Week 7- The Church

We venture on in our series called Clear: Theological Foundations of Faith

This week the theme was The Church. The idea being the church as the natural (and supernatural) follow-up of Salvation.

Salvation came to the early followers of Jesus and they gathered together to pray, worship, support and encourage each other as a community centered upon a shared vision and keen sense of mission and purpose.

I began by asking students and leaders to share the words, images, or other associations that come to mind when they hear the word “Church”.

some examples included:








Joel Osteen

*It was interesting to note that very few initial thoughts were positive.  Also most words were static, not describing the church as community or moving towards something.

Now, when we asked about Youth Group, things changed.  Terms like fun, community, friends, mission, acceptance, exciting, Jesus, spiritual, paintball, retreats, service, etc. were then thrown into the mix.

*This reaffirmed my fear and belief that The Church needs to find ways to bridge the gap between student ministry and “big church”.  Youth ministry students today, for the most part, do not see themselves connected to or with the church.  This needs to change from a philosophical/theological perspective and on very practical and tangible levels of involvement and participation.

But I digress…..

Rather then begin our large group discussion with an opening activity, we decided to jump right in with a video to introduce the subject.

One of our youth leaders, Josh, prepped the group for the following video.
Re:form Video-  The Universal Church

Gathered Group Discussion

We then launched into discussion about the universal aspect of The Church and the hope and dream of unity in purpose and mission.

Yes, church exists in different places, cultures, contexts, languages, expressions, but can and should be united in faith and love. We are connected to large and small churches; urban and rural, home churches and mega church and everything and everywhere in between.

We brought the conversation to a more personal level with these two questions that students discussed in smaller breakout groups:

What are things happening in your church that directly affect you?

What are things happening in your church that directly affect others?

For the bulk of the “teaching” times I had another volunteer, Will,  read through some Scripture passages and I briefly unpacked them

What is the Local Church Like?

Gathered– how we assemble (Ecclesia)
Acts 2:46-4
1 Corinthians 14:26
Philemon 1:1-2

Visible what we see right now on Earth
Acts 8:1
Acts 9:31

Unique– who we are geographically; understanding your culture and context

What is unique about Bedford (or Westchester county) compared to other areas?

I shared a few examples from recent travels comparing NY with TX, OKC, and Kansas City.  It is amazing just how different places are, not just in geography or topography but religious life, culture, worldviews, political alignment, stances on social issues, etc…

What is the Universal Church like?

Scattered How we Live wherever we live.
Acts 2:42-45
Colossians 3:17

“Tomorrow, I will “be the church” by doing____________________

Invisible– the expression of what we will see fully in Heaven one day

Mosaic– Who we are collectively…the body of Christ beautified and made whole and complete in community

Revelation 7:9-10

We concluded the large group time with an activity lead by Becky, a former youth group student student-now young adult

She divided the group into 3 teams and gave each one directions and supplies for the following:

A. Construct/ Draw your dream building for a Church

B. Create what “church” could look like without owning a building?

C. Envision and describe what staff, ministries, and programs you would want your church to have?
Create a Vision Statement and then how each of the above fits into it?

Closing Prayer-offered by one of our students, Chloe

God, who are we that you’d choose to let us be your hands and feet in this broken world? At times our version of your dream church can be very imperfect, but we’re thankful that you perfect and have placed your perfect faith in our imperfections.

I don’t want to be excited for you for only a few years and then drop away later on.  So please help me develop the kind of relationship with you and your church that lasts for the long haul.  Along the way, help me to reveal your identity to the world.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

We typically end our evenings in small groups, which help nurture caring relationships and friends and also allow more time to dig deeper into the topic or theme of the night.

Here are the Small Group Questions we used this evening
Clear:  The Church

1) Do you go to church?  Why or why not?

2) Do you think you’ll go to church when you’re older?

3) What will you look for in a faith community or church?

4) What are your spiritual gifts and what can you contribute to your current (or future)  faith community?

