#PYM14

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

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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. 

“Open Paris, in a word”~ thoughts from Marko

*taken from the blog http://whyismarko.com/2013/open-paris-in-a-word/

This last weekend, Adam and i were in paris for The Youth Cartel‘s event called Open Paris. these “Open” events have been adam’s birth-baby, shaped by this short manifesto of vision. but each Open event is completely unique, since there’s a high level of ownership given away to the local organizing team.

i’ll admit something here: while i thought the vision of doing one of these in paris was fun, i was a tad skeptical that it would actually work.

but i was wrong. 100%.

50 youth workers from 7 or 8 countries came. by most event planning metrics, that’s not a win. for this event, it was totally a win. the event had a relational dynamic as a result. we learned from each other; but we also hung out together. like: i have new youth worker friends now who live in germany and holland and england and france.

so, Open Paris in 5 words: LOCATION WAS HARD TO BEAT

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Open Paris in 4 words: OUR HOST WAS AMAZING

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Open Paris in 3 words: FELLOWSHIP TRUMPS PROGRAM

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Open Paris in 2 words: CURIOSITY WINS

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Open Paris in 1 word: LIMINAL*

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* a thin place, often used to describe a spiritual thin place. in this case, a place where the kingdom of god and the world of humans overlapped.

Hosting “Open Paris”

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In just over one month youth workers from across Europe and North American will be traveling to France for Open Paris.  This event is sponsored by The Youth Cartel and my church, The American Church in Paris, will play the host. www.acparis.org

I am really excited about this opportunity to get a variety of voices from a multitude of backgrounds, traditions, cultures..and countries gathering together to learn and embrace our experiences.

I appreciate the vision of The Youth Cartel’s “Open” manifesto   http://paris.openym.org/the-open-manifesto/

Here’s a blurb from their own words…..

“We think something is wrong with that. Deep in our souls we know the solutions to the problems we face today are already out there, waiting to be discovered.

Open is just that. Open. The Youth Cartel sets the table, plays host, and invites anyone and  everyone who has an idea to the table for a day where we all have equal value for our ideas. Whether you are a big dog with 20,000 people writing down your every word, a college student with some crazy ideas, or somewhere in between, the table is open–we will give you your shot and equal time to share your idea.”

On a personal note, I have known Adam and Marko for over a decade now and our journey which began at YS conventions will now finds us within a stone’s throw of the Eiffel Tower sipping wine and discussing the latest theological and cultural trends impacting youth ministry.

The U.S used to have a market on all things “youth ministry” but the global community has much to say especially relating to shifting worldviews in secular societies.

Yes, our American counterparts (which I still include myself in) know how to budget and build bigger and “better” youth ministry programs at church.  European youth workers are navigating the often treacherous waters between secular and sacred within society. Ours are often the students who can speak 3-4 different languages, have fully stamped passports by the age of 12, feel more comfortable in airports than soccer fields, and are positioned to be the global leaders of tomorrow.  This is why learning how to minister to teenagers in a European context is crucial and a good lesson for all youth workers.

And Paris…well, to many it is still the heart of Europe and center of culture, fashion, cuisine and philosophy.  It is often said that what trends in Paris finds its way to NYC and then the world.  This is certainly true when it comes to fashion and probably the culinary world.

But ask any student of philosophical innovation, especially in the era of postmodernity, and the birthplace of these ideas….France!  This cultural phenomenon that scares the multitudes in America came from the minds of French thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and the like.  These brilliant minds arguably redefined thought, literature, culture…and religion… and similar minds are being educated currently in the same schools our students attend.

That being said, Paris is just one of many cultural centers in Europe which hold great influence on the rest of the global community.

I hope that Open Paris will just be the beginning of an European movement in youth ministry that brings together divergent views in a united passion of seeing God’s kingdom redefined in radical ways among today’s teens.

If you can, please come and join us or stay tuned to this blog for Open Paris updates, live feeds, and reflections as we celebrate new ideas in youth ministry and dream together what youth work can..and will be!

For more information about our location, speakers, seminars and to register please visit the Open Paris site:   http://paris.openym.org/

Week 5: Sin

We began with a brief recap from the previous week on the nature and goodness of Humanity….at least the way it was intended to be.  I realize that many have different theological views on the nature of sin, specifically the inherent aspect of it.  Some people view small children as “little sinners” while others see purity, innocent, and God’s original image in them.

No matter what one’s view may be, what is clear is that eventually something happened in our Story (humanity) and happens in our lives (personal “sin”)

We had a group discussion on the prevalence of evil and the consequences of people’s willful disobedience and poor choices.

Selfishness, pride, neglect, abuse, theft, murder, adultery, divorce, wars, starvation, injustices, etc.. are all evident in our world.  Simply read the newspapers, watch TV, travel the world, or go to school and the evils of our world are on display.

Our students shared how sin has personally affected them-their homes; their hearts; their lives

To delve a bit deeper theologically into the nature and origins of sin, we begin with a sort of description:
Sin involves people withdrawing from God through their actions, words, and thoughts because they believe there’s something better.

Josh and Will divided up the readings this evening and in between each section of the story, I offered somewhat of a running commentary throughout.
1)  For the first part of our group dialog we examined this questioned:  What caused Sin?
The dream of God- our trust and reliance upon him

Genesis 2: 16-17
Genesis 3- The disobedience

A follow-up question was this:  How does sin affect us?

A) Sin damages our relationship with God, including peace, unity, and purpose

Genesis 3: 4-10

Who does the hiding?

Sin causes shame and hiding from God.  God is not hiding from us because of our sin.

B) Sin limits our relationships with others

Genesis 3: 11-13

Now enters into the human condition and story pointing the finger and blaming
Tension and drama, lies and deceit now occur between friends and lovers.

