#PYM14

I used that hash tag quite often a few weeks ago while in Chicago.

PROGRESSIVE-YOUTH-MINISTRY-300x226

The Progressive Youth Ministry 2014 conference was my destination and reason I fly across the ocean from France back to the good ole’ U.S of A.  This has been a conference many have dreamed about for years.  Prior to moving, I would attend a few youth ministry seminars and conference each year.  Some big and some small but each time I would discover a like-minded affinity group of “progressives”.  Often treated like the extra grandchildren at Thanksgiving, we would be relegated to the “kids table” of some small room or late night pub discussion.  But from these encounters and interactions, deep friendships were forged and a vision born.

PYM14 was organized by the JoPa group and came together under the leadership of Tony Jones and John Vest, and I could not have been happier.

http://pym.thejopagroup.com/

The question left undefined, by design, was “What does ‘progressive’ even mean?  Moreover, how does one describe a progressive youth ministry?  While I have yet to answer those questions, I did realize a few things.

First, “progressive” does not mean liberal.  I really despise those division terms of conservative and liberal anyway.  Progressive also does not mean “anti-evangelical”

I was surprised to learn that approximately half of the over 200 attendees came from some form of “evangelical” background.  True, the vast majority of those are no longer working in those type of contexts, but are also unwilling to completely disassociate from their heritage.  The is a general belief and hope that the “left” and “right” can find beautiful points of convergence and experience a holy embrace.  Yes, this kiss might look ugly and sloppy at times, but at least it implies some form of connectivity and relationality.  We will see what this future looks like, but I sensed a palpable energy of openness to include those radically different.

Progressives do have a few common characteristics (in general).  Most support the rights of women and the LGBT community while also welcoming and affirming them within the Church.  While active in social and political issues, most progressives remain from political alignment, recognizing the importance of official separation. I would probably be unfair to say there were few Republicans in attendance, so I will not say that :)

Most importantly, the commonality shared in this conference was threefold:

1) Love for God and desire to serve the Church

2)  Passion for teenagers and belief they can change the future of the Church and world.

3)  Uncanny and unafraid openness to believe that God is bigger than we and the Spirit of Christ is, in fact, active and engaged in our world and future (and not just in the past)

Many attendees have blogged about their experiences.  You can read some of those here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/ProgYouthMin/223427967852288/?notif_t=group_activity

The following is a well-worded excerpt from Tony Jones’s blog, one of the organizers and key leaders in the conversation.  His reflection and sentiment cannot be better articulated, so I will let him speak for himself, and all those who attended!

“The speakers were incredible. Jeff Chu and H. Adam Ackley, a transgender theology professor spoke out of their own experience of being queer in their youth, and each of them explained how they could have been better ministered to by their churches.

And we listened.

Other speakers addressed how women are portrayed in rap and hiphop music, what “death of god” theology could mean in a confirmation class, what kind of youth pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was, and why process theology doesn’t suck. Otis Moss III preached us in, and Laura Truax preached us out. In other words, the content was amazing.

But something even more important happened last week at Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago.

What happened in that room was that we had a sense that something special is happening. There was an unmistakeable sense that we have an opportunity to claim a significant voice in the conversation about what youth ministry is in America, that we can fight back against moralistic therapeutic deism, and that we can start to articulate a view of God that is generous, life-affirming, and inclusive. We have a tribe — that’s a clear take-away from last week.

For myself, I knew from the opening session that I was among people whom I understood, and who understood me. Most of my own leadership skills were honed in youth ministry, so I appreciate the challenges that many of the folks in that room face. But I also knew that the energy in the room could only have been generated by youth workers. The laughter was a bit louder, the singing a bit bolder, and the tears a bit less restrained than we’d ever get at a different kind of pastor’s conference.”

People always ask me where I will “land” in ministry, and for now specifically youth ministry.  I certainly receive a warm “home” welcoming back from so many friends, both old and new.  The conference was fun and entertaining, especially the live podcast of Homebrewed Christianity with Tripp Fuller.

http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2014/04/13/youth-ministers-the-niebuhr-revival-pastormark-other-goodies-pym14/

This tribe speaks my language and speaks up for the issues closest to my heart. Yet one key admonishment during the week was for this small band of progressives not to become “tribal”.  Very easily that can happen.

I am glad to have feet in both camps of theological tradition and practical ministry.  I appreciate my evangelical heritage and foundation but also deeply appreciate the progressive soul and lived-out gospel.

