified of family conflict so they redirect the family arguments and conflicts with humor. They may be popular on the surface, but they can grow up with the inability to have intimate contact.
- Chief Enabler: this person makes the dysfunctional parent’s life work. They absorb the consequences of the parent’s behavior. They live their lives in response to other people’s lives and they are unable to live out their own dreams. They will become bitter and hostile. They are mad at the world and justifiably so. This person will feel obligated to fix everyone and will hate it.
- Scapegoat: Everything is their fault. World hunger – their fault. Believes there is something wrong with them. They don’t have the capacity to sort out all this – it becomes you
- Lost Child: forgotten child. Involved in their own world – books, fantasy, computers, etc… This becomes their world. They are left by parents who are too busy for them. Their world is filled with activity that their family knows nothing about. Parents must limit their behavior. These kids will have a circle of influence the parents know nothing about.

How do we begin to diagnose this? It’s a combination of biographical input, psychological input, social input, and spiritual input.

*60% of clinically depressed individuals who exercised were the dramatically changed (this was due to endorphins that are released into your system through exercise). Only 65% of those who were given anti-depressant drugs we dramatically changed. 68% of those who did both were dramatically changed.

Q: Can we suggest exercise to parents over going to see a counselor?
This CAN be a good idea, but we need to find a Christian counselor in our area that we can trust to help in the process.

1-800-NEW-LIFE – referral to someone that might be a good resource

*Feelings: You have some control over your thoughts and your actions. You have very little if any control over your feelings. If jhigh students are so mean, teach students to question their thoughts. Run them through a truth filter – if they say something unrealistic, challenge it. If mom says “if she dresses so, she’ll grow up to be a prostitute” challenge this.

Seek to set up a safe community. A place where they can share their thoughts.

Two things to do with feelings:
- Identify them
- Seek the root – where is the feeling coming from?

Actions: Teens think they have very little control over their actions. We must be that safe voice of reason. Remind them they are becoming like those they are around. Our ministry is the island of safety that can be a significant help in their lives.

A Few Final Thoughts:
- We can’t help our kids without assessing the family situation. You don’t know without looking! Take the time to get to know what is going on in the family. When we see the bigger picture of what is going on in the home, we may be able to do a better job at helping the kids.

You may not be able to fix things, but you can help a student…
- See the dysfunction for what it is – redirect some of the kids thinking
- Help the kids see and own their part – but only their part
- Help them to set appropriate boundaries when needed. Help them to say “yes” and “no” and how to say this. Help them identify their moral compass.

- Help the parents see the truth. This is difficult! Their actions are impacting their kids. There has never been a generation where the office of parent has been so lightly held by those who are in that position. Parenting is a heavy responsibility; we must help parents see this.


Judy: How do we pick a good councilor?
Todd: He can help us in certain regions – refer to the 800 NEWLIFE number

Eric: How do we train adults to connect in a positive way - in more of a preventative way?
Todd: Be aware; you may find yourself spending 90% of your time with 10% of your kids – but this may be very helpful for the 10%. Train your staff in what they can look for and identify and investigate struggles. Everyone has a private and a public persona. WE must become masters of digging into the private side of kids.

Marko: Implication of all this in MS ministry. My understanding is “in the two years leading up to puberty, the brain creates millions of extra connections — way more than will be needed. In the two years after, the ones that are not used get winnowed down. The way the brain is utilized in the years of puberty will impact the lives of these kids for their entire lives.” Is this a fair statement?
Todd: Yes. We don’t know what all the implications of this pruning are, but this is a fair statement.
Marko: Any speculation as to why this is?
Todd: So the pathways that are used can function better.

April: Any counsel on the number of staff we have younger than 25 and what the risks/implications are of this?
Mike: They don’t have the cognitive ability to make good decisions, but they can relate to kids better. Be wise. Maximize their interaction with the kids, minimize their interaction with the family system because they are not ready for that.

Marko: This is another great reason why a small group can be best co-lead by a 20 year old and a 40 year old.


jh pastors summit notes, part 1
Wednesday May 30th 2007, 6:15 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth work

this year at our junior high pastors summit, we invited psychiatrist and adolescent brain specialist, todd clements, to join us. this is part 1 of a 6-part series of the notes from that time. this particular section are notes from todd’s presentation to us. the notes are a bit cryptic at times, i admit. i’ve cleaned them up a bit from what was useful for those who attended, but it would take too long to fill in all the gaps — so i’m posting them somewhat as is, in hopes that they’ll still be stimulating to some.

Unraveling the Mystery of Maturity: “A Look inside the Adolescent Brain.”

The brain is involved in everything you do
How you…
- Think
- Feel
- Act
- Interact
Who you are…
- Friend
- Mother
- Child
- Doctor

How do you know unless you look? Brain imaging can be very helpful.