C) Sin distorts our relationship with Creation

Genesis 3: 17-19

2) For the second part of our group discussion we looked into this question:    Are there different kinds of Sin?
One of our recent college grads turned youth leader, Becky, lead our group in

7 Deadly Sins Activity

She had the group divide up into…..yes 7 teams and gave each one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” as recognized by The Church and this infamous movie…

*Truth be told, I wanted to show clips from this movie but just couldn’t justify it!

What we did though, was to create large posters with words, images, and definitions of each of the Deadly Sins.

We allowed students to use dictionaries on their phones to look up the actual words and find synonymous that were a bit more user-friendly than Wrath or Sloth

Once students started to realize the breadth of certain “larger” sins they were quickly able to depict many other “sins” within that category

Here are a few examples:

Gluttony:  obesity, indulging in too much of anything, over consumption, materialism, consumerism, not taking care of your body, drunkenness

Sloth: laziness, apathy, complacency, not doing what you should, not caring about people or things, not giving time or energy to God

Becky had some definitions in advance in order to help each team think more broadly and creatively.  Here is one sample she had:

Pride is excessive belief in one’s own abilities, that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity.
Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation.
Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.
Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.
Anger is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath.
Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.
Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.
3)  Some noteworthy follow-up questions resulting from the activity included the following:

Are some sins worse than others?

What would be some examples?

Are there BIG SINS and then little sins?

What may be the difference?

4)  What might be some examples of the following:
(I spent just a minute trying to explain the differences of these categories)

  • neglectful sin
  • ignorant sin
  • willful sin

5)  My wife concluded our time together in leading a corporate time of Confession based from the 7 Deadly Sins

“Lord in times when we have acted out in wrath and anger towards you or something else, we confess….”

“God, forgive us for allowing pride to rule our hearts.  Show us times in our lives and conversations when pride has dominated.”

“Reveal to us who we may envy and certain things we may covet in our lives.”

*She spent a few minutes in each category, using the examples and illustrations the students came up with.  The hope for self-realization of the impact and scope of sin in our lives and how it affects those around us.  The hope and prayer were also to lead students in personal times of silent confession to God.

As soft contemplative music was playing in the background, we encouraged the students to find someone else they may want to open up and share things with.  Thanks to Christ, we do not need a mediator to confess our sins to God.  However, Scripture and experience attest to the power, beauty, and healing of sharing your stuff with someone else.

We allowed time for this to happen before, during, and after our small group session, but also encouraged students to send private texts or Facebook messages if that was easier.

6)  We try to end each night in small group time with the groups divided by age and gender.  Here are the questions provided in advance to the leaders.
Small Group Questions:

Can something be a sin for you but not for someone else?

What about certain things the Bible does not talk about?

Share a moment when someone’s sin affect you?

Share a moment when your “sin” brought separation between you and others?

Share a moment when your sin brought you closer to God?

Next Week:  Salvation

*Ideas and Concepts adapted from book Clear: Theological Foundations of Faith by Chris Folmbsee

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

Getting Clear with our students

Over the next few months I will be switching gears and diving into theological conversations with our high school students.  One may argue that everything we do is in fact theological, but over the next 8 weeks I will be systematically working through core doctrines of the Christian faith.

We will be using the book Clear by Chris Folmsbee.  Here is a list of the topics:

  • God
  • Jesus
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Humanity
  • Sin
  • Salvation
  • The Church
  • Heaven

I see myself much more as a practical theologian, however I still do appreciate systematic theology.  I was raised with that kind of thinking and approach to faith and do believe it has its place in our faith formation.  Over the next few weeks I will attempt to chronicle how my view of these “foundations” has changed or become clearer (or more confusing)

This whole year on Sundays we have been journeying through practical theological questions with our students.  Here is just a sampling of them:

How can a loving God allow such evil in the world?

Can it be proven that God exists?

Does God still create stuff today?

Why should I pray when God doesn’t answer all my prayers?

Do I have to believe Jesus performed miracles in order to be a Christian?

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

Why is there so much hate, violence, and intolerance done in the name of Christianity?

Can we find truth in other religions?

Is war ever justified?

How should Christians react to bullying?

Can we still love and include those we disagree with?

What does it look like to be a loving and inclusive community in our society?

At first glance I am sure you can tell how different those questions are from the ideas presented in Clear.

I believe that a combination of the two can be a very healthy approach in the spiritual formation of today’s adolescents.

What I appreciate about Chris’ book is that rather than attempting to present concrete answers and definitions, he offers ideas and suggestions and allows freedom for students to express their own thoughts in creative ways.  Structured within the book are intentional moments of reflection.  Here are two examples under the “Immerse”  and “Pray” sections of chapter 1: God

“Take a moment to quiet your place.  If it helps, close your eyes and take two or three deep breaths.  After you feel you’ve established a quiet place, take a few minutes to write in the space provided as many truths about God as you can bring to mind from this interaction.”

“Draw a picture that illustrates how you see God using his attributes around you each day.  After listing the attributes, take a moment to pray using very few words.”

“As you move through your day, find a place where you can sit and view as much of the sky as possible.  You won’t be able to view the entire sky without moving your eyes, so each time your eyes move, repeat this simple phrase” ‘God, you are amazing!  Nothing can contain you, for you are spatially limitless.’

As a youth pastor, I am thrilled to see such a resource out there for students, and as a help for my own teaching.  I am excited to see how this series sparks conversations and transformation with our teens.

This book is an excellent tool to help equip students in spiritual formation for the mission of God.

I intend to write a few more times updating our progress and how my students are interacting, tracking, and engaging with the themes. It will also be interesting to see how and what I teach this time around differs from when I did a similar series almost 8 years ago.

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