Science for Youth Ministry

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Luther Seminary has received a $1.2 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to fund a three-year project called Science for Youth Ministry: The Plausibility of Transcendence. The project will catalyze faith-and-science conversations with young people through youth ministry and will produce materials to encourage those discussions.

More information on this project can be found on the Luther Seminary website and has a great introductory video from lead collaborator Andrew Root.  https://www.luthersem.edu/research/templeton_grant.aspx

I cannot count how many conversations with students I have had over my 15 years of youth ministry when they ask the daunting question:  Can Faith and Science be connected?

Science and faith, method and mythology

Concept of science and faith locked in battle, or harmony, depending on one’s perspective.

They really want to know whether or not their Christian faith (worldview and convictions) can be reconciled with scientific discoveries or “truths” they are learning in school.  In many ways, I suppose this is not a brand new phenomenon or challenge facing youth ministers.  I suppose that ever since the Scopes trial in the 1920’s, issues of faith/region vs. science/technology have surfaced.    Then it was the creation and evolution debate. Now it might range from gender/sexuality biological findings to theories of time-space travel or the possible discovery of life on other planets.

I am honored to be a part of this conversation and will be attending a writing symposium at Luther Seminary with Andrew Root and other youth workers/thinkers/writers.  Initially, we will base our pieces on the book Galileo Goes to Jail: And Other Myths About Science and Religion edited by Ronald L. Numbers.

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http://www.amazon.com/Galileo-Other-Myths-Science-Religion/dp/0674057414/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1457642172&sr=1-1&keywords=galileo+goes+to+jail+and+other+myths+about+science+and+religion

I will write about my observations and reflections in later posts, as well as publish my article on this site.  For now,  I will say that throughout the history of humankind there have been misconceptions about how religion and science coincided in culture and in the hearts and minds of people of faith.  So, in many ways, what we are facing today is really not new or unique.  The actual questions and scientific discoveries may alter over time, but the general premise remains unchanged.

How, if at all, can my  faith coexist with science?  Can “ancient” religious views hold up against “modern” scientific discoveries?  Are those terms fluid or fixed..and for that matter, is one’s faith fixed or fluid?

For more information, and to get your hands on the forthcoming resources to help youth workers embark on this great journey, please visit the Science for Youth Ministry website  http://scienceym.org/

Also, join the online discussion and network by connecting on the Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/scienceforYM/?fref=ts

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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.”

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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.

FirstThird recap

I was not sure what to expect heading out to Minneapolis for the First Third conference at Luther Seminary.

JoPa productions hosted this event and did an excellent job in the planning, organization, structure, and purpose.

For starters, this conference was numerically limited intentionally, in order to foster closer community and nurture more intimate discussions.

It was also based around a fairly specific idea/purpose of theological dialogue in youth ministry.

To say it was an academic gathering would be a bit misleading, but there was certainly more focus on theology and higher education than other conferences I have been to.

The attendees were invited and encouraged to participate in the life of the seminary and interact with those students which made for a richer experience.

There were opportunities to embrace the surrounding community of the Twin Cities.

There were plenty of varied learning style included dialogue, group discussion, Q &A sessions, lecture series, worship experience, dinner groups, film study, and ministry presentations.

One could participate as much or as little as he or she choose, but additionally could actively participate via live blogging and tweets and other social media avenues.

The cost was inexpensive and covered most of the meals.

The leadership was down to earth and very approachable and accessible.

Unlike other conferences (names will not be included) there was not even a hint of superiority or celebrity status.

I was able to connect with some bloggers and like-minded youth workers and really spend quality time developing friendships.

I was also able to reconnect with mentors and inspirations such as Mike King, Andy Root, Tony Jones and feel supported and encouraged as I head back to the northeast.

Here is what I hope.

I hope that more affinity gatherings like this develop, focussed around various interests.

JoPo productions is an excellent resource for hosting an event, although I am not sure if they are limited to the Twin Cities.

JoPa productions

I hope that similar regional mini-conferences will emerge across the country.  Something like this would be perfect for the good folk in the northeast.

I hope that the big national youth ministry conferences will focus less on name appeal and attractions and more on community.

I know some have experimented and now offer break out sessions, workshops and even “affinity” groups…and these are all good starts!

First Third  was an opportunity for like-minded youth workers to intentionally meet to learn, support, encourage, converse, network, etc…

I enjoyed simply meeting up with youth pastors and thinkers in unscripted, unguided, brutally honesty and risky conversations about faith, theology, life, and the interplay of those things with our youth ministry.

