Top 5 youth ministry sites & resources

Here is a very simple list of my personal Top 5 websites for youth ministry ideas, resourcing, training, and networking.

The Youth Cartel

Barefoot Ministries





“From Managing to Focusing: The Fine Art of Reprioritizing”- a Youthworker journal article

*The following is an article I wrote for the July/August YouthWorker Journal, and I think can be accessed at the following link:

youthworker journal online

Let me ask you an honest question. Have you ever sat down at your desk an hour before youth group and wondered where the week had gone and what the heck you were going to speak about at that night’s meeting?

For many of us, this scenario sounds all too familiar. Some youth workers hate the office part of the job. Many of us spend way too much time at the office and behind our desk doing stuff that seems to take us away from being a youth worker.In college, I read youth ministry management books that gave rookies advice and tools to organize our youth ministries in order to maximize effectiveness. While these types of books can be helpful, I believe that finding a healthy balance and managing your ministry has more to do with priorities than specific organizational methods.

When I got my first job as a youth pastor, my desk was piled high with lots of things to get done. That’s when I started taking a more critical look at what I was supposed to be doing. I soon realized my priorities were out of whack, thus causing the unnecessary and often overwhelming sense of stress and burden.There might be some of us who love sitting behind a desk full of papers and watching the time tick by on our wall clocks. Some of us may have been reprimanded or fired for a lack of administration skills.

While management is an important skill, youth ministry is neither a business nor should be run like one. The only business we are in is forming the spiritual lives of students, and that does not happen at an office, behind a computer or in front of a stack of papers. It happens in conversations and shared experiences with our students beyond the walls of our offices and church buildings.

I believe youth workers need to learn the fine art of reprioritizing our time and our workloads. Administration always will be a major aspect of youth ministry, but we never should allow ourselves to get overwhelmed by it.If you spend more than half your time focusing on busy work, I would advise taking a mini-retreat and praying about your priorities, passions and what you really are called to do in youth ministry.

Let me offer a few creative ways to make reprioritizing work for you.

1) Find people at your church who love administrative tasks and can do them well. Equip them, resource them and support them to help you.

2) Delegate certain tasks to your student leaders, such as writing welcome notes to new students, updating student contact lists, maintaining your website, taking pictures, etc.

3) Remember: In this struggling economy, ministries are scaling back on events, trips and programs that cost money and require paperwork.

4) Lunch meetings, small groups and other forms of relational ministry should not require much administration and often will return far deeper results and more life transformation.Of course, you need to spend time in your office managing your ministry; but see what you can do to free up more time to be with your students. Isn’t that what youth ministry is all about?

“Youth Ministry Theology”- an Immerse Journal article

Picture this: You are staring at a dusty old bookshelf in a library with a codex, of sorts, as your guide. You scroll through each section then each aisle, until finally you come across a small book that you carefully and reverently remove. The dust is whisked away, and with great care the cover is opened to reveal a table of contents you have rarely observed before. This is the hunt for theology in youth ministry.

Over the years, conversations have circled around regarding the importance, or lack thereof, of theology in youth ministry. For some youth workers, this discipline is viewed as archaic and unnecessary while, for others, yearly curricula are structured around theological treatises. So which is it? Is theology important in youth ministry or not?

Here is perhaps a better question: Do students need to learn theology (i.e., learn about God) in order to follow him? Or can students begin to follow and then learn to trust and believe? Are students’ experiences more important than their beliefs? If we believe the answer to be yes, then how important is theology in youth ministry?

*To read the rest of the article, please click on the following link:

Immerse Journal-featured article

Announcement time….

After serving at my current church for almost a full decade, my wife and I have agreed to accept a position with the American Church in Paris…..France.

The American Church in Paris

The American Church in Paris is the first American church established outside the United States. It started in 1814, and the present site – located on 65 Quai d’Orsay 75007, Paris, France – dates to 1930.

It started in 1814, when it was officially chartered and the first sanctuary was built in 1857. At this stage, the American Church was an interdenominational fellowship, for all those adhering to the historic Christian tradition as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed. It served both the expatriate American community, and a wide variety of English-speaking people from different countries and denominational backgrounds.

I will be sharing more about the present context, mission, vision, values of the church and what my role will be there.

