Monday, September 21, 2009

Youth miniStarZ

Very funny! Some very true stereotyping of youth ministers. Not me though.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Importance of Church Safety with the H1N1 Virus (aka: Swine Flu!)

     Over the past few weeks, it seems that staff meeting gets at least 10 minutes dedicated to the concerns of the H1N1 virus and if we should do anything differently in the services to take certain precautions to protect our congregation. In light of all the fears being made of the Swine Flu, our awesome Children's Ministry Director, who has a twisted brain, made some recommendations to protect our church. Picture #1 shows off new usher uniforms. These would also be used for those who help with communion. Picture #2 represents our choir making sure they do are careful to protect themselves and those around them. Classic! Can never be too careful! Better safe than sued they say!

Stephen King NAILS IT

This is a great quote from Stephen King analyzing what passes as cinema in today's popular culture.  He nailed it in his observation in my opinion. I love this guy.

QUOTE: "What happened to serious American movies? I ask because the best ones, such as The Hurt Locker, no longer get anything resembling a wide release, while Michael Bay's idiotic Transformers 2 movie opened on over 4,200 screens. ... And consider this: Locker cost about $11 million to make. It's a work of genius. Revenge of the Fallen had a budget almost 20 times that, and it's a work of crap. The public decides, you say? Fine, I have no problem with that, but when did you last see a movie that engaged your mind a week or a month later? Doubt was nearly a year ago. Ditto The Wrestler and The Reader. Having scanned production schedules, I can tell you there's nothing like these on the horizon ... but you can bet your ticket stub there'll be further adventures for the Transformers and the G.I. Joes." —Stephen King, in his regular Entertainment Weekly column on the state of pop culture [Entertainment Weekly, 9/18/09]

Monday, September 14, 2009

Idiocracy 2

AND IT'S ANOTHER IN THE SERIES of blogs that comments on areas of our great American culture that, just like the main point in the movie of the same name, shows that we are actually beginning to digress in the process of evolution and becoming more and more, shall I say, less cerebral!

     My rant for today: Really, who does Kanye West think he is acting that way at the VMA's?  And where does Serina Williams come off acting like that at the U.S. Open? 

Let's begin with Kanye West.  I have personally decided to never give him any thought as a musician just because he comes across as an arrogant, pompous human being with an unbelievably massively over-inflated ego that certainly does not match his talent.  And I do not pay much attention to awards shows because in our culture of narcissism our entertainers (or media I should say) LOVE to have sooooooo many awards shows where their egos are stroked and their importance is greatly exaggerated.  It used to be the Emmy's, Tony's, Oscar's, and Grammy's.  But now we have so many award ceremonies that it has gotten ludicrous. 

     If that isn't bad enough, now we have entertainers publicly disputing the results of their very own "theatre of narcissism" by dissing the one who is trying to accept an award and making a case for the competition!  Kanye West has proved how insane he is that he thinks his opinion is so important that he can publicly disrupt the VMA's to voice his disagreement about the winner of the award!  How crazy is this guy?  Why would anyone give this insignificant man their time or attention as an entertainer??  I don't get it.  People like him should not be given a platform to express their idiotic ideas.  Who buys his CD's? Who is he that he thinks of himself like this?  I mean, I have no problem with disagreeing with the award ceremony.  I remember practically going through the roof when Whoppie Goldberg won a Oscar for "Ghost" when she was up against Mary McDonnell in "Dances With Wolves".  Don't get me wrong about Whoopie.  I thought she did great as an actor in "The Color Purple", but in "Ghost" there was no real stretch for her as an actor in the character she played.  So fine, Kanye disagrees strongly.  Talk about it at the nightclub.  But to grab the microphone from Taylor Swift and argue his point?!?!?! I hope he is held accountable for such a ridiculous thing to do to another entertainer.  And Beyonce sure did not seem to appreciate his accolades.  Thank God she was at least willing to display some class, integrity, and humility at the VMA's when she brought Taylor Swift back up to finish her speech.