*Side thought as I sit here in Starbucks at the airport.

It would be great to have some form of national gathering of emerging youth workers to meet up for a few days to connect, read, reflect, converse, smoke a cigar or two, share meals, laugh, recreate, and help guide and shape the future of youth ministry.

We don’t need a conference, we simply need to get together.    We are attempting to have very small regional meeting times here in the metro NY area, but I would love to see one day it expand to difference regions and contexts as well.

I know what Jeremy Zach and I have been conversing on attempting this informal connection via the great World Wide Web, but perhaps one day it may lead to face to face encounters and a deepened sense of connectivity and support.

First Third was a great experience that I highly recommend attending if it is held again.

If not, talk with the fine people at JoPa productions about doing something where you are at and remember there is beauty and power and support in the intentionality of relationships.

FirstThird days 2 & 3

Day 2

Ok, I must admit that I slept in Tuesday AM.  But..from what I heard it was a great morning!

There was a coffee and conversation time with Rollie Martinson followed by a lecture from Kendra Dean on the importance of youth work.

In the afternoon, Tony Jones lead another table talk time with Andy and Kenda focussing on Andy’s theological project and premise of hope in despair. Kenda’s discussion on passion was facilitated by Doug Pagitt.

There was plenty of group participation and collective brainstorming around these issues.

*Interesting note, that Tony specifically asked the audience of youth workers to give a concrete example of their theology in action, namely what is one particular thing that we do because of our theology?

No one raised a hand in response!

It seems we have moved so far away from programmatic youth ministry that we are afraid to admit if we still play games, do retreats, lead mission trips, etc…

As a side note, I personally believe that programs and traditional structure in youth ministry can still work, they just have to be contextualized and theologically thought through more than presently.  We cannot, nor should not, base our programs from a book we read or simply because we used to do that while we were in youth group.

It is imperative that we critically ask the question, “Why are we doing this?” and what is this…. (insert name of activity or program)  saying about our theology and what we believe the gospel to be?

The creators of First Third had a brilliant idea for dinner.  They sent out 10 discussion groups to 10 different restaurant locations around the Twin Cities. Each group had a host (conversational facilitator) and a guided theme.  The cost of the meal was included in the registration.

The topics diverged as much as the choice in food.  I choice to link up with a fellow blogger and heck of a guy Jake Bouma at a burger and beer joint called The Bulldog  The Bulldog

12 of us sat around a table with some great food and beverages discussing theological questions and concerns that have come up in our youth ministry, or our own personal journeys.

It was fascinating to hear the many different perspectives and views represented across the table. Not to mention that the Rooster burger was heavenly!

In no other conference would this mixture of youth workers gather together for community.

I ended the night with two other youth pastors at a cigar lounge where we discussed the future of youth ministry (what will the issues be ten years from now?, just how contextual does youth ministry need to be?, what will our roles in church be reformer or revolutionary?)

Day 3

The last day began with (I suppose you could call it a presentation) on Spark house and their new innovative approach to rethinking confirmation.

Sparkhouse resourcing

I was very impressed with their vision, as well as resources and would recommend checking it out.  Even if you do not teach a formal confirmation class, it is one of the better holistic, creative, sensory, and theological “disciplship” resources I have seen.  You will want to check out Re:Form curriculum @  Re:Form

You will also want to check out some of their innovative teaching and discussion starter videos @ Sparkhouse videos

FirstThird attendees all then participated in chapel at Luther Seminary and I was blessed by the message from Kenda Dean, the worship, the hymns, and the holy Eucharist.

Kenda then presented Lecture #2 on the translating of our faith across generations. She offered some profound and inspirational thoughts on what it could mean to share our faith in both word and deed in the way that invited all to participate and receive.

Some rules for translation:

The best translators are people not programs

Translation works best in community

Translation can threaten those in charge

Through her talk, she both challenged and encouraged us to “Imagine the world as though the kingdom of God is at hand”, and to “Imagine the world is better than it is and live as though it were possible!”

Kenda posed the question, what if our job is not to convince young people that Jesus is alive but rather to live like it?

Unfortunately I had to leave shortly after our taco buffet lunch and missed the last discussion session, but I am sure that the Twitter feed and #1st3rd will fill me in.

I will write up a brief recap and final thoughts later.