My sincere hope is to continue to converse and communion with all youth workers from all denominations, traditions, backgrounds, races, and cultures.  For that is where the Body of Christ is most beautiful.

Thank you to #PYM14 for a much-needed voice and platform in the expanding world of youth ministry. 

Times are changing, and as the Spirit progresses forward ahead us, so must we. 

Going Deeper with: Tony Jones’s “A Theology Primer”

Tony Jones, author of Postmodern Youth Ministry, wrote an excellent and thought-provoking article for the latest edition of Immerse Journal.

I have known Tony for a number of years and very much appreciate his friendship as well as  theological insights, passion, and innovation in ministry.

His focus was on practical theology in youth ministry.  I was asked to write a reflective companion piece for Immerse Journal sharing the implementation of these ideas in my context.

Here is a sample of the article:

When I first arrived at my church, I was fresh from a college education steeped in systematic theology. I was schooled in theories of understanding attributes and characteristics of God. So naturally, some of my first teachings with high school and middle school students were based on intellectual assertions of Christian doctrines. I taught lessons such as the doctrine of humanity, the revelation of God, the nature of sin, conceptions of salvation, the role of the church and so forth.

I had a clear structure and system for my teachings. Everything fit neatly into this theological package, of sorts. Of course, I tried my best to use clever illustrations to make my point so students would not fall asleep.

After a few years of trekking down this path, I began to make important observations.

First, I began to struggle with certain “proofs” and ways of attempting to articulate and define the mysterious and indefinable. I wondered if God could, in fact, be simplified to a bulleted list. It seemed to me that God was becoming who I wanted him to be and how I wanted him to work. These attempts are often seen by students as trying to figure out God or box God in. This can minimize the majesty and wonder of our Creator. Rather than come to the conclusion that we can fully understand what God is and how God operates, our practical theological hope has been to discover how God is at work in our lives.

Second, it was increasingly difficult to discern or qualify spiritual transformation in the lives of my students. Sure, I could gauge thought processes and intellectual affirmations, but were these beliefs really making a concrete difference in their lives? Were these ideas helping them become better people who desired to use their lives to bless and serve others?

I learned that what was really happening was that my students began believing that defending these particular “proofs” about God was their purpose; thus, they spent more time apologizing for God than promoting his love.

Third, my students’ life experiences were seldom matching up with the faith-in-a-box presentation. Kids struggled with their parents’ divorces while we read Bible passages about God hating divorce. Students questioned the morality of war or the divinely commanded genocide in the Bible and were left with no real answers. We taught that all people were created in the image of God, yet we had no idea how to be in dialogue with students born with a complex and confusing sexualities.

After a few years of actually doing youth ministry, I discovered firsthand the truth of Tony’s statement, “Life and ministry are rarely, if ever, systematic, thorough, comprehensive. Life and ministry are not clinical. Instead, they’re messy and challenging, and they demand ad hoc, on-the-fly decision making.”

To read the rest of the article, click on this link  Immerse Journal-featured article

Top Ten Youth Ministry bloggers

As we close out another here I wanted to give a shout out to the youth ministry bloggers out there.

This is my own personal list, not intended to be “the” list.

For a great list of youth ministry bloggers check out the Youth Specialties link below

Top 20 youth ministry blogs of 2010

*and by the way YS, no hard feelings that this blog didn’t make your list…maybe next year (hint)

I am not sure how these numbers are calculated.  Hits to site?  Readership?  Subscriptions? Impact?  Name recognition?

Here is how I created my top ten:

People that I actually read, value, and learn from their thoughts in youth ministry.  I have chosen a few “outside of the box” writers and thinkers.  Some of these men and women you have heard of and probably read, others maybe not.  Personally I don’t care as much about the statistics of certain blogs, but more about the ideas presented.  If I can bring some new, progressive, and emerging voices into the realm of youth ministry that would be great.

Clearly there are so many great bloggers out there.  My list will look very different from Youth Specialties or your own..and that is a very good thing.  Each one of us in on a different journey, and so diverse types of thinkers and bloggers will impact us and our ministry.  Here are the thinkers, writers, practitioners, activists, and bloggers who have impacted me this past year.