And now, Serina WIlliams.  What was that all about?!?!?! She didn't like the judges call.  Fine. She is human and human judgement in matters of sporting events can be wrong.  But when we have the technology in place to make sure there is no place for human error in the event that the call could be disputed, well then, suck it up, re-focus and get back to the game.  But to verbally assault the judge and have a "racket rage" moment in front of the whole world?!?  As if arguing with scientific fact will maybe change the results in your favor?  And then to make matters even worse you can't even apologize?!?!?! Get over yourself.  You made a mistake, admit it, make things right, and move on.  But to act like a big baby on a court in your own country . . . well, classless, ridiculous, and way over the top.  This is not the behavior of a focused, determined and poised athlete. 

     Let's hope that these are just fluke incidents and that there are many entertainers and athletes who appreciate their craft and their God-given talents that have been given to them.  And regardless of whether they have a garage full of awards or not, they can use their talent with integrity and class. Taylor Swift and Beyonce come to mind. 

Friday, September 11, 2009

Jesus Is My Friend (DONK REMIX)

As with everything on YouTube that cannot be taken seriously, someone comes along and puts a remix together to make it more fun!

Jesus Is My Friend by Sonseed

This shows why many of us who grew up in conservative churches in the 70's and 80's suffered greatly when we were not allowed to listen to "secular music"! "Torture" is the word that comes to mind! Enjoy! Very funny esp. that they take themselves seriously! Never heard of Sonseed but i could name 100 other bands like them! Ummmmmm Carmen, Leon Patillo, Gaither Vocal Band, Dallas Holmes, Evie, every single praise band at Liberty (late 80's early 90's), a multitude of cheezy stuff marketed to children's ministries (music and movies except VeggieTales. I actually took my one son to see Bible Man. Pure torture.). Thank God Christian music has improved greatly. Oh and there is still a ton of great music out there by those who may not be Christians too! Okay I have to admit, this song is growing on me now that i have heard it a couple of times and I want to make this our new theme song for youth group this year! Thoughts?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Understanding the Development of Teenage Guys

          The truth is, this book could not of come to me at a better time, seriously.  I have been involved in youth ministry for about 20 years now but I have just recently become the father of a teenage boy.  My little boy has grown up fast and now the "expertise" I may have felt as a youth pastor is being shattered to pieces as I and my wife navigate into the waters of raising teenagers.  Also, it has been a while since I have picked up an adolescent development book so I thought it would be time to read a book that would be a refresher.  In fact, the last time I went to a Youth Specialties conference I remember a session that was offered in which Steve Gerali was talking about his book and in my arrogance I thought, "Already read those kind of books in college and seminary, been there, done that."  IDIOT, I am. 
     This book was not just a refresher course on adolescent development.  This book was so much more.  In many cases as I read about the specific changes going on within the body of a teenage boy I heard my internal voice saying things like: "Ooooooooh, that's what is going on!" "This guy just described my son!", and several time quite humbly, "I did not know that! Wow!"  Steve Gerali is well-versed in discerning what is going on in the life of a teenage guy by exploring much of the recent research that is out there in all the fields of scientific study.  He also is critical of some of the explanations and approaches that the church in general has taken toward male development.
     Gerali takes on the 6 areas of development which create a holistic teenage guy.  He explores these six areas in detail: physical development, sexual identity development, emotional development, intellectual development, social development and faith formation.  Gerali spends a significant amount of time in each area providing insight, analysis, critique a very well-reasoned approach to understanding our teenage boys. 
Favorite Quotes:
Gerali on Sexual Desire: Guys carry a lot of guilt and baggage because of the reckless, incorrect information the Christian community has perpetuated out of a fear of sexual arousal. Guys will think sexually and feel sexual because of the testosterone pulsing through their bodies. (p. 62)
Gerali on Sexual Boundaries: Guys need to learn that sexual arousal is not wrong, and that the things they see may arouse them. The discipline of guarding one's mind involves understanding the process of arousal and setting boundaries about pursuing sexual adventure. . . . we need to teach guys that arousal isn't the problem. It's the pursuit of sexual adventure that needs to be curbed. (p. 86-87)
Gerali on Sexual Identity: The greatest sexual identity conflict occurs for Christian adolescent guys. All the cultural messages they receive about masculinity are pro-sex, while the messages they receive from the church are anti-sex. the dilemma? He believes he isn't a real man because he has to keep his sexuality in check; he believes he isn't a real Christian because he has to keep his sexuality in check. (p. 92-93).