There are many factors that went into our decision (and also went into our situation of moving on), and I intend to share our journey over the next few weeks.  What has been a very difficult and confusing time for us over the past few months has turned into a wonderful opportunity. While extremely sad and heartbroken to have to be leaving a church family and student ministry that has become my home since 2002, I am excited to embark on this new journey and partner with an incredible church.


Week 8- Heaven

Heaven Dante

This is my last post on the theological series we did called Clear. This series was based on the book Clear by Chris Folmsbee and a few of the verses, ideas, and concepts found within the pages were adopted and adapted to help create these lessons for my students.

The culmination of the series and of the faith is found in the belief in Heaven.  How that comes across, what that looks like, and how/who enters it is often a main topic of discussion.

We actually began our evening by hanging out and eating at Burger King.  (I know, I know…not the healthiest option!).  We were able seclude an entire section for our group and after about 45 minutes I introduced the subject and question of heaven.  It was nice for a change of atmosphere to leave the walls of our church and venture into the community and still be able to have focused group conversations.

I asked our group a series of questions and simply listened to the wide and diverse responses to the following:

What do you think Heaven will look like?

What will we do in Heaven?

How old will everyone be in Heaven?  Will there be babies in Heaven?

Where do you mostly get your views/beliefs/ideas/images of Heaven from?

*When providing space and freedom for students to share, it is amazing to hear their thoughts and questions.  Answers to each of those questions ranged all across the spectrum and what also became clear is that most students’ views of heaven come from society’s portrayal of it.

A few spoke of a heaven they hoped would be discovered, and those answers and dreams seemed to come from a place deep within their heart and soul.

We returned to our youth room and entered into our more “formal” teaching time.

Pelly, my associate, found a great online text messaging polling system that we used as a follow-up

Here is the link to our poll:

What will heaven be like? Poll

Naturally, you cannot introduce the topic of heaven without a musical theologian’s perspective on it, so this song was played in the background:

The bulk of our group discussion focused around a recently published and vastly popular book called Heaven is Real.

It documents the “real life” story of a young boy who supposedly went to heaven and reported back to his parents what he saw and experienced and who he met.

Here is the video that we watched:

Heaven is for Real

*I found the following video and did not have time to play it.  It does raise several fascinating questions about the diversity of beliefs on Heaven found in different religions and even within Christianity itself.  I would recommend using this if you have time, or even showing this video as the discussion starter with your students.

Barbara Walters on Heaven via MSNBC

Back to the Heaven is Real video.

Students shared whether or not the believed the kid’s story or thought it was fabricated and promoted by his father….who happens to be a pastor and now author of a widely successful book.

We then talked about the images and ideas that the boy’s story brought up

Everyone was young

People had wings

You can hang out with the Holy Spirit

Heaven was filled with many colors

It was crowded

I asked the group if those were common images or associations that people tend to have when thinking about heaven

*These are good to project onto a big screen or TV when discussing images of Heaven.

I also asked how do these contrast with what the Bible reveals heaven to be like?

Why do you think people are so afraid that heaven might be boring?

We divided our students into 3 groups. Each group was given a large piece of construction paper with around 8 words on them taken from the following list.  Each member in the group was asked to circle the top 3 words that, to them, depict Heaven.  After everyone in the group circles, the group passes on the sheet to the next.
We did this as another creative/expressionist way to discern public opinion on heaven before we looked at what the Bible had to say

Circle the words often associated with the term Heaven

Joyful                Depressing                Harps
Status Quo            Interactive                Friendship
Real                       Lonely                   Boring
Displeasing            Sorrow                  Family
Celebratory            Rewarding            Overwhelming
Mysterious            Music                    Feasts
Satisfying               Fair                        Victory

The Hope of Heaven

Jesus coming back to right the wrongs, set things back in order
return the world and humanity back to God’s orignal dream and design
*For some great Biblical references and theological insights into Heaven read the chapter from Clear.

We simply did not have time to dive into specifics about the nature of Heaven or what it will look like, but I did make a point of saying that the physical images represented in the Biblical do not have to be taken literally.  “Streets of gold” and “gates of pearls” are more metaphorical references to beauty and majesty than attempts to actually describe the physicality or location of heaven.

What we will experience….