Top Ten Youth Ministry Bloggers

A new kind of youth ministry-   Chris Folsmbee (author, trainer, and director of Barefoot Ministries

Youth Specialties blog- Adam Mclane and an “assortment” of other youth workers and thinkers

Rethinking Youth Ministry-Brian Kirk and Jacob Thorne (mainline/progressive youth pastors offering new perspectives)

ReYouthpastor- Jeremy Zach (trainer and innovator in youth ministry w/ XP3 students

Mike King (author and director of Immerse Journal and Youthfont)

Why is Marko- Mark Oesteicher (author, speaker, YS emergent brain child)

evolitionist- Neil Christopher (activist and progressive youth pastor in TX)

Lars Rood (author, speaker, youth pastor in TX)

pomomusing- Adam Walker Cleaveland (theologian & “postmodern” youth pastor)

Peter Waugh (progressive and creative youth pastor in Belfast, Ireland)

Now I wish I made my list top 15 or 20 because there are so many other great youth ministry blogs out there.

For more of a fuller and broader list of youth ministry bloggers that I read, please scroll down the right of the home page of Emerging Youth

and find the RSS feeds under “Who I read”. That section is my personal blogroll for youth ministry people.

*Please comment with ones that you follow and read and I will probably add a few more as well!

Happy blogging and Happy New Year



Honoring the Virgin Mary

Today, December 8th, Catholics around the world celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Read Luke 1:26-38.

Growing up, I always believed the Immaculate Conception to refer to the virgin birth of Jesus.  In order to be a spotless, blameless, and sinless sacrifice on humanity’s behalf, he had to be removed from the stain of original sin and therefore (out of theologically necessity) needed to not be biologically connected with Joseph (since all men transferred sin according to tradition).

However, Catholics take this notion one step further and believe that Mary was conceived without sin.  “Mary embodies all at once what God wills for his intelligent creation.  But there remains a difference between Mary and us. We are healed of the wounds of sin.  Mary never contracted them.  We suffer the aftereffects of sin. Mary rejoices in God her Savior.”  – Magnificat December 8th Advent Companion

Catholic tradition holds that, in order for Mary to be an acceptable “mother of God”, she needed to be free from sin at the time of Jesus’ birth and afterwards.

A common prayer is this “You allowed no stain of Adam’s sin to touch the Virgin Mary.  Full of grace, she was to be a worthy mother of your Son.”

Mary serves as our “pattern of holiness” and the Annunciation (which was the announcement by the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ the Son of God.), becomes the culmination of her miraculous conception and special calling.

More to the point:  Catholics believe Mary was specifically called and chosen at conception to birth the Son of God and therefore was given extra grace to protect her from all sin.  She now intercedes on behalf of Christians for their purity and freedom from sin.

An interesting meditation from 1890 by John Henry Newman that shed even more light into the theology behind the immaculate conception is as follows:

“What is the highest, the rarest, the choicest prerogative of Mary?  It is that she was without sin.  When a woman in the crowd cried out to our Lord, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee!” he answered, “More blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.”  Those words were fulfilled in Mary.  She was filled with grace in order to be the Mother of God. But it was a higher gift than her maternity to be thus sanctified and thus pure.  Our Lord indeed would not have become her son unless he had first sanctified her; but still, the greater blessedness was to have that perfect sanctification.”

I could list a whole hosts of prayers offered by Catholics to the Blessed Virgin Mary asking her to help them live a sinless life and so forth.

Growing up Protestant I always had a very negative view of Mary (or more specifically of how I believe Catholics worshiped her).

All of my friends would have to regularly recite the “Hail Mary” and I thought it was some sort of blasphemous prayer and borderline idolatry.

Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.


*Interesting to note, that the angel Gabriel offers those same praises to Mary upon his visit to her.

Her Magnificat (known also as Mary’s Song) found in Luke 1:46-55 is an amazingly profound, historical, and theological prayer…especially for a young Jewish girl!

Over the years, I have grown in deep appreciation and respect for Catholicism (the heritage, liturgy, saints, theology, authors, etc..) Living and serving in New York, many close friends and neighbors are committed Catholics and my friendship with them has shed much light.

I personally do not agree with everything they may or may hold doctrinally dear, nor follow all the practices, rites, and rituals, but I have gained much wisdom and insight.

One of them has been a newfound respect for Mary.

By venerating Mary (not worshipping), a few blessings and graces have occurred in my thinking and faith.

In the words of Brian McLaren, by honoring and celebrating Mary, “We come more fully to know who we are: simple humans, like Mary, called upon to bear Christ in our bodies, through our lives, to our world.”

I have realized, like Brian, just how impoverished my own Protestant faith and heritage is with its exclusively male focus.  The incarnation and immaculate conception (of Christ) is a mysterious and beautiful story that “magnifies” the value of women, erases the shame of Eve, makes visible the importance of spiritual receptivity, and celebrates the richness and feracity of humble, simple submission.