Gerali on Emotions: Follow the logic: His body is rapidly changing, releasing hormones that alter and affect mood.  He can't quite verbalize what he experiences because he doesn't know how to conceptualize it yet. Then on top of that, Western society and the Christian community impose cultural expectations on him that counter his internal emotional experiences. He learns quickly to operate within a very limited range of emotions. This is defined negatively. . . . In other words, our boys grow up to be men with restricted emotionality. (p. 114-115)

Gerali on Balance: Here's the truth: A person is neither a thinker nor a feeler. The truth is that God creates guys to be balanced, and both reason and emotion are essential for a balanced life. . . . Guys must learn that they need to think things through and trust their emotions.  Balanced living uses both the heart and the mind fully. (p. 120)

Gerali on Intellectual Development: Sometimes an early-adolescent guy will say something so incredibly profound that it will catch you off guard - then with the same breath he'll say something so outrageously moronic that you believe he needs an intellectual booster chair just to get into the 'normal zone.' A junior high guy's thought processes are definitely otherworldly. But it doesn't get better. As he matures into middle adolescence, he gains more confidence and a better grasp of the conceptual. Now he knows everything, and in his mind you need the intellectual booster chair!  When he enters late adolescence, he hits a more rational, logical stride. This would be great if he didn't idealize everything. Now everything becomes black-and-white with no gray. Now every conversation is a debate! Welcome to the dark chasm of the teenage guy's mind. Other than from infancy to the toddler years, never is intellectual change so pronouncedly marked as during adolescence. (p. 177).

Gerali on Affection: Now a double jeopardy effect kicks in: guys can't experience any physical affection from other guys because it's perceived to be homosexual; and he can't receive affection from girls because it's perceived to be lustful, impure, and inappropriate. . . . Guys must learn that they need and can give affection in opposite- and same-gendered relationships and that affection is not sexual. (p. 226-227)

Gerali on Intimacy: Guys truly desire to love and be loved. They're wired with deep intimate needs. Yet throughout his life, a guy is on a trajectory that informs and rewards him if he's a man who is strong, competent, self-sufficient, and who needs very little. (p. 232).

Gerali on Fathers: Research shows that fathers who are actively involved in the lives of their sons turn out guys who are less aggressive and competitive, are better able to express their feelings of vulnerability and sadness, have more flexible attitudes about gender and life, have a healthy self-esteem and fewer incidents of depression, have greater academic and career success, are better equipped for intimacy, and have better problem-solving skills. (p. 241).


Gerali on Spiritual Formation: Herein lies the dilemma: there seems to be a bipolar pull on guys when it comes to faith formation. On the one hand, the messages they get from culture, including a Christian culture, is that masculinity involves conquest and control. This is played out in power situations, sexual encounters, and relational detachments, all of which run counter to true spiritual formation and conformity to the person of Christ. On the other hand, he is faced with a spirituality that's presented as being feminine. A guy constantly finds himself in the dilemma of having to deny being a man or being a Christian. For a teenage guy in the developmental stage where identity and spirituality are still being formed, this dilemma becomes an internal storm. (p. 261).

Gerali on Spiritual Needs:
Teenage guys don't need to see a powerful man work for God; they need to see a powerful God work through men. . . .

They need to see that real spiritual men are marked as Christ's disciples by their love,not by being strong and right. . . .

They need to know that love is not a feminine characteristic but a God-characteristic. . . .

They need to see leaders who will be shepherds, not CEOs; conciliators, not generals; and servants, not dominators. . . .

They need to see men who are confident because of whose they are, not who they are. . . .
(p. 277-278)

     Overall I really enjoyed this book and it not only helped me understand the guys in my youth group better, but it helped me understand my son better.  Gerali is also not afraid to take on current thinking within certain Christian circles that have perpetuated a negative view of masculinity and sexuality.  He also takes on the tough issues like anger, depression, suicide, sexual development, homosexuality, and false concepts of masculinity with compassion and grace. 

     I also really enjoyed Gerali's emphasis on the importance of rights of passage.  I really wrestled with this my first 8 years of full time youth ministry.  It seemed like that just wasn't any ways in which the church intentionally created rights of passage for teenagers.  It wasn't until I landed in the church that I am currently in that I saw the importance of Confirmation as a right of passage for junior highers to take ownership of their faith and for the weekend retreat called Chrysalis to help high school aged teens mature into their faith.  Both experiences have had profound effects on the teens in my youth group.