Brain works on glucose though blood flow

Functional scans vs. anatomical scans – how they work vs. its anatomy – “Primal Teen” looks at the anatomical scan – Todd’s clinic uses Functional scans

Brain is not fully developed until 25
We need to take care of brains

Myelinization of brain neurons – the book says it’s the difference between going 2 miles/hour NASCAR. In reality, speed of information via neurons increases 200x’s when Myelinization takes place

- Physical Maturity comes to fruition between 16-18: This is when your full potential is in place – practice can make it better, but your potential is there
- Knowledge Maturity peaks at 18-20:
- Wisdom Maturity peaks at 25 – rental car companies won’t rent until 25 because they know this

Prefrontal cortex – first/front 1/3 of our brain is the last to mature. This is the part of the brain that separates us from all the other animals. No other species has the capacity of the prefrontal cortex that humans do. Dogs are 7%, cats 4.5%, people 32%

Phineas Gage – railroad worker with damage to prefrontal cortex – personality changed after the accident – he was no longer himself. Which one was the real Phineas Gage?

What does the Prefrontal Cortex do?
- Focus – have a hard time focusing on things and not being distracted by everything else in the room
- Forethought – not being able to see consequences
- Impulse Control
- Organization – tasks, time, etc.
- Planning – without this, we live in the hear-and-now – it’s hard for teens to make decisions based on whats coming up in the future and the need to plan for it. Do you know where you’re going to be this weekend? What about young kids? What about your dog? Do they know, do they care? What difference does this make?
- Judgment:
- Empathy – being able to see what you do and how it affects others – seeing something from someone else’s point of view.
- Insight – into behaviors
- Emotional control: Acting out a negative emotion instead of being able to control this emotion
- Motivation:

Maturity vs. Intelligence: They are not the same. Because a person gets good grades, does not mean he is mature. These are totally different process in the brain. Maturity will typically catch up in intelligent people.

Prefrontal Moral Strengths: - how many times do we judge a person morally based on the under developed prefrontal cortex? i.e. a teenager does something stupid and we judge his moral conviction based on this impulsive act. “Apparent Hypocrisy” – he does believe that stealing is wrong, but he acted impulsively and stole something and does not really know why. He is not hypocritical, but he acts like he is.

Phil: Does getting busted help them or hurt them? Do you let a kid go because of this? Do we use this as a crutch?

Todd: NO – we don’t let them get away with it. We need to let them live with the consequences. Guilt and shame do not work to our advantage, but allowing someone to suffer consequences to his/her actions does help them begin to learn and understand and “develop” these skills

Temporal Lobe Functions:
If they have problems with the left temporal lobe – hostility can be a real issue. Frustration builds up until it explodes.

Sensitivity to slight – if someone cuts you off, a person with this issue will say “that person did that to piss me off.” They over-react.

Hostile Dependency – still dependant on their parents, but they are hostile about this relationship. They are “ready” for independence, but are fighting with parents who are still the ones making the decisions. The kid is dependent on the parent, but does not want to be.

When do the temporal lobes come into maturity? 18-20. – we can expect to see these same struggles in young teens because of the lack of development in the temporal lobes.

Right Temporal Lobes: If there is trouble here, they often can’t read the emotions of another person. Can’t see it in his face.

A person who is a victim of abuse has a unique ability to read emotions – can do this very well because they have been forced to do so.

This person may also struggle with knowing how they come across to other people. They don’t really know that what they say may be hurtful to those around them. Do not know they are mean or hurtful.

Violence and aggression:
2 types – hot and cold
- Hot: explode after a buildup and they get to the boiling point. This can be helped via therapy.
- Cold: you methodically plan for some form of violence. This can’t really be helped via therapy.

Optimizing the brain:
Does prayer really help? Studies have found meditation improved the right temporal lobe activity -

Drugs can be good for some parts of the brain, but at the same time, it’s doing bad things to another part of the brain.

clearly, puberty has dropped dramatically in age.

100 lbs and 20% body fat is the place where girls bodies are ready for childbirth. We are reaching this at an earlier age (the body signals the start of puberty when these thresholds are met). The brain, however, is not developed. Improved nutrition can get to this body mass earlier.

There is no “puberty central” in the brain. Hormones activate certain genes all over the brain that will kick growth processes into gear.

Kissinger Effect: The younger you learn something, the more natural it is. Kissinger came to America at age 12 and spoke with an accent his entire life. His younger brother came to America at 10 and had no accent.

Sport: Is it better to do one sport with great intensity or multiple sports less intensely?

The earlier you start an activity (drugs, violence, etc…) the more natural these activities become in your brain.