For full disclosure, unlike some of my Catholic friends, I do not pray to Mary or have statues of her, although I understand and appreciate now more than before why they do.

Afterall, it was the Spirit of God that testified through Gabriel, through Mary, and through Elizabeth that Mary was in fact highly favored; that the Lord was with her, she was blessed, and all generations will call her blessed because the Mighty One has done great things for her.

Though I do not worship her, I do however look to her as an amazing example of faith and honor her in my heart. I praise God for her obedience, example, faith, and miraculous life of being in the will of God.  I would imagine that Mary’s story and prayer echoed through the mind of her son, when he was at the cross and submitted to the will of God and, like his mother, prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

May we all follow in the example of Mary and have the same obedience and faith this Advent season.

NYWC 2010…afterthoughts from Nashvegas

*A view of Broadway highlighting the gems of Nashville: “Jack’s” BBQ, Legends Corner, and The Stage

As habit, and a way of justifying procrastination, I chose not to blog about the National Youth Workers Convention until after it concluded.
it gives me time to process, reflect, and decompress
Also, i am prone to make calls too early.  Over the years I have learned you cannot always judge a book by its cover (or the first few days of a conference)

Thus….one day after I returned from NYWC 2010 in Nashville, here are some thoughts…

1) The convention seemed to be smaller than years in the past.  This is my 9th year attending. This year seemed to lack something, but it could just be me. I would imagine for 1st timers, it was great.

I agree with Mike King that compared to last year, with all the confusion and uncertainity surrounding everything, this year seemed back on track.

Mike King- \”Back from Nashville\”

2) There were no free give-aways on the seats in the general sessions which I usually like but also end up weighing down my bag and suitcases in the end.

*I attribute both of these changes to the decline in the economy

3) There was an emphasis and focus on soul care (prayer, sacred space, and pastoral counseling)

These are extremely important and perhaps the best aspect for me this time around.

I will admit that I missed the Labyrinth Experience and also Jeff Johnson and Vesper services.

4) The exhibit hall was packed, every ministry and organization trying to get ahead and sell more curriculum or mission trips. Friend and blogger Paul Sheneman mentions in his blog;  “It is called an exhibit hall and not an exhibition hall.  The later can get you into some serious trouble:)  Enough said.

The balance of my thoughts will focus on #5 and #6

5)

What I noticed the most was the de-emphasis of progressive ideology, theologically based seminars, and topics/speakers who could rattle the cages…or at least offer different perspectives.

Youth Specialties encouraged us to attend seminars that we may not agree with, yet offered a low amount of topics, themes, or speakers towards that end.  I suppose Tony Campolo’s views of social justice may be uncomfortable to some, but he has been advocating for that for almost a decade.  Ted Haggard generated much stir, but that was more due to his unintended remarks about Muslims than anything else.

Some former speakers and presenters were glaringly absent, some had minimized roles,  and others were actually in attendance but not asked to speak or teach ( i think it will write a separate post on this later)

6)

I remember writing about the Zondervan and Youth Works transition last year and was privileged to speak with Paul Bertleson and John Potts  of Youth Works (both very gracious and great men) and shared personal concerns and hope for the new regime and things to come.

One of my observations has been over the past few years I notice the same youth ministry “veterans” leading a majority of the seminars.
I respect their life-long commitment to student ministry.  I really do.

However, they are a product of their time and their culture. and in my opinion their time has passed.

Most no longer work directly with students, and many have not lead a church-based youth ministry for over 20 years. I wonder how they empathize with the daily struggles of youth works and today’s culture of teenagers. How are they working within the current framework of postmodernity, budget cuts, suicidal teens, and debates about inclusiveness, tolerance, and affirmation.

Statistical research and cultural analysis only tells one story.
The daily working with and for adolescence is a whole other ball game

But I do believe these veterans have a purpose and roll.  My stated hope was and is for youth ministry veterans to come alongside younger and emerging youth workers to mentor them personally and spiritually, not so much professionally.  I would love to have a ministry veteran of 30 years coach me in life, faith, marriage.  They have been through struggles and the ups and downs of life and youth ministry.  I just don’t soak in their expertise now as it relates to working with kids in my context.  I love their experience but honestly question their relevance, and trust me countless of youth workers feel the same way (but they just might not get in trouble for writing about it)

Having shared my views last year….what did we find this year…..even more 50+ youth workers on prominent display.  I do realize there is a growing trend of older youth workers and seeing this bunch serves as inspiration and examples, but what about all the younger youth workers?