This is a great book and everyone who has contact with any teens in their life needs to put this on their "must read" list. 

     So with all this in mind, I would highly recommend this book not only to adolescence  professionals but also parents of teen boys.  It is very helpful in understanding all of the things that they are going through from many different angles.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Upgrading to Youth Ministry 3.0

As the president of Youth Specialties, Mark Oestreicher has contributed a ton to youth ministries over the years.  It is with his expertise in this area of ministry that he provides a context to evaluate the birth and growth of youth ministry through the decades and then considers where we are at today and where we may need to go to be effective in the future.  Mark opens up with the challenge that inspired many of his thoughts in this book by stating:

For most of us who've been doing youth ministry for a while, I believe there's a sense of this story: The reality that's playing out is somewhat different than what we imagined, hoped, or expected. While there's wonderful stuff happening in youth ministry all over the place - in pretty much every youth ministry - our impact, the transformation of kid's lives, seems less than we'd hoped. Study after study is bringing this harsh reality into focus. Kids are dropping out of church after youth group at staggering rates. 9as high as 50 to 70 percent in one reputable survey). And those students in our youth groups seem to be - according to researchers - subscribing to a faith that's neutered and unsustainable. To be fair, we youth workers are doing what we've always done - trying to love teenagers to the best of our abilities and help them experience the love of God. Our hearts are right (for the most part), but - I believe - there are flaws in many of our assumptions and methods. A disconnect. . . . the world of teenagers has changed, and we've been slow in our response." (p. 24-25). 

Mark clearly demonstrates that something needs to change with how we approach youth ministry.  The methods we have been using have lost their effectiveness. 

     After stating the problem with the present state of youth ministry, Mark takes us on a journey through the birth and growth of youth ministry over the past few decades.  I loved his historical analysis of youth ministry.  He begins by looking at Youth Ministry 1.0 as the time after WW2 through the 1960's.  Many churches were slow to initiate youth ministries so many para-church organizations helped to launch a movement targeted to teenagers.  Much of this style of youth ministry was seen as evangelistic in nature helping teenagers establish their identity in Christ through the proclamation of the gospel.  Youth Ministry 2.0 is seen as the period beginning in the 1970 to the end of the Century.  As youth ministry began to take hold within the church some major shifts took place.  Programs replaced proclamation.  The youth culture established their identity but now teens were pushing for autonomy.  Youth ministries morphed into a "church within a church" offering programs specifically for them.  Many of these programs focused on discipleship and helping to create a positive peer group.  In fact, I would say that a majority of my education was spent in training me in this style of youth ministry.  There were still remnants of YM 1.0 but the thrust of my training was in YM 2.0.  

     While many of us seem to still be wading in the methodology of Youth Ministry 2.0, Mark very emphatically points out that, "Our thinking is stuck in - let's face it - the previous millennium.  We cannot build a great youth ministry to reach Youth Culture 3.0 teenagers with Youth Ministry 2.0 methods or thinking." (p. 64)  It is vital for us to see that we are in the midst of a cataclysmic shift that appears to be going on all around us, philosophically, culturally, and within youth ministry. 

     Now with this in mind, it is with anticipation that the reader is just waiting for Mark to roll out the new youth ministry method for the 21st century that Youth Specialties will publish and make available to everyone! But wait! Instead of unraveling this "new method" Mark notices that there is no macro-methodology to youth ministry!  In fact, he goes on to state that "There's no one-size-fits-all youth culture anymore. That did exist in the first two waves of youth culture. But it's likely that it will never exist again." (p. 69).  With this in mind, Mark pushes us to immerse ourselves into the micro-narratives of the youth culture we find ourselves involved in in order to understand our teens.  He goes on to point out that "Youth Ministry 3.0 needs to allow culture to inform contextualization.  Once again, like good missionaries youth workers need to become contextual specialists. . . What's needed are cultural anthropologists with relational passion." (p. 72).

     With very broad strokes, Mark gives some definitions to the new youth ministry that seems to be evolving.  He sees the main purpose of teens today is to seek out affinity through community.  In order to achieve this deep sense of community, Mark sees communion and mission as being instrumental in shaping a new youth ministry. 