FirstThird: Theological Dialogue on Youth Ministry

I’m spending the first half of this week attending and participating in FirstThird, a theological dialogue on youth ministry with Kenda Dean and Andrew Root.  Follow our conversation on Twitter and #1st3rd

This academic/theological forum is being held at Luther Seminary in conjunction with JoPa productions, SparkHouse, and a few other organizations.

The first session or (better stated) collective discussion was

Theological Dialogues in Youth Ministry-

Each speaker had 3 minutes to share his or her thoughts about a particular word and its association for youth ministry

Tony Jones described “theological”  as being both first order as well as second order mode of thought and reflection.

“Everything is inherently theological” and this should radically transform the way we see youth ministry, since the very practice of youth ministry is theological.

He described “theology” not as an academic pursuit, but rather as the nexus of divine action and human activity (intersection)

Doug Pagitt was next speaking about “dialogue”

He envisions truthful dialog as having a beginning with no end in sight.

It begins with an attitude of vulnerability, humility, and openness.

Dialogue is unscripted conversations with no agendas getting in the way of where the conversation can go and how its flows.

Kenda Dean described “youth” as faces; real people in real places.

It is the very paradigm for being very human.

An open-ended future of possibility= youth, and by definition that articulates what Christianity can be as well.

Andy Root concluded the round table chatter with his thoughts on “ministry”

It is not about what we do, rather what God does.

Ministry is not practices and procedures.  Rather, it is fundamentally a theological work

Youth ministry cannot be about making kids good or getting students to buy into certain agendas.

Youth ministry is to participate in God’s own action in the world with and for young people

All the participants then divided up into conversation groups around the church to discuss collectively  each of those four words and report back.

As a group, we can all see that all 4 words are interconnected and interrelated.  They blend into each other in a mysterious, beautiful and powerful way.

A film study  on the film American Teen concluded the day 1 happenings, but naturally this was followed by continued late night pub talk.

So far, I have been very impressed with the relational structure, interactive learning platforms, and leadership.  Clearly this is not presented as a teacher-student enviroment full of lectures by the “veterans” or “masters”

It feel like a family getting together to discuss our thoughts and learn from each other.

More updates to come tomorrow on days 2 & 3 as well as a final review/recap when I return to NY.

YouthWorks takes over YS

As many of you already knew, there had been a strange brew mixing over the past month or so with Youth Specialties.  I recently wrote about the “letting go” of long-time YS president Mark Oestreicher and I, like many of you, assumed more changes would be shortly arriving.    The release of YS Marko

A few days ago, I was attending NYWC 2009 (The National Youth Workers Convention) in Atlanta.  The president of Zondervan Moe Girkins, who made the decision to fire Marko, was brought up on stage to clear up the air,,, so to speak.  Silence pervaded the gathering.  Pins could even hear themselves drop.

Moe really didn’t answer why that particular decision was made, but she did share about Zondervan’s relationship with YS and its vision for the future.  I appreciated the boldness and courage that it took for her to stand in a room of 3,000 youth workers (many of them still pissed off) and explain herself.  I give her much credit.

Then the ball dropped that YS would in fact be purchased by a non-profit organization called YouthWorks. They invited their president Paul Bertelson to come on stage and share briefly their history and vision for this new partnership.

The audience again was stunned, partly due the fact that the convention had just begun and also that very few people have heard of Paul Bertelson.  Here is a brief overview of YouthWorks:

YouthWorks

When YouthWorks was founded in 1994 as a youth missions organization, our dream was to be a broader resource for the church—to “Help the Church Be the Church.”

Over the past 16 years, the YouthWorks ministry has become a family of ministries serving children, youth, college students and mult-generational groups.

The addition of Youth Specialties to the YouthWorks family of ministries is a wonderful complement to our long-term ministry vision and mission. We are excited about this new stage in the ministry life of YouthWorks and Youth Specialties! —Paul Bertelson           President & Founder, YouthWorks

Now, within a few hours, I had contacted a few friends who are well connected in youth ministry and they assured me that this is probably a good thing….Certainly finanicially and very possibly for spiritual/ministry/growth implications as well.

I have also included 2 brief tweets on the subject.

Andrew Root (@rootandrew) wrote:

“The YouthWorks thing is good news to me. That cheer you hear is from Luther Sem as MN becomes more the center of the future of the church.”

Tony Jones (@jonestony) wrote:  (I will also link his blog article about the news at the end of the post…very good insights)

“Having helped found YouthWorks, I think they’ll do a great job with Youth Specialties.”