Y.S and Youth Works….there is no need to eliminate or ostracize that segment, but please be intentional about creating time, space, and platforms for the next generation. They need a voice and need support.

The conversations I had apart from the convention with men and women who fully understand my situation and what we all are going through was far more helpful, supportive, and inspiring than most “how to” seminars.

I realize I am a product of my own experiences, growth, and maturation, yet also know from the hundreds of conversations I am having there is a ground swell of support away from the past traditionalism of youth ministry and towards a theologically driven dialogue and progressive youth ministry.

More and more small conference such as First Third, Evo Youth, and  Princeton Forum will be popping up and more youth workers will begin to opt for those smaller, but more intentional, focused and relevant gatherings.

I noticed plenty of  affinity gatherings at NYWC covering every single facet of youth workers, except emergent/progressive/theological ones.  Interesting.

There was even something for small town rural part-time workers living in Nebraska, (or something like that) but none targeted for emerging leaders.

*There were a few select seminars that I will mention in a later post that I recommended and was glad to see offered, but they represented a striking minority.

These larger all-in-one conferences can remain relevant to broader audiances by offering more types of seminars, gatherings, and intention ways to connect and network.

Secondly, regional and strategic seminars and affinity gatherings would fill a big void and serve a great purpose for localize and contextual teaching/training, support, networking and relevant cultural conversations.

(I will also write more about that later and address it to the Chosen Frozen here in the Northeast)

In recap, one year later from the “merge”,  I don’t see much in the way of progression, safety perhaps, but not the progressive, forward thinking vision I have been used to with Y.S

And quite honestly, I am wondering if the departure of Marko is the reason, or if  Youthworks is intentionally moving in a different direction.  (and that’s okay if you are, just kind of let us know….)

YS has always been known to push the envelope, provide a platform for those who have none, and taken chances in hopes of leading the church towards relevance, progression, and a new future

While I agree that they are back on track, it seems to me they are on slow train backwards.  I sincerely hope I am wrong.

This blog is not meant to criticize, though I realize that some may be offended (I offer my apology in advance to you)

I love YS and the guys at Youthworks.  I mean that with all sincerity. I am a big fan.  I am hoping for the best but also realize the longings of so many youth workers.  I want to see this marriage stay together.

I enjoyed the conference and still would recommend it to most.

I liked the Soul care, networking and connections made.  The best conversations on theology, youth ministry were organic and took place over dinner, and during our own “late night” options (thanks again to Sparkhouse)

But with trepidation, I wonder how long before the remnant of emerging youth workers disengage or dissociated themselves from YS  and the NYWC.

I remain committed to YS but sincerely hope to see progression ahead.

Recap:

For what it’s worth (perhaps not much) here is what I would like to see next year, and I know that I also speak for hundreds of youth workers:

1) Emergent/postmodern track (call it something else if those terms are scary)

2) Academic/Theological track

3) Seminar or affinity gathering for the Northeast

4) Feature more women in seminars and main sessions, not just talking about sex or working with middle school girls

5) Offer contextual mini-conferences in strategic geographic regions

And hey, if the powers to be from Youthworks and YS would like to chat…I’m all ears because I believe in you guys and the potential

Hooked on Social Phonics

Last week I was able to attend a Social Phonics social media boot camp put on by JoPa Productions and hosted at Andover Newton Theological School.

Boot camp info

Here is a brief blurb about the training from their website:

“In our one-day Social Media Boot Camp, veteran pastors and social mediaistas, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones will guide you through the basics of the most popular social media services, including blogging, Facebook,Twitter and free broadcast media. You will learn how, in just three 30-minute periods each week, you can dramatically increase your communication to members of your church or people interested in your organization and, even more importantly, to those who have the potential to visit your church or business. Most importantly, we’ll help you determine your own social media philosophy, so that you’ll know exactly why you’re going online each week.

Imagine getting real-time feedback from your parishioners as you prepare your sermon, spreading the word about a church outreach program without buying a newspaper ad, or posting a YouTube welcome to new neighbors in your community. Imagine hearing what customers are saying about your business or organization.

All of this is possible, and it doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, we’ll make it fun!”

Tony Jones instructed and taught this group of pastors, leaders, congregants, and educators.