A new body that will never die  (1 Corin 15: 54-55)

Freedom from Sin and its Destructiveness  (Rev 22:3)

Face-to-Face Relationship with God. (Rev 22:4)

We concluded that the Bible indicates certainly that Heaven will be hopeful and included the above mentioned aspects.  Beyond those, it really comes down to speculation, opinions, and personal hopes and dreams.

Here are the Small Group Questions that we concluded our time with:

Fusion YG- SG Questions
Clear- “Heaven”

1) What do you think Heaven will be like?  Are you excited about that?

2)  How would you describe Heaven to someone who asks?

3)  What do you think Jesus meant when he prayed for his followers to    bring Heaven here on Earth?  Would would that look like?

4)  Who will end up in Heaven?

*I have included some basic info from Wikipedia that you may use as general background for any lesson prep on Heaven.  You may or may not find it helpful or useful.

In most religions, Heaven is a realm, either physical or transcendental in which people who have died continue to exist in an afterlife.
Heaven is often described as the holiest place, accessible by people according to various standards of divinity, goodness, piety, faith or other virtues.
Entrance into Heaven
See also: Salvation and Soteriology
Religions that speak about heaven differ on how (and if) one gets into it, typically in the afterlife. In many religions, entrance to Heaven is conditional on having lived a “good life” (within the terms of the spiritual system). A notable exception to this is the ‘sola fide’ belief of many mainstream Protestant Christians, which teaches that one does not have to live a perfectly “good life,” but that one must accept (believe and put faith in) Jesus Christ as one’s saviour, and then Jesus Christ will assume the guilt of one’s sins; believers are believed to be forgiven regardless of any good or bad “works” one has participated in.
Many religions[who?] state that those who do not go to heaven will go to another place, Hell, which is eternal in religions such as Christianity. Some religions believe that other afterlives exist in addition to Heaven and Hell, such as Purgatory, though many hells, such as Naraka, serve as purgatories themselves. Some belief systems contain universalism, the belief that everyone will go to Heaven eventually, no matter what they have done or believed on earth. Some forms of Christianity, and other religions believe Hell to be the termination of the soul.

Main article: Heaven (Christianity)
Traditionally, Christianity has taught “Heaven” as a place of eternal life, the dwelling place of God,[17] and a kingdom to which all the elect will be admitted.[18] In most forms of Christianity, belief in the afterlife is professed in the major Creeds, such as the Nicene Creed, which states: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” In Biblical forms of Christianity, concepts about the future “Kingdom of Heaven” are also professed in several scriptural prophecies of the new (or renewed) Earth said to follow the resurrection of the dead — particularly the books of Isaiah and Revelation. In the 2nd century AD, Irenaeus (a Greek bishop) wrote that not all who are saved would merit an abode in heaven itself.[19] One popular medieval view of Heaven was that it existed as a physical place above the clouds and that God and the Angels were physically above, watching over man. The ancient concept of “Heaven” as a synonym for “skies” or “space” is also evident in allusions to the stars as “lights shining through from heaven”, and the like.
The term Heaven is applied by the Biblical authors to the realm in which God currently resides. Eternal life, by contrast, occurs in a renewed, unspoilt and perfect creation, which can be termed Heaven since God will choose to dwell there permanently with his people, as seen in Revelation 21:3. That there will no longer be any separation between God and man. The believers themselves will exist in incorruptible, resurrected and new bodies; there will be no sickness, no death and no tears. Some teach that death itself is not a natural part of life, but was allowed to happen after Adam and Eve disobeyed God (see original sin) so that mankind would not live forever in a state of sin and thus a state of separation from God.
Not only will the believers spend eternity with God, they will also spend it with each other. John’s vision recorded in Revelation describes a New Jerusalem which comes from Heaven to the New Earth, which is generally seen to be a symbolic reference to the people of God living in community with one another; in a number of sects this is taken as more literal than symbolic. Heaven will be the place where life will be lived to the full, in the way that the designer planned, each believer ‘loving the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their mind’ and ‘loving their neighbour as themselves’ (adapted from Matthew 22:37-38) — a place of great joy, without the negative aspects of earthly life.

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

Week 4: Humanity

This is our continuation of a series called “Clear”: Theological Foundations of Faith based on the book written by Chris Folmsbee.

This week was part 4 dealing with the concept of Humanity.