Exercise is great for the brain

- Teenagers have the worst sleep patterns of anyone – the body wants to be in a rhythm and teens are in anything but a rhythm.
- Why do they stay up later?
- Not as much physical activity
- More “things” to do

Relationships can change your brain: they learn empathy and other skills in relationship

How do you deal with parents who give their kids a pass on everything and they blame it on the brain or issues?

Can ADD drugs help? Yes – good drugs can be helpful.
Can we look at kids with “ADD” and know who really has it? Yes – when someone has a complete change immediately after starting medication, it’s clear they have ADD. If a person does not really make a drastic change, it’s likely they are not actually ADD. The drugs are buying us time for the brain to naturally develop. As kids get older, let’s take you off the medication and see how you react.

Most are not using the brain scans – it’s more of a hit and miss medication approach.

Anti-social is NOT “Norman Bates” in the movie Psycho. Instead, they’re often very nice and fun to be around – but they’re manipulative, pathological liars, impulsive, irresponsible. They will blame behavior on everyone else. Consequences are the only thing that can help these kids. There is no fear and threats don’t work. Guilt does not work. But you must follow through with the consequences.

Referral – Danny Levine – is a great resource for parents, knows places where kids can be sent. You call her and she will give you a few ideas of where to send your kid.

Where is the hope? The development comes, the question is can they make it through the time in life (15-30) when they may do something that sends them to prison for their entire life?

grace (eventually): thoughts on faith
Wednesday May 30th 2007, 6:14 am
Filed under: faith, books

graceeventually.jpg, by anne lamott

no question, i’m an annie lamott fan. more specifically, i’m a fan of anne lamott’s non-fiction. i’ve tried her fiction, and continue to find it ok, but not brilliant. but her non-fiction: ooh.

traveling mercies, lamott’s first autobiographical book about faith, remains in my top 5 books of all time (not that i actually maintain such a list; but if i did, it would be). and operating instructions, lamott’s autobiographical reflections on her pregnancy and the first couple years of her son’s life, should be suggested reading for all humans, and required reading for all parents (especially expectant parents). lamott’s last non-fiction, plan b, was a bit of a let-down. i really wanted to love it. so i found myself loving parts.

but, other than a horribly repetitive titling and cover treatment (and, really, that’s more of a publisher’s gaffe than a reason to wag my finger at anne lamott), grace (eventually) brings us back nearly to traveling mercies (notice i say “nearly”). yes, some have complained that this book is another collection of mostly already-published essays. i say: i don’t care. they’re great; they hold together; and i hadn’t read them elsewhere anyhow.

why do i love lamott’s writing so much? well, i can’t deny the fact that she makes me laugh out loud. and they’re not those “slowly creep up on you laughs” that move from smile to tiny “huh” sound to low chuckle to pleasant and appropriate laugh. no: my occasional laughter while reading anne lamott is more the out-of-the-blue cackle, one that surprises me as much as it would anyone within painful earshot.

reason two for loving anne lamott’s non-fiction: she is unevenly insightful. what i mean is, there are moments when i’m reading, and i have to stop and breathe for a moment, and think about the profundity of what i’ve just read. and then there are lots of moments in-between those moments that aren’t so insightful. but here’s the thing — the uneven-ness of the insighfulness somehow works. it’s almost as if it creates a reading culture where the insights catch me off guard that much more. i’m always hopeful of stumbling onto them, but never quite expecting them when they appear.

reason three for loving anne lamott’s non-fiction: there are books — maybe 1 in 30 books i read, where the very act of reading is joy. the choice of words, the structure of sentences, the odd metaphor, they leave me smiling or astonished. christopher moore writes this way. anne lamott writes this way.


copyright law, via disney clips
Tuesday May 29th 2007, 10:10 am
Filed under: tv/movies, news

wow. this is both educational, entertaining, and loaded. a 9 1/2 minute overview of copyright law, and, particularly, the notion of “fair use”, exclusively using disney movie clips.


my thoughts about a home church
Tuesday May 29th 2007, 6:43 am
Filed under: faith, church

recently, my wife and a friend started talking and dreaming about a home church (jeannie likes to call it a spiritual community), something contemplative and honest and exploratory and intimate. a few weeks ago, 10 of us met for the first time. i don’t know 6 of the other people yet at all; and, though we had dinner together, i ended up sitting at a different part of the table, and didn’t get to know them. so it’s still a strange thing. and none of us have actually committed to it yet, because we haven’t really defined what it is yet.

this past saturday, they group met to start listening to each others dreams and desires about what a group like this. i wasn’t able to join them. so i wrote up my thoughts, a modified form of which i’ll share here…

a little backstory: i have developed a love/hate relationship with evangelicalism. i love my roots, i love the commitment to people, iI love the commitment to praxis, i love the commitment to fresh forms, and the passion for jesus. and i still hold to most of the central tenants of classical evangelicalism. however, i hate what pop-evangelicalism has become – a circle-the-wagons exclusive group more interested in defining who’s in and out than in engaging culture and loving the world with the love of jesus. i am sometimes repulsed by the black-and-whiteness of calcifying evangelical theology and the complete removal of mystery from worship and the life of the believer (of course, these are overstatements, and wonderful exceptions can be found all over the place).