I highly recommend attending or hosting this training seminar as it applies to everyone ranging for technological novices to those considering themselves social media junkies.  Both basic and advanced ideas and training was presented in a way that clearly made sense and was applicable.

Topics and Tech covered included:

The rise of importance, relevance, and influence of social media.

How to increase your reach and message via social media platforms and devices.

Effectively communicating and connecting your congregation and audience.

Getting your name into the community with maximize exposure and minimum cost.

Twitter, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, U-stream, and Blogging

I consider myself fairly adept with technology. I have a growing blog, Google profile, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube account, etc and I was surprised at how much I still did not know.

Even in the past few weeks, Facebook and Google have added excellent features to help track web traffic and simply makes things more convenient, and none of those features I had previously known or used.

I also learned some great ideas to help improve my blog feeds and reader accessibility.

You can stay current (and even be ahead of the curve) by attending this boot camp.

The day was fun, affordable, learner-centered, and extremely interactive.

We are hoping to have JoPa come to the NY area and host a boot camp for our area.

Church denominations, all pastoral staff members, public and private educators, communicators, and anyone else looking to make an impact in today’s (and tomorrow’s) society must be up to date with technology and the use of social media, and the Social Phonics boot camp is a great way to get started.

SocialPhonics on Facebook

Follow SocialPhonics on Twitter

Role of women in youth ministry?

I recently returned from my denominational district annual conference.

Our particular denomination does not affirm the equality of women in leadership.  Women are relegated to certain roles, but cannot hold “elder” responsibilities of teaching, leading, or preaching.

Denominational leaders choose to use a very few selected verses such 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 as the basis for their position.

While publicly this policy would appear to only affect churches who would like to have female lead pastors or women who are clearly called into vocational ministry, I witnessed how these views trickle down and can impact youth ministry.

At our conference, we had a youth leader luncheon.  Approximately 20-25 youth workers were present and not a single female.

I wonder why?

Though technically, and I suppose “legally” women can serve as youth pastors (although they would have to be called “Directors” I believe) it is clear that our denomination and a few others like it simply do not equate the call, giftedness, and spiritual authority of women the same as men.
Some Christian colleges affiliated with these denominations struggle as to why the enrollment of females into ministry departments continues to decrease.

Really?

Oh, I don’t know..perhaps its because they will not be able to find a job in ministry within that denomination, or if they are lucky enough to get a position they know and feel that they will not be treated as equal.

And we wonder why so many gifted women are flocking to other denominations or using their gifts and talents in the “secular” world instead.

When it comes to youth ministry, I feel that many youth programs are severely hurting due to a lack of women in leadership.

If a youth pastor can rally enough female support from volunteers (which is a good thing) and/or if his wife happens to have time and passion to work with the girls in the group, then it may work out.

But ,to be honest, how many vocational women have the time to really invest in the girls of their church’s youth ministry?

Additionally, though these female volunteers may be great, is there more benefit from having a trained, called, and passionate female in that role?

My wife is great working with our high school girls.  She pours what little extra time or energy she has after long work days investing in these teenagers.

I would say my wife has a sense of purpose and “calling” for these specific girls.  She loves them sincerely and intentionally.

But if you were to ask her if she feels “called” to youth ministry, the answer would be no.

The truth is that she is involved now because of me.  If and when my calling and career changes, I would imagine hers would as well.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think she would continue to volunteer her time working with teenage girls.

Now, you may have wonderful volunteer female leaders who are truly “called” in life-long youth ministry.

However, how much time do they actually have to invest in the lives of these teens?  To what extent are they able to pour their very lives into these students?  What if they are college students helping out, have a full-time job, or have their own family to take care of?

And if you happen to have many women actively involved in leadership, let me aske you a question….could you spare a few?  Really, send them my way!

It’s a no-brainer to realize that females add a different, necessary, and often overlooked dimension to the ministry and leadership of a youth program.

They think of things that most guys would never think of.  In my experience, women bring a sense of compassion, wisdom, and spiritual fervor often unparalleled with men.  We tend to be goal-oriented and agenda focussed.  Women have an uncanny ability for building intentional relationships and investing themselves in conversations.  Not to mention the giftedness so many of them have whether in teaching, vision casting, administration, counseling, etc….

I make no alterations in my affirming of women in leadership and a women’s equal role in ministry.  I have attached a great thesis from prominent scholar N.T Wright on some hermeneutical, theological, and contextual interpretations on this subject.

N.T Wright_Women in Church

But let me  come back to the original intent (and title) of the blog.