*My small group of guys only discussed the first 3, but it was hopeful to hear what they are seeking and looking for in a church.  Most of their answers had to do with relationships, authenticity, and not being bored to death.  We still have a great deal of work to in integrating our students into the broader life of the church.  Some do a great job and are very connected. Others remain on the fringe and get involved only when we have an “official” youth group related service or event.  And yet others see no reason to be involved because they have our youth group, which I am not sure is a good thing…

Next week Heaven


Talking theology and youth ministry with Andrew Root

Andrew Root

This week I had another great opportunity to speak with my good friend Andrew Root on his live blog talk radio show. I have been on in the past discussing ideas and chapters from his books.  This time however we joined together to talk about and promote Sparkhouse and their Re:form Confirmation curriculum.  I have written about this before as to the reasons why I appreciate the vision and teach the content.

Andy and I discussed one lesson/video that you can view here and now…..

Re:form offers 40 lessons that are question oriented and dialog-based for students.  This particular question was “Does God still create stuff today”. In our talk, we discussed the importance of affirming God’s continued active participation in this word.  There is a deep theological intention behind affirming that God still creates and recreates today…in the physical world and in hearts and lives.  Rather than ascribing to a form of moralistic, therapeutic deism, we hold God’s engagement and power to inspire and transform reality and our realities.

You will hear as well the practical implications and applications for the spiritual formation of students for the mission of God permeating through the lesson.

To hear our conversation you can download it for free on Itunes   Andrew Root podcast on Itunes \”featuring\” Dan Haugh

or listen to it here and now…..

live on BlogTalk radio

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.

Week 2: Jesus

Last week was week 2 of our series called Clear: Theological Foundations of Faith.

For recaps of the previous weeks and why we are doing this series, please check out the previous posts.

The theme for this week was Jesus.  Again, not an easy topic to do in one evening.  In the past, I have actually taught entire semesters on Jesus, and on other occasions taught one month-long series.

About 2 years ago, rather than teaching a series based on the chronological and “major” events of Jesus’ life, we focused on providing our students with an intensive and profound look at who Jesus was, what he has done, and how then can interact with him.

Based on the chapter “Reculturing Education” from A New Kind of Youth Ministry here was our outline:

Truth 1: The Deity of Jesus

Week 1: The Divine Names of Jesus

Week 2: The Divine Attributes of Jesus

Week 3:  The Divine Works of Jesus

Truth 2: The Humanity of Jesus

Week 4: The Incarnation of Jesus

Week 5: The Character of Jesus

Week 6: The Priorities of Jesus

Truth 3: The Ministry of Jesus

Week 7:  The Teaching of Jesus

Week 8:  The Miracles of Jesus

Week 9: The Atonement of Jesus

Truth 4: Our interactions with Jesus

Week 10: Praying with and to Jesus

Week 11: Abiding In Jesus

Week 12: Participating in the Suffering of Jesus

Week 13: Following Jesus Every Day

I find amazing embrace, engagement, and transformation in taking this approach with our students, so I kept this in mind in preparation for this one evening

Flashback: When I taught this series on theology almost 8 years ago, my entire focus was not on engaging students with the life and presence of Jesus.  I did not care as much about seeing them spiritually formed and transformed as I did with convincing them their need for Christ’s salvation.

My main focus was on a clear presentation of substitutionary propitiatory atonement.  Jesus Christ on the cross in his crucifixion or sacrifice fulfilled the wrath and indignation of God. The crucifixion or sacrifice of Christ conciliated (or appeased) God, who would otherwise be offended by human sin and would demand penalty for it.

Naturally, the main goals in this kind of approach was convincing students of their sin, convicting them of their need for help, convincing them in the reality of punishment and eternal damnation and then offering them a solution.  In some ways, it is very much a sales pitch.  Now, you may firmly believe in the idea and the need for others to want and have it, but nonetheless, you still must spend time and energy selling them on that as well.