Here is a basic sketch and outline of how we approached the evening’s topic:

Opening Prayer:  Jenny

Opening Group Activity:  Mary
Divide Group into 3 or 4 teams giving each group either a magazine/newspaper or one section of a newspaper
Ask them to find an interesting story about the Human condition:  suffering, joy, trials, victory, etc.
They should read the article as a group and be able to have someone share a brief recap
As a group they need to answer the following Questions:
What was this story about?
Why did you chose this story?
What does this story and the people involved reveal about Humanity?
Where can you find God in the story?

This proved to be a fascinating and engaging open activity.  We had a copy of that day’s  NY Times and Wall St. Journal, in addition to Newsweek, Time, and I think Glamour magazines.

It was interesting to see which publications and sections the groups chose and then, even more revealing, to see which articles or stories they picked.

Each group was given about 10 minutes and came back into the room to discuss.

We had a story about refugees trying to escape Libya, a professional baseball player on a compassion trip to Africa, local story about parental abuse, a national story of a woman using the internet to find her long-lost twin sister, and of course one group picked a poll claiming that the husbands are more ok with their wives cheating on them with another woman then a man.

Fascinating stories and each one revealed a different dimension of the human condition.,

Large Group Discussion:  Dan
I began our discussion with uncovering common questions I hear, and have often asked myself:

Who are we and why are we here?
Why did God make me this way?
Was I made by accident or on purpose?

Many of our students are struggling to find identity and acceptance and these questions lie at the root of the answers.

In order to attempt to answer these type of questions and relate it back to Week 1: God, we did another short activity

Group Interaction:   Lauretta
recap from Week 1:God
circle the attributes of God that are healthy for humans to desire and take on themselves:
All powerful            Slow to anger            loving
in control            All-knowing            Redeeming
forgiving            ability to decided what is or isn’t sin
Creative            gets the final word

It is important to us to understand that each individual is created unique and in the image of God.  We have certain attributes of God that should be sought after, discovered, and celebrated.

We had them close their eyes and silently answer the following questions:

I special talent I have is ___________

It makes me laugh when __________

The last thing I want to do in school is _____________

When I watch the news, I get upset when ________________

I feel God’s pleasure when I am ____________ (of course this one can be a bit risky…..!!)

What really makes me smile is ______________

The point of this exercise is for students to realize that are in fact unique and special and that God knows those answers and loves them.

He has made them in His image and their identity and sense of worth can be found in who create them and why

We went back to the list of attributes and highlighted the ones we did not circle

“However, there are other aspects of God that humans often seek after and lead us down dangerous paths (this served as a good precursor to next week….)   Once we think we have the right to be all-knowing or know what is best for our own lives or others, we fall into the trap of self-deception and trying to make God into our own image.  This can be the dark side of humanity. ”

Flashback: When I first taught on the doctrine of Humanity, I began with the Fall, according to Genesis 3.  I spoke about Human depravity, rather than human goodness.  I really cannot simplify the comparison more than that.  My goal was to convince the students that they were bad, and in fact all humans were inherently bad and incapable of good.  It was a very us vs. them mentality of everything and everyone in the “world” was corrupt and evil and therefore we should be separate.  I realize some people’s theological traditions and understanding lead them towards a unique view of total depravity, and I suppose that was along the lines of my way of thinking as well (and that was certainly what I taught!)

After our conversation about what makes us special, unique, and set apart, we moved onto what unites us as humans.

What commonality does humanity share in?

Scripture Reading: Will
Genesis 1:26-31

What should unite us?

We talked about the biblical statement that all humans (even those of different race, gender, religion, etc..) were and are created in God’s image and created “good” (now I realize this was before the “Fall” but that lesson is next week…..)

The point being that we are all God’s children, there is no different or favoritism.  In fact, Jesus speaks out against favoritism towards people.  Yes, it is true that God calls out and sets apart chosen people and people groups…but this is also done for a purpose of eventual reconciliation and unity.

God wants to restore our original goodness and innocence and return or re-create his image in us.
2 Corinthians 5: 16-18

I concluded with a wonderfully powerful illustration from the movie Blood Diamond

I prefaced the context of the movie and set up the following narrative scene:

Danny Archer: So you think because your intentions are good, they’ll spare you, huh?