     He defines communion (community) as:

. . . life-on-life, whole life, eating together, sharing journeys, working through difficulties, wrestling with praxis (theology in practice), accountability, safety, openness, serving side by side, cultivating shared passion and holy discontent, mutuality, and a host of other variables. True community is not a program. It's not something people sign up for, It's not something we force. (p. 74). 

     He then goes on to describe mission as starting . . .

. . . with the assumption that God is already actively working on earth, bringing redemption, restoration, and the transformation of all creation. Therefore, a missional ministry seeks to discern, observe, and identify what's close to the heart of God and where God is already at work - and then joins up with the work of God already in progress. (p. 75).

     Mark sees this new youth ministry that is emerging as not "'purpose-driven', but 'present'.  Living into the present "work of God in our lives and in the world. . . Present to life in the way of Jesus." (p. 77).  This kind of "present thinking" can be messy and undefined when compared to previous models that reflected very structured business-like models for achieving success in ministry. 

Now just before Mark throws us down the rabbit hole, he gives us these empowering and encouraging words that we are on a " . . . shared journey, utilizing a shared discernment process and involving both adults and teenagers. You know your students; you know your community. Dream and discern with them to create a localized ministry that brings the gospel to the real kids you see every week." (p. 86). 

     And now with a grin on our face and a brief moment of feeling empowered, Mark takes us to the rabbit hole!  In order to move in the direction of stepping out of a Youth Ministry 2.0 models and moving towards a 3.0 model we need

 . . . to cut programs. . . . The road forward must first go through the valley of doing less. . . Strip down your programming so you have space to spend time with teenagers, spend time with God, and consider rebuilding something new and fresh. . . . Let me say it plainly: Large is part of the value system of Youth Ministry 2.0; small is cornerstone to Youth Ministry 3.0. Communion necessitates small. Contextualization begs for small. Discernment requires small. Mission is lived out in small. (p. 97-99).

I have served in 4 churches now.  It is in these transitional times between jobs which have offered me the opportunity to really evaluate what worked, what didn't work and what would I like to try differently as I begin at a new church.  I know with my last transition into the church that I am currently in, I made the decision to stop doing so much programs and attempt to do less.  Fortunately, I was coming into a church where I was their first full-time youth pastor so I did not have to compete with the memories of those who went before me.  I was able to set the tone so that I could get to know the teens in the context of our church and within their community.  I look back on my first church and it just blows my mind how many things we were attempting to do to build up the program for the teens.  That was the model of ministry I was trained in though.  We had so much going on it was easy to feel resentful towards the schools as we felt a sense of competition with them.  But now I believe that we need to see the school as a part of the youth culture of which we need to have a greater understanding and appreciation for in order to understand our teens better. 

     The final element that helps to point us in the direction of YM 3.0 is that of worship. Mark explains what he means in that:

. . . worship includes the experience of raising our voices together in songs to God. And, yes, worship involves prayer.  But a broader - more scriptural - view of worship is about serving the poor, righting injustice, caring for those in need. When teenagers - whether they're already followers of Jesus or not - experience this kind of worship-in-action, they have an enormous opportunity to have a tangible experience of God in their lives. This often leads to faith (or more faith). More importantly, this leads to a sustainable faith. . . For today's teenagers, experience is what they trust. (p. 103-104). 

If there is one thing that my teenagers will sign up for, it is most certainly the experiential opportunities such as mission trips, and many other service opportunities that arise throughout the year. They love to be a part of a fresh experience of God done in community with one another. 

     In his concluding remark, Mark imagines that:

My hope and dream is that we'll see a groundswell of courageous youth workers who are willing to fail, willing to risk, willing to step out in faith and passion and into a calling to reach Youth Culture 3.0 teenagers with the present and transformative love of Jesus Christ. My hope and dream is that 10 years from now, we can easily show hundreds of examples - thousands of examples - of contextual, communional, missional, present youth ministries that are living out the gospel in the real world of today's adolescents. (p. 125).

     I believe that Mark Ostriecher's observations and thoughts on the history and direction of youth ministry are right on target.  Our culture has gone through a massive shift from modernism to post-modernism and while some adults may not have made the mental shifts that are required to understand our culture, the teens are on the cutting-edge of it.  We can not ignore or disregard what is going on around us.  We must get back to thinking and acting like missionaries that are integrating into a new culture.  This book needs to be required reading for anyone who is pursuing youth ministry as a calling and anyone who is currently involved in ministering to teenagers.