*disclaimer: I do not necessarily think this is wrong or inherently bad and do still see a need for this message. Generally around Easter time we have this discussion.


As mentioned from last week, I am attempt to include more of our leaders in the actual teaching time and group discussions as well and am trying to work hard to create environments and opportunities towards that end.

My theme and focus was on helping our students understand the mystery of Christ and the beauty of who he was and is.

1) I had one of our volunteers, Mary, offer a communal pray for our group and invited the presence of Jesus in our midst to quite our hearts and minds, guide us into truth and unity, and fill our spirits with his love.

2) We first did a brief recap from the following week, led by our students’ recollection of theme, content, and activities

3) We began introducing the night’s theme by showing this video, as a way of clearing up common misconceptions about who Jesus was not.

Following that funny clip I played an old Johnny Cash song called “It was Jesus” from his Love, God, Murder album

\”It was Jesus\”- Johnny Cash

4) Another volunteer (who happens to be my wife and very gifted in engaging students in interactive learning) lead the opening activity.  She divided the group into 2 and had each smaller group go into separate rooms.  One group was given a picture of a body on construction paper and asked to come up with words, images, or ideas showing the humanity of Jesus.  How do we know that Jesus was Human?

The other group was tasked with a similar proposition of coming up with how we know Jesus was divine.

This lasted for about 10 minutes and each group came back into the room and placed their sheet on the wall and explained how they arrived at their conclusions.

It was interesting to see which group had an easier time at first.  Can you guess which one?

About 5 minutes into the assignment, the “humanity” group had the sheet practically full, while the “divinity” one had probably 4 words written down.

I had a youth leader, Becky, help out each group by giving them a few verses to aid in their thinking and conversations

Group 1 (Humanity) Matt 8:24, Matt 21:18, Mark 3:5, John 11:35, John 11:36, John 12:27

Group 2 (Divinity) Matt 1:21, Luke 1:31-32, 1 Thess 1:10, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 1:8

You probably cannot see from the images but here were a few of their discoveries:

Humanity:  he was born, he felt pain, he bled and died, he was tempted, he slept, he was hunger and thirsty, he felt human emotions such as fear, sadness, joy, anger

Divinity: his “I AM” sayings, various divine titles given to him (Son of God, Son of Man, image of God, etc..), his was sinless, he performed miracles, he was raised from the dead, he appeared after his resurrection, he pre-existence as the “Word” of God, forgave sins, had moments of omnipotence and omniscience

When both groups came back in we create a Venn diagram and had a really good discussion about which qualities, characteristics and attributes intersect with both natures (human and divine)

Examples were Love, Grace, Compassion, Community, Justice, Miracles

Christ represents the fullness and completion of what humanity can be.

As Millard Erickson writes in Christian Theology, “instead of asking Is Jesus as human as we are? we might better ask, Are we as human Jesus? For the type of human nature that each of us possesses is not pure human nature.  The true humanity created by God has in our case been corrupted and spoiled…Jesus is not only as human as we are; he is more human.  Our humanity is not a standard by which we are to measure his.  His humanity, true and unadulterated, is the standard by which we are to be measured.”

Some key points are:

Jesus can truly sympathize with and intercede for us

Jesus manifests the true nature of humanity

Jesus can be our example

Human nature is good

God is not totally transcendent

5)  I chose 2 students to read the following passages:

John 1:1-14

The Word Became Flesh

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

A second student read these words about Christ found in Colossians 1:15-20

The Supremacy of the Son of God

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Christ being divine meant that he is also fully God and can forgive us, redeem us, and restore our nature and relationship with God. We can and should worship him as God, as our risen and eternal Savior.

There is a mystery surrounding the dual natures of Christ.  100% human and 100% divine seem to add up to an incomprehensible 200%!

However, students (especially in postmodernity) understand and accept the existence of paradox in life and faith.

6) We concluded our corporate time together by asking who is Jesus to me?

I showed this clip about the identity of Christ.