I realize there are many denominations, churches, and youth programs out there who have women in lead roles.  Good for you.  We have a great group of girls and young women in our youth group that I hope and pray that one day many will be serving in a local church in a full leadership capacity.  If I ever have a daughter, my prayer is for her to have that freedom and affirmation as well.

For those of you who know of, or are a part of a youth group with female “youth pastors” let me ask you a few questions that I would love to get feedback on.

Do women in youth ministry easily fit into traditional roles and job descriptions such  “high school youth pastor” or “junior high youth pastor”

Do churches need to create unique roles to fit the personality, calling, and giftetndess of women?  Examples could be, but certainly not limited to:

Pastor of Spiritual Formation

Worship Pastor/Director

Pastor of Discipleship (a.k.a girls ministry)

Director of Outreach or Mission

Please respond to the questions below and provide as much or as little info as you would like

1)  What exactly is your role and title?

2) How do you perceive yourself to be viewed by the students and/or community?  *Especially if you are working with a male youth pastor

P.S

Our church has a woman in leadership.  She is tremendously gifted and called and our local church community affirms her calling.  And yes, we call her “Pastor”

Re:form Confirmation

For the longest time, my student ministry had not had a formal way to introducing students to the Christian faith in theory, theology, and practice.  We would attempt each year to work within current structures such as Sunday school, retreats, and youth group nights to teach on a variety of faith issues.  Some months would be heavy on Christian doctrine and beliefs, while others would be more faith related topical issues.  We hoped that at the end of every year, we did a good enough job covering the more important subjects, but quite honestly, never really knew whether or not our students “got it”.  They would listen and respond when prompted, but we often wondered if they were truly engaged and wrestling with the subjects and themes.

Additionally, year after year, students would come home from college break distraught and frustrated in their faith.  While we had prepared a neat, clean, and pre-packaged faith to believe, their college experiences were opening their eyes (and brains) to a whole new world.  They would return home with questions such as “Why does the Bible contradict itself at times?,  ”Is God really a male?”, If there is only one God, why are there so many religions?”, Why are there so many different Christian churches?”, Am I really supposed to believe Mary was a virgin?”, Did God create evil?”, Can you accept the theory of evolution and still be a Christian?”, and many others like these.  We had been teaching content only, with little to no room for interaction, question, doubt, wrestling, and really helping our students make the faith their own.

What took years to construct through middle and high school often took one semester in college to deconstruct and collapse.  We had no way of helping students understand and critically and rationally think through some of the more difficult issues of faith.  We also had no real way of knowing whether or not our students actually affirmed the Christian faith as their own and not their parents or youth leaders.

Thus, it became important to do something to help out students understand, affirm, and articulate the Christian faith in a way that made sense to them and would hold up in contextually relevant ways for their generation.  We combined this desire and need with the fact that new families began attending our church from another Christian traditions such as Lutheran, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Catholic, etc.., and had been exposed to faith-based confirmation programs in the past.  These families really wanted something more official for their children to journey through.

That birthed our new Confirmation Program.  Though our particular denomination does not have a confirmation program, we actually went ahead and created our own. We chose to keep that same name because in the area we live in here in the Northeast and Metro NY area almost every church has a confirmation program and every student knows what that is. It is very acceptable, understood, and contextual word to use.  Now, we are doing something very different with confirmation and making it extremely interactive, fun, learner-based, student orientated, culturally relevant, and biblically grounded.  We also wanted to work with something that was more inclusive and embracing of various church traditions and was rooted in more of the historical Christianity, than just contemporary Western faith.  We have discovered these other traditions to be rich in history, theology, unity, and spiritual experiences/disciplines.  In an ever-changing environment, it is refreshing to share with out students the “bigger picture” and connectedness and connectivity of our faith, one that stretches far beyond (and behind) our current lives.

Rather than starting from scratch and writing our own curriculum, we have partnered with an excellent organization called Sparkhouse and are using their  Sparkhouse-Re:form Confirmation program.  Youth ministry veterans and theologians Andrew Root and Tony Jones helped collaborate on the theological emphasis of the course.  The content is question-based and covers main topics such as Bible, Creed, Discipleship, Jesus, Other Beliefs, Tough Questions.

