Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You need to check this out

You may have already heard about this, but WorshipTogether.com is giving away free sheet music on their website every week. You can't do much with it at church without a CCLI license, but so far in the two weeks I've been a member, they've offered three free songs each week. That's going to add up pretty fast, and it's a lot cheaper than going out and buying more songbooks for your worship team. Plus, it's an easy way to stay updated on what's out there in new worship music. You have to "become a member" to access the music, but that's free too.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Pretty Well-Reasoned Post on Being Christian And Not Republican

Hello. This is a post about somebody else's post. I voted Republican this year, but I just read a pretty convincing argument for being a mostly-Democrat Christian. I don't think I'd change my vote even after reading this, but I'm blogging about it because, as believers, we should all take the time to try to understand those believers who vote differently than we do. I tell my teenagers that we need Christians of other denominations - that the battle is too big for us to try to fight alone. Because of that, we need to work to understand each other and find common ground. Obviously, the same would apply to believers of different political parties. So, I'm posting this link for the benefit of any mostly-Republicans reading this and encourage you to check it out: Why A Christian Can Vote for a Democrat.

P.S. He also mentions Keith Drury, one of my former Profs at IWU.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Questions my teens asked me at youth group tonight

Hello Everyone,

After a long silence (during which my hit count has mysteriously gone up?) , I finally have something blog-worthy to write about: the amazingly complex questions teenagers ask when given the opportunity. Naturally, few of them are directly addressed by the Bible:

  • Can demons die?
  • In John 8 when the Pharisees try to "trap" Jesus by asking him what to do with the woman caught in adultery, we assume that the pharisees would have used either the "yes, stone her" answer or the "no, spare her" answer against Jesus. But how could they used the "yes" answer against Him if it lined up with the law?
  • I had a frightening dream. Was it caused by a demon?
  • Can demons kill people?
  • Could satan be forgiven if he repents of his sins?
  • Does God hate satan, or just his sin?
  • Could there be angels and demons fighting right now in this room? (They got really freaked out when I said yes.)
Somewhere along the way I got the idea that the only questions I would ever be asked as a pastor were questions addressed by the Bible. Obviously some of these questions are, but the ability of teenagers, especially young ones, to ask questions that I don't even have categories for, amazes me. If you have any good out-there questions you've heard, I'd love to hear about them too.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Miles per gallon of milk

So maybe someone's done this before, but I've never seen it. A prof at my alma mater has calculated the approximate number of miles per gallon that you can get from milk while riding a bike. It surprised me a little to see that it may be cheaper to fuel some cars than to fuel your bike! Of course, the calculations only work if you drink only milk . . .

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The reason you keep wishing you could integrate your high schoolers into adult discipleship ministries.

If you're like me, for a while you've had a nagging sense that it would be good for your high school age girls and guys to participate in adult small groups, retreats, and activities. But you haven't really gotten very far in making it happen, perhaps because you're not sure if it would really be a good thing. After all, some of them might end up in the same group with their parents! Isn't the whole purpose of youth ministry to separate adults from their kids so that both can grow in their faith away from the other's critical eye?

Um, no. The purpose is discipleship. Total separation is a tool we've been using. And it isn't working that well.

Today I ran across this link for an excerpt from a real book written by people who know what they're talking about who say what our guts have been telling us all along - older teens do need some degree of integration in adult ministries to help mentor them into adult faith. It's not just our imagination.

So now that we know there's a book out there to back us up, maybe we'll have the courage to try it. And yes that includes me.

(Thanks to Rob at the Youth Pastors Only Facebook group for the link)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Excellent point from NNYM

Soooo much has happened since my last post that I should blog about, but I keep putting it off until I have time to write a "good" post about each thing. Unfortunately, that means that a lot of good stuff never gets blogged about. So today, I'm writing a short post about the most recent interesting thing that has crossed my mind.

You need to check out the most recent issue of Take5, the monthly "five minute" devotional from NNYM. It's called "Trying vs. Training," and basically points out that, like running marathons, being successful in ministry requires training, not just effort. I think it's an interesting point, because many times we do tend to think that "book learning won't help you much in this job" and "all the stuff you learn in school will never prepare you for what you'll face in ministry" and "you don't have to be educated to be a good minister." While all of those statements are partially true, I think the article is right too. Why should we expect to be effective in ministry without taking the time to learn vital skills and key information related to our task?

It also makes me think about how in many small churches most of the ministry is done by people with no training for their task. Sunday school teachers, youth workers, children's workers, and sometimes musicians serve regular roles of responsibility without ever having attended a class, seminar or single training session about what they do.