7)  Another leader, Jenny, invited our students to grab notebooks and pens and write a letter to a friend explaining who Jesus was to them.  This hopefully served as a good time for personal reflection on both their intellectual beliefs about Jesus, and their spiritual affirmations and experience of Jesus

ie. what Jesus actually means to them and who he is in their life

During these minutes we played two songs in the background:

Jesus Messiah- Chris Tomlin

We Love you Jesus- Shane and Shane

8)  A college student, Josh, then read the poem “One Solitary Life”, which still concludes the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular program each year in NYC

One Solitary Life
He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty

He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never travelled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but himself

He was only thirty-three
His friends ran away
One of them denied him
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
The only property he had on earth

When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend

Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind’s progress
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life

9)  Josh then concluded with a prayer found in the book Clear by Chris Folmsbee

“Jesus, thank you.

Jesus. you are the Christ.

Jesus, you are the Messiah.

Jesus, you are the Anointed One.

Jesus, you are our Prophet.

Jesus, you are our Priest

Jesus, you are our King.

Jesus, you are the reason we have a relationship with God.

Jesus, thank you.”

10)  For the last 30-45 minutes we generally break up into 4 small groups.  Depending on the night and the theme, sometimes we have guys and girls together and sometimes we divide.  Here are the questions given to our leaders, serving simply as a starting point for discussion and thought.

Small Group Questions:

What is still confusing or hard to understand about Jesus?

Do you believe in Paradox?  How might that apply to faith in Jesus?

What does Jesus Humanity Reveal to Us?  How can it help us?

What does Jesus’ Divnity Reveal to us?  How can it help us?

Describe how you have experienced the reality of Jesus in your life?

*During the next 4 weeks for our Confirmation group, we will get more in-depth on the subject of Jesus and be looking at the following questions: (These are taken from the Re:Form Confirmation program from Sparkhouse)

a) Was Jesus of Nazareth God?

b) Did Jesus know he was God?

c) If Jesus was God why did he have to die?

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

e) Why did Jesus get baptized?

f) Is believing in Jesus really the only way to get to heaven?

Next Week:  Holy Spirit

networking in Nashville…NYWC 2010

Later this week, I will be traveling to the land of BBQ and country music…Nashville, TN for the National Youth Workers Convention. NYWC 2010


I will be blogging and tweeting on a regular basis during my time there so stay tuned.

If you will be attending this year, I would love to try to connect up with you.

This will be my 10th year attending (hard to believe!), and each year I look forward to it more and more.

While the training, content, music, and speakers are all great and inspirational, what I appreciate and need more than ever is the time and space to pause, reflect, and re-connect with God and others.

NYWC does a fantastic job of allowing for and creating sacred space for these moments. Around this time of year (every year) I often get bogged down and stressed.  These few days offer an escape and chance to recharge my batteries.  Some years I attend every seminar and session offered.  Other times, I take the opportunity to find solace and peace and rediscover my passion for students.

Over the past few years, the connections, conversations, and friendships made have probably been the most important to me.  During these conventions I have had the opportunity to meet so many youth workers, writers, theologians, volunteers, etc.. and maintain regular relationships with them to this day.  These connections have lead to times of support and encouragement, not to mention opportunities to partner and collaborate on projects and ministry.

For me, youth ministry is all about relationships with 1)  our students 2) other youth workers

It’s these relationships that keep me motivated, inspired, and challenged to continue in the journey.

Please do shoot a message or send a tweet if you will be around for NYWC 2010.

Here are a few of the places you might find me meandering around at in the big room (the one with all the tables and booths set up for ministries that like to give stuff away and then get to you sign up for stuff….)

Here are a few that I have affiliation with and support their cause and vision.  There are other great organizations and ministries represented that I hope to check out and connect with as well and have provided a link at the end.

Barefoot Ministries with Chris Folmsbee

Barefoot Ministries

We Are Sparkhouse (Re:form Confirmation) with Andy Root and Tony Jones

We are Sparkhouse

XP