my desires: i long for a place of contemplative, communal worship, of honesty about questions and doubts (a place where questions and doubts are seen as more valuable to a spiritual journey than answers and resolve), and a place where all voices are welcome. and, to be honest, i want a place that is not dominated by people like me: males, specifically, as well as strong leader types with quick opinions and strong vision. i want a spiritual community that compliments, or brings some necessary balance to my normal proclivities: a community that values slow, that values the voices of women, that doesn’t have a master plan. oh, and i’d really love a place where it makes sense to worship alongside my children, rather than having them farmed-out to a chuck e. church.

my concerns: i have two concerns that have been percolating. first, i’m concerned that the tiny dream (maybe more accurately, a tiny longing) that was birthed in the hearts of my wife and her friend, and later including a third friend, could easily get steamrolled by people with louder voices, prior discussions about their communal longing, prior relationships, and stronger opinions. part of what so attracts me to this group is the opportunity to follow my wife, to allow for an inverted space where her voice is truly equal or more heard than mine. i am not saying that i want my wife and her friends to be our “pastors” or “leaders” or “elders”. but i do hope for a bit of a matriarchy where their initial leaning to begin this group is patiently, humbly, and quietly listened to.

second, i’m concerned about a pre-set approach to what this group or home church is, even from people embracing a contemplative approach. as much as i thought the list of descriptors one person suggested sounded like a church I would love to attend, it also put up red flags for me, because it was so close to being a system, a pre-designated road map for this group, rather than something that evolved out of the collective voice of the community.

let me put this a different way. deconstructionist philosophers talk about truth being an event. even more specifically, they say truth is a “communal event.” this is in opposition to the idea that truth is external, rationalized and static. in other words, truth is what arises from the collective voice of a community. and they use the word “event” to lock it to time and space, rather than absolute and external. the implications of this are:

in the same way, emerging church leaders are talking about theology (and even orthodoxy) as a community event. this really describes what i long for in this group: a community where praxis (theology and practice together) will arise from our individual and collective discernment, not from a static, external source. i’d love that list of the things we saw, but would want to be careful that anything like that would inform our dialogue, not define our dialogue, or us.

(by the way: for anyone having a heart attack over my comment pushing away from truth being found in a static, external source… remember: the bible is not a static, external source. it’s the living word of god.)


analogies and metaphors from high school essays
Monday May 28th 2007, 12:31 pm
Filed under: humor

these are priceless: analogies and metaphors from high school essays. i don’t have any assurance they’re real, but they still cracked me up. here are a few of my favorites:

She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

(ht to bob c, via facebook)


birthday swag
Sunday May 27th 2007, 1:44 pm
Filed under: personal

i’m a gift guy. no question: it’s my love language. and, boy-howdy, did i feel loved on my birthday this past week. the loveliness i received:
- a cool ipod back-up battery (my ipod regularly runs out of battery power on long flights)
- a $25 gift card to our local theater chain
- an intoxicating “gifted” album, via itunes (more on this later)
- a $30 gift cert for amazon. i ordered a book recommended by a friend (), and a cd recommended by amazon based on my previous purchase of “th’ legendary shack shakers” ()
- a very fancy bottle of wine, along with a hideous “last supper” fake lace tablecloth
- a sweet university of michigan pull-over jacket
- a cool modern art painting by my daughter (including the shell of a flower she brought home from our trip to new zealand), and a beautifully performed viola solo of edelweiss (the lullaby i sang to her every night for the first 5 years of her life)
- a new shower squeegie (yes, i’m a bit obsessive about wiping down the shower so the glass isn’t all spotty, and the old one broke)
- a rocky patel olde world reserve cigar (a very nice stick)
- and, the coup de gras, a sweet portable gps system, which will be so stinkin’ wonderful to have on my trips.

my wonderful family also lead me on a friday night and all day saturday scavenger hunt, which included fun food stops, and two movies (i love movies: we saw pirates 3 and shrek 3). good friends took us out for dinner last night to an amazing little italian joint.

no, seriously, for 44, i scored. i’m truly feelin’ the love.


bollywood superman
Saturday May 26th 2007, 6:02 am
Filed under: music, tv/movies

oh, man, this is just fantastic. once again, i say, this is what youtube was made for.

(ht to ian at ys)


registration for the ys middle school ministry summit is open
Friday May 25th 2007, 12:38 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, youth specialties, youth work

here’s the post about what this small event is all about.

here’s the link to the ys website page with registration info.

the event is limited to the first 70 people, so if you want to come, please jump on it.


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