Then, when a church decides that they need to step up the quality of their ministries, often their first thought is that they need to hire paid staff, if only part time. But sometimes the small salaries they offer attract only untrained people. Perhaps for many small-budget churches, the better investment would be to spend the money on training for their volunteers rather than on paid staff.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Congregational mourning

Recently, a teen in our youth group passed away. It's been incredibly difficult for the church and youth to cope with the loss, but that's not what I'm blogging about. I try not to blog about stuff that's too personal or too specific to my church, because (1) I don't want to bore you with my private life, (2) I don't want to compromise the privacy of my church or it's members, and (3) I don't want to post anything in the midst of an emotional situation that I may regret later. However, I mentioned it because it does relate to what I am posting about, and because it's so huge to me right now that I just didn't want to leave it unmentioned. Mostly the latter. I don't want to blog about it, but I would appreciate your prayers.

What I am posting about is that I've realized that we're lucky that the grieving process is relatively well laid-out in our culture. You hold a viewing and funeral, you visit with and bring food to the family, you donate money to help with unexpected expenses, you talk to each other and to pastors and teachers and group leaders and counselors about your memories and your feelings, and you create memorials - tombstones, scrapbooks, journal entries, photo collages.

I realized this yesterday when I was at our local ministerial association meeting. One of the pastors there had just taken a position as the interim pastor at a church that has recently lost about half of its congregation to a church split. What got me thinking was when he said that when a church goes through a loss like that, often there's an experience of mourning. That made sense, but what I realized was that I don't have the first idea of how a congregation could effectively mourn the loss of people who are still alive.

Holding special services to "celebrate" the time you had with the absent people would be absurd in our culture. So would holding meetings to share our memories about the way things were before they left. So would establishing any kind of monument to the people and the effect they had on a church while they were there. To focus any attention on the time before the loss would seem to us to be dwelling unwisely on the past rather than looking constructively to the future.

It seems like the only kind of "mourning" that we accept in that kind of situation is expressions of anger. Often we villainize the people who left, and talk about what terrible things they did and/or how glad we are to be rid of them. Sometimes we bolster our self-esteem by declaring that we are the faithful ones, and we will carry on regardless of who betrays us or abandons the cause. The leavers may truly be villains in some cases, but surely a healthy response to church loss should involve more than just anger and/or gratitude that they left. How do we acknowledge the good things they did while they were here? How do we acknowledge the good times and good relationships that were had, and the goodnes (whatever there was) in the people we've lost? It seems that if it's worth doing in the case of a death, it should be worth doing in the case of a split. Even in the case of someone who chose to die, we look for the good in that person. Shouldn't we do something similar in the case of one who chose to leave? But what could be done that wouldn't seem absurd?

So I really have no answers for this one. But I hope that someday we figure it out and find a good path for churches to walk when they need to acknowledge the grief of a church split or group exit.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"Students work on acceptable dances"

Recently I saw an article on The Detroit News' website that i thought was interesting - apparently the definition of "appropriate dancing" and "inappropriate dancing" has now become an issue of school policy in some places. The high school in question is located in Bangor Township, Michigan, and apparently enough students are upset about the school's definition of appropriate dancing that this year's prom is in jeopardy. So now the student senate is trying to come up with a list of dancing rules that will be acceptable to both the administration and the students.

I'm probably more sensitive to this issue because I grew up being taught that Christians should never dance in public, except, perhaps, for a very obscure idea of "dancing in worship". Now, as a youth pastor, I've had to wrestle with what I should communicate about dancing to the teens i work with. It hasn't come up often, but what do you do when you're playing music at a bonfire and all of a sudden the whole group starts dancing? You think how glad you are that the bonfire is almost over is what you do.

It could be simple enough to just tell kids that their mind and their intentions should be pure, and that they should dance in a way that reflects that purity. But without specific guidelines, each student has to come up with their own idea of "pure dancing," and I'm not sure that it's fair to expect students to do that if the majority of their dancing "role models" have no interest in purity. For instance, how could a person figure out for themselves what "pure speech" is if they've never heard it modeled for them?

But then, if we try to define it, it's a fast slide to legalism. The body becomes divided into "ok parts," "not ok parts," and "questionable parts," and the art form of dancing becomes limited to a list of acceptable moves. We start counting inches and points of contact.