Below is some information on Re:Form confirmation curriculum as well as some

helpful websites you can visit and explore. The course will consist of 40

classes. (see attached list of all the topics covered). Each class will be

composed of 4 elements aimed at providing a creative, interactive, and

participatory learning environment for all types of students.

re:form is a fully customizable curriculum that’s rooted in historic Christianity, but

speaks to kids on their level. re:form empowers youth to discover for themselves

what they believe, through three components:

ENCOUNTER: Two DVDs with 40 hilarious animated short films frame the tough

theological questions that kids really ask, like “Who wrote the Bible?” and “Why

does God let bad things happen?”

ENGAGE: A hands-on Anti-Workbook is the centerpiece of each kid’s confirmation

experience. It’s a sturdy, full-color, wire-O bound journal chock full of activities and

ideas, with space to journal and doodle, and extras like pullout cards and cool

stickers.

RESPOND: re:form prompts kids to make videos, take pictures, interview people,

and create stuff. Then they can upload all of their artifacts to an online portfolio — the

re:form gallery — where kids can share with the whole congregation what they’ve

been learning.

Below are a few links for the confirmation website, a gallery that students can share their artwork and thoughts, and the list of the topics and questions that will be covered this year during the 40 week course.

We are Sparkhouse

Re:form Gallery

ReForm Confirmation_SessionTitles

Evo Youth Conference

Evo Youth Conference

A few months ago, mutual friends, youth ministry thinkers, and fellow bloggers connected me up with Neil Christopher.  Neil is a youth worker down in Texas who shares a similar vision and passion as so many of us. Simply put, he was looking for a way for like-minded youth workers to connect, support, and affirm one another as we attempt to navigate the often muddy waters of progressive youth ministry.

Neil took his dream one step further and began an online community and youth network called Evo.  I provided a link above for more information.

As one would imagine, there has been great response as youth workers around the country have found a place for their voice.  So often, many of us feel isolated, frustrated, or disenfranchised with traditional forms or structures of church.  We long for communities of affirmation, inclusiveness, connectivity and hope to be able to find it within the Church.  Some have left. Others have stayed.  But together we find commonality and unity in our journey of discovery and rediscovery of faith.

What started as a conversation online is now turning into a local gathering and conference of sorts down in Texas from Feb 24-25, 2011.

I have had the privilege of great conversations with Neil and have found yet another kindred spirit.  Neil was gracious enough to ask me to speak at the conference, which I am honored and excited to do.

As I help Neil structure Evo, our main concern is to come alongside youth workers and provide a platform of dialogue revolving pertinent issues we all face.

So, here is my question and would love some responses, ideas, input, etc…

1) What would be some good topics for potential seminars or break out group?

2) What do you feel are the pressing issues facing emerging youth workers?

3) What will be the main issues that youth ministry must address in the year(s) to come?

4) If you were able to attend Evo, what would you hope to see there?  What could make this conference different than others?

Please share some answers to these questions and be on the look out for updates as well as the potential for regional affinity gatherings popping up in your area.

Neil Christopher on Twitter

Evo youth network forum

How to get a free copy of Relationships Unfiltered and partner with Andrew Root

Friends and fellow youth workers

Below is a note from a good friend of mine and excellant youth ministry thinker and resource Andrew Root. I have known Andy for a few years now, read all of his books, and had the privledge of attending the First Third conference and being a guest on his radio show.  He knows what he is talking about and his insights into teen culture, faith, and Christianity have both inspired and shaped my own ministry with my students.

From Andrew……

“Hello Youth Ministry friends, I’m sorry to interrupt your regularly scheduled blog reading, but I have broken transmission to offer you an opportunity.

I wanted to get before you the chance to get a free copy of my book Relationships Unfiltered. As the new school year approaches and you think about volunteer leader meetings and trainings I would like to suggest you take a look at Relationships Unfiltered. It’s written just for this setting with discussion questions and chapters filled with illustrations and stories–but also promises to get you and your team thinking theologically about your core practice this coming school year: forming relationships with young people.

Here’s what I can do: If you’ll email me (aroot@luthersem.edu) I’ll send you a free copy of the book so you can look it over and decide if it would be of help to you and your volunteers.  If you’re interested in using it you can then go to Zondervan.com or Zondervan.com/ministry and type in the code 980752 in the “source code” box.  Starting August 1 this will give you a 40% discount on as many books as you’d like.

And I’ll also offer this, if you do use the book with your team, I’m willing to do a select number of skype or ichat conversations with you and your team after getting through the book.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I hope you will take him up on this offer, or at the least, look up his resources and see if they can be useful for your own personal development and ministry.  I have used this particular book with my leaders and it is extremely valuable for both full-time youth pastors and volunteer leaders.