Benjamin Kapanay: My heart always told me that people are inherently good. My experience suggests otherwise. But what about you, Mr. Archer? In your long career as a journalist, would you say that people are mostly good?

Danny Archer: No. I’d say they’re just people.
Benjamin Kapanay: Exactly. It is what they do that makes them good or bad. A moment of love, even in a bad man, can give meaning to a life. None of us knows whose path will lead us to God. – Blood Diamond (2006)

“You see, people’s actions and decisions can steer the path of their life often to or away from God.  People are people, created good in God’s image, but suffering the consequences of trying to be God in their own lives and play God in the lives of others.

And often, we make poor decisions and those decisions (and consequences) often become our identity.  Once this happens, we tend to believe in the lie that we are bad and thus have no hope.  There is a difference between being bad and doing bad things.  So often we do not know the full story of those people we label as “bad”.  We judge them knowing true knowledge.  That is not our right to do so, and God made that clear (stay away from that Tree…..)

Often those without knowledge are the first to judge.”

This all set up our closing video which I set up about Solomon’s kidnapped son who was living in his false identity.

Closing Video  From Blood Diamond “You are a good boy”

There is great truth and transformation when your Father calls you by name and speaks the truth of your real identity.

Will you hear that tonight?

Will you begin to live into that identity?

Will you start to view others as God sees them and not as a product of their decisions or actions?

Closing Prayer: Will

Great, awesome and might God: I lay myself at your feet

Grant me the ability to see the uniqueness in me and in others.

Grant me the desire to embrace and celebrate the diversity in people.

Grant me the opportunity to go beyond my personal feelings and share with others the uniqueness you’ve created within each of us.

God, may my ability, desire, and action on these opportunities before me be pleasing to you.


Rather than divide into our normal small groups to end our time together, I decided to keep everyone together and collectively share our thoughts and reflections based upon the following questions:

Discussion Questions:

1) What do you think it means that we are all created in God’s image?

2) Does that apply to people who are born differently than us?

3) What do you think it could look like for the us to see the world with the lens of God?
to see everyone as a child of God and equal as common humans, regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexuality?

4) Would this be a good thing or a bad thing?

*Final thought for personal reflection:
What can you do to begin the process in your own world?

Week 3: Holy Spirit

This evening started off a bit different from most.  During the week a man from our church passed away from a heart attack. The wake was being held in the next town during the same time as youth group.  I decided to drive our church van (big blue) and bring a group of students to pay respect, offer condolences, and ministry to his widow.  It ended up being such a profoundly powerful moment for our students to truly enter into the suffering of another and understand the depths of being united as a church family.

Well, back to the series on Clear: Theological Foundations of Faith.

We entered in Week 3 and discussed the Holy Spirit.

I received positive feedback from last week attempting to include more of our leaders into the creativity of the teaching time, so I planned to do the same.  Unfortunately, four of them could not attend, so we were down a few capable adults (which happens from time to time)

1)  We started again with a brief recap from the week before.  Students shared the theme was about Jesus and we discussed the aspects of his humanity and divinity and the complexity and beauty of his two natures.  A few even remembered the word and meaning of paradox!  I asked them to remember and reflect on the importance of each and they responded quite well.  His humanity shows that he understands what we go through, is approachable, and serves as our example. His divinity means that he can actually redeem and restore us to God.  Both are uniquely important.

2)  We had an opening prayer inviting the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide and guard our thinking and conversations (some good old illumination theology!)

3)  Josh lead our opening activity and divided up the students into 5 groups.  He gave each one an index card with verses on one side and a word symbolizing the Holy Spirit on the back side.  They were tasked with reading the Scriptures and discovering what image or symbol the Holy Spirit was presented as, and then determine what that symbol says about who the Holy Spirit is or what role he/she provides.  Each group would draw the image on construction paper and then come back into the youth room and hang it on the wall and share their discoveries.

Group 1: Dove (Mark 1:1-13)

Group 2: Oil (1 Samuel 16:13, Hebrews 1:8-9)

Group 3: Wind (Acts 2:1-4)

Group 4: Water (John 3:5, John 4:13-14, John 7:37-38)

Group 5: Fire (Acts 2:1-4, Exodus 3:1-3)

I was fairly impressed when all the pictures were hung up with the creativity (especially of oil!) of the images and the collective group response relating to what those symbols portray about the Holy Spirit.