Maybe it really should be handled like we handle language? There are certain ways to speak that can be clearly communicated as inappropriate. Perhaps the same is true of dancing. But just as we teach our teens pure speech by letting them hear us talk, perhaps the only way to teach teens pure dancing is to go chaperone their dances and let them watch us dance.

Monday, March 10, 2008

They've finally made a video game about adolescence.

This one shouldn't have surprised me, but i'd never really thought about it before. The other day I saw a display rack for the game "Bully." It traces the adventures of a boarding school student as he deals with the challenges of the school's social structure.

The plotline (taken from Wikipedia) is as follows:

  • Chapter 1: Making New Friends and Enemies: Jimmy comes to Bullworth Academy and immediately runs into trouble with the Bullies.
  • Chapter 2: Rich Kid Blues: Jimmy is now more popular, but he must deal with the spoiled Preppies.
  • Chapter 3: Love Makes the World Go Around: Jimmy gets mixed in with the love affairs of Lola and Johnny Vincent, leader of the Greasers.
  • Chapter 4: A Healthy Mind is a Healthy Body and Other Lies: Jimmy decides to take on the Jocks, but he first needs to convince the Nerds to help him.
  • Chapter 5: The Fall and Rise of Jimmy Hopkins, Aged 15: Jimmy, after briefly enjoying his power as king of Bullworth Academy, is expelled. He has to clear his name and get re-enrolled back into the Academy while regaining control of the cliques.
  • Chapter 6: Endless Summer: Jimmy can tie up any loose ends, such as finishing races, finding collectibles, etc.

I've never seen a video game before based solely around the idea of school as a social battleground, although youth workers and others have seen it as such for some time. Whether it counts as a "good" game or not, hopefully it will help more people see that the challenges of adolescence are, for many teens, significant enough to warrant their own video game.

(The official website for the game can be found here, but the Wikipedia article is probably more helpful for evaluating the game's content.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Restoration Station - Church Decorating Theme

I just read an e-mail from our district superintendent highlighting some of the good things going on in our district, and it contained a few pictures from a church that's just being planted in Port Huron called Restoration Station. I'm posting one of the pictures here. It's a little fuzzy, but i thought it was so cool how the cross made of wrenches and the Craftsman workbench being used as a podium integrate the idea of healing/restoration into their worship. If you're ever in Port Huron you might want to look them up.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Michigan considers allowing high schoolers a fifth year to graduate

As a person who cares about teens, I also care about what's happening in education. There's an article in the Detroit News about a move to allow Michigan students to take five years to graduate from high school, if necessary. Actually, the article confused me a little. I'm not really sure whether they're allowing students to take five years, or just lifting the penalties for schools that may already allow it. Either way, it will make it easier for kids to take five years to graduate, and hopefully it will keep some struggling students from dropping out. It sounds like a good idea to me - we'll see what happens.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Article in Toronto Star about PK's

I probably wouldn't be linking to this if i hadn't just written a post related to pastors' kids, but since I did I thought this article I just came across was worth mentioning. I'm not sure I've ever seen a secular publication report on the PK experience before. Despite the title, it didn't feel like a negative article.

Down side of ministry - Many preachers' kids grow up knowing their behaviour reflects on parents' vocation

(I found this through the Rev! Leadership Update)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

"Are you still reading “Holy Bible New Living Translation?" "

I just got this e-mail from my iRead Facebook application. I just think it's funny.
----- Forwarded Message ----
From: Books iRead <apps+oplpz1v1@facebookmail.com>
Sent: Thursday, February 7, 2008 12:25:34 PM
Subject: Are you still reading "Holy Bible New Living Translation?"

Dear Joy,

We noticed that you have marked Holy Bible New Living Translation as "Reading It" on Books iRead. Are you still working on it? We wanted to send you a reminder, just in case you finished reading the book but forgot to mark it on iRead.

You can,

Mark Holy Bible New Living Translation as Read It. You will be able to rate and review the book on this page.

Get personalized recommendations for new and interesting books to read.

Add a new book to your bookshelf.

Find a new book.

Books iRead makes it really easy for you to organize your bookshelf and show off your reads to your friends.

The Books iRead Team

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Pastors Kid Resources

In May I'm helping to lead our district's Pastors' Kids' retreat, and I've been online looking for resources. Specifically I'd like to find a book i could give them as a take-home present that would encourage them in their faith and in their specific challenges to their faith. There are plenty of books available for teens on the topic, but so far I can't find anything that's written with a PK in mind. I'm even having a hard time finding stuff that is written for teens in general that would be appropriate for PKs. The problem is that pastors' kids see things that many other kids and teens don't see, and those things have a profound impact on their faith. They don't need books summarizing the Bible; most of them are the most faithful members of their Sunday school classes. They don't need books describing God's nature; they have in-house theologians who have probably already done that.