For what its worth, here is my $.02 (that would be two cents in case you didn’t follow)

I love YS.  I started reading YS material over 10 years ago and have been attending the NYWC conventions since 2003.  They have revolutionized the way I think and do youth ministry.  From its beginning, YS tried to do 3 things:

Ideas. Publishing. Events.

It’s hard to do all those things well and maintain enough financial stability to keep yourself afloat.

If YS tanks it, then we all loose out, right?

A few years back (maybe 4-5) Zondervan came in to buy/parter with YS for its publishing.   This has certainly helped YS to market its authors, resources,  books and curriculums to a far greater audience.

Now, YouthWorks comes in and takes over the Events.   I assume this will include the NYWC and One-day training.  Perhaps they will expand events or go in the opposite direction.

Either way, this leaves YS to do what it first did and does well.  Create and Innovate Ideas for youth workers.

It also now gives a youth ministry/mission organization a chance to step in and help rethink the purpose of events.

Personally, I have been thinking about these events for a few years and wondering if some changes and updates were needed.  Not sure what, but I sensed that something needed changing.

I have heard over the years that the cost was too much and distance too far, too much emphasis placed on youth min “celebs”, too much “for profit” marketing, too taxing for YS staff and trainers, etc…

I hope YouthWorks will consider these factors in its decisions and really actively listen to the needs and concerns of everyday youth workers and volunteers.

Already, a major shift has happened.  It looks like rather than holding 3 conventions a year (which has to cost a great deal of money), they will hold one next fall in Nashville.  So, there will truly be A National Youth Workers Convention.

Here are a few other suggestions I would like to propose (hey, you never know who may be reading)

Either do the once a year large Convention or hold smaller regional ones that youth pastors could bring their teams to.

I would love to see a similar but smaller version come up to the Northeast.  Maybe you don’t rent out the massive convention center in the biggest city, but you book all rooms and halls at a decent size hotel.  Keep the cost low and no flying necessary.  Youth for Christ holds its annual Excel conference in upstate NY by Albany and does a great job (although we don’t go anymore), but it would be great to have mid-sized 500+ conference for youth leaders.  YS used to get big name bands to come in for worship and shows and have already made the switch to local bands.  Rather then bringing in 6 nationally known speakers, you could bring in 1 “celebrity” and supplement them with local speakers/pastors/trainers/authors who actually understand the dynamics and complexities of your particular culture and context.

Secondly, and maybe what will happen, would be to offer affinity gatherings.

For instance, one year you want to connect, network, and learn about spiritual formation in youth ministry.  Everyone interested in that area (affinity) heads down to Kansas City and YS partners with Mike King and Chris Folmsbee (Youthfront and Barefoot) and the local youth ministries down there for a few days.

Andrew Root is already doing something similar at Luther Seminary this March.  The First Third conference is basically an academic affinity gathering looking into the theology of youth ministry.  People like Andrew Root, Tony Jones, and Kendra Dean will be there to help lead the dialog.

Perhaps an innovation/creativity gathering with the fine folks of North Point Community Church down in the Atlanta area.

Postmodern Youth Ministry connected with colleges or seminaries and youth groups either in the Northeast or Pacific Northwest.

Some could appeal to mega church youth ministries, while others may be perfect for average to small size groups.

As I often say, youth ministry here in the Northeast is vastly different from other places and it might be the same for you.

Therefore some form of regional and/or affinity gatherings may be the future of youth ministry, especially if you could do them in cost-effective ways (churches,hotels, colleges, local bands, speakers, etc…)

2 things are happening that are both necessitating and facilitating these changes:

1) Our economic situation is causing us to rethink and question if spending $1,000 for one person to attend a conference is a good thing and if paying $5,000 for a speaker or band is good stewardship.

2) We are part of a beautiful move of God and things are changing.  Change can be difficult but is often necessary to give birth to something new and wonderful.

After this major announcement I overheard someone at the conference say “Well, this is end of Youth Specialties.  Yaconelli is rolling in his grave right now.”

I’m not so sure.  I think this might be the beginning of something great, especially if YouthWorks makes efforts to to keep the innovation and prophetic voice of YS going.

From the press release  “Overall, Youth Specialties is a wonderful complement to the YouthWorks ministry. But, just as important, we hold dear the stewardship of the Youth Specialties legacy that is being passed on to us.”

Tony Jones\’ thoughts on acquisition

YS press release