Oil- anointing, healing, purity

Fire- passion, light, power, refinement

Water- cleansing, renewal, creation, rebirth, transformation

Wind- power, unseen, invisible, ever-moving, flowing, uncontrollable

Dove- peace, tranquility, love, unity, hope

The students came up with these on the own and I would later come back to these in prayer….

4)  To begin my brief lesson part I played the video from Re:Form Confirmation entitled:

“What is the Holy Spirit?  A Wind, Fire, Water, or What?”

This provided a very insightful (and humorous) take on the role, person, and function of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity.

5)  I passed around the celtic image of the Trinity and had a student draw the image on the whiteboard. I explained (as best I could) how the Trinity was God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Three in One)

The Holy Spirit is a person (has emotion, a will, intelligence, self-awareness, etc..)

the Holy Spirit possesses the attributes of God (as discussed two weeks ago)

The Holy Spirit joins God in his work:

  • active in creation
  • inspired the prophets and writers of Bible
  • conceived Jesus
  • was attributed to the miracles of Jesus and his apostles
  • brings about new birth and transformation
  • bring peace, truth, healing, power, passion to God’s people

6)  Touched briefly on healing and showed this clip about what not to expect…(apologies to any Benny Hinn followers out there!)

7)  I explained that much of what we had thought about where ideas about the Holy Spirit, but we were about to enter into a time for reflection and invitation of the Holy Spirit into our realities.

A youth leader Will read the following two passages of Scriptures and explained that these were Jesus words to his follower about the role the Holy Spirit would play in our lives (and that it still applied today for us)

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit John 14:15-27

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 16:7-16

7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

8)  Instead of ending in our small groups (and kind of because we were short on leaders) I decided to spend the rest of our time in community inviting and embracing the Holy Spirit in our midst.  I used about 10 minutes of “teaching time” plus the 30 minutes of small group time to create time and space for our students to encounter God’s Spirit.

My thought was (and is) how ironic would it be to talk for an evening about the Holy Spirit and yet provide little time or space to allow his presence to move?  It would be like preaching for 45 minutes on worship and then ending the service with one closing song.

Why not worship the entire service and let that be your message?

So, we provided considerable time and concluded with communal reading, reflecting, worship, silence, and guided prayers.

9) A college student, Jenny, offered an opening prayer as our room transitioned from ordinary to sacred.

We lit candles throughout the room and had some soft Celtic contemplative worship music in the background

*please not that setting the environment in the just the right way does not make any place sacred. Rather, it is the collective spirit and invitation for God to enter and move that sets apart something or some place as holy)

“Holy Spirit

My Life, my Love, my Strength

Come to my side now and always,

In all of my doubts, questions, and trials

Come, Holy Spirit Come.

We played a great intro song from new band Rend Collective Experiment from Ireland

Exalt- on Itunes

10)  Jenny then guided our students in a time of reflective and personal prayers to the Holy Spirit.

There was approximately 1-2 minutes of silent pause in between each prayer offered:

Come, Holy Spirit, and pray for me.

Come, Holy Spirit, and convict me.

Come Holy Spirit, and teach me.

Come, Holy Spirit, and guide me.

Come, Holy Spirit, and fill me up.

Come, Holy Spirit, and make me Holy

I then played a song by Phil Wickham

Spirit Fall- on Itunes

After the song, there appeared to be a deep silence and peace in the room.

God was moving, speaking, convicting, challenging, inspiring, and loving

I offered a prayer thanking the Holy Spirit for being in our midst and revealing himself to us in ways which we needed

To those who need emotional, spiritual, or physical healing….the Oil signifies that you are our Healer

To those who need peace in the midst of anxiety, stress and being overwhelmed at school or home, the Dove signifies you are our Peace

To those who need passion and strength to overcome obstacles, temptations, fears, and sin, the Fire signifies that you refine and are Powerful

To those who need a new start, a cleansing, a rebirth of spirit, wholeness, the Water signifies that you quench every thirst and offer us New Life

To those who seeking to follow in the movement of God’s Spirit wherever He may lead, the Wind signifies that you are on the move though unseen

Lead us Holy Spirit.  Free us Holy Spirit.  Heal and Help us Holy Spirit.  Move in our lives Holy Spirit.

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.