My guess is that they need something that answers questions like: "How can I believe in God when my family has worked so hard to serve him but bad things keep happening to us?" "How can I feel good about church when I've seen it's darker side?" "Why would i want to be a Christian when i've seen all the dumb things "Christians" have done, and the way some of them have treated me and my parents?" "Why would I want to be a part of an institution that i've seen suck the life out of my Dad/Mom?"

Obviously not all of these questions would be relevant to all pastor's kids, and not all PKs have the same experience. For some, being the pastor's kid may not have made their lives much different than it would have been otherwise. But for many, their lives, and their experiences with God and the Church, are vastly different from those of the other young people in their communities.

But i've found next to no resources dealing with these issues. I found one website and one book dedicated to adult PKs. I also found one out of print book that looked like it was written for counselors and dealt with helping PK's. But beyond that i've found nothing in print. No books for teens, no books for parents that dealt exclusively with raising PK's, and no websites dedicated to them. And honestly that makes no sense to me.

The unique situation of a pastor's kid is something that we've recognized in western Christendom for years, if not centuries. Surely there are no fewer pastors' kids out there than there are pastors, but there are tons of books written every year for pastors. Have the market analysts really determined that nobody's interested in buying books about raising or being a PK?

So i'm writing this post to (1) see if any of you out there know of any good resources you could recommend to me, and (2) in the hopes that this little post on this little blog in cyberspace would spark the realization in a writer or a publisher somewhere that there are a lot of PK's out there who could use encouragement, a lot of pastors out there who could use advice in raising their kids, and a few PK's out there who grew up to be youth pastors and really care about PKs and could use some resources in their efforts to support them (like me). Maybe someone could write a little book for us?

Monday, February 04, 2008

(Sort of) free will

I don't think that most people in our culture (or our churches) really believe in true free will. I realized this morning that often I really don't either.

Right now I'm reading Teenage Guys by Steve Gerali, and currently I'm in the section on agression and violence in young guys. (By the way so far it's an excellent book.) He was using the story about Cain and Abel as a case study, and he described the way that God (sort of as the first youth worker) tried to encourage Cain to deal with his feelings of rejection a different way. Of course, Cain didn't listen, and went on to commit the first homicide. As I was reading Gerali's paraphrase, I found myself thinking something along the lines of "Wow - God didn't handle that one very well." A few moments later I realized that I was assuming that God - as the youth worker - could have talked Cain out of it by doing or saying the right things.

I realized that I usually operate under the subconscious assumption that I can fix things if i can just figure out the right actions to take, and I think our churches and our culture reinforce it often. When we hear about school shootings, we think long and hard about what could have been done to prevent that young person from choosing that action. We form plans and strategies and encourage teens and adults to look out for hurting young people, and we tell ourselves that we can make a difference if we're willing to get involved. And all of this is true and our efforts are good, but i wonder if I'm the only one who hears the unspoken message that if we can just figure out how to do it right, we could prevent all violence and eventually cure all teen isolation and depression.

Even churches that claim to believe in true human free will often express the same mindset. We preach that no one is too far gone for God to reach. We tell people to pray expecting that God will get through to the person we're concerned about. We hear about "irresistible grace" and the "hounds of heaven" that make redemption all but unavoidable for those God and the church choose to pursue. And while I technically agree with all of these things, it is extremely easy to start believing - even without realizing it - that by our prayers and our actions we are truly in control of what happens, and that if we just figured out how to do it right, we could fix all the ills in the world.

I'm not so much trying to argue that people have free will, because that's a theological debate that's not worth the effort to address well here. I really value my brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me on this one, and I'm not trying to pick a fight. But what's interesting to me is how easy it is for those of us who think we believe in free will to subconsciously begin to believe that we really can fix everything if we could just figure out the right actions to take. Even Reformed theology puts full control in God's hands, not ours. As much as I believe we should do everything we can, as youth workers we need to check ourselves on this one. We can't allow ourselves to believe that we can be successful with every teen and prevent every tragedy, or else we're going to spend our lives discouraged and confused when it doesn't work.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

You might have really cool volunteers in your youth ministry if . . .

. . . you discover the marshmallows were put in the offering bucket by your adult leaders, in the hopes that then they wouldn't be thrown around the youth room anymore that night.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

You might be in youth ministry if . . .

. . . you find marshmallows in the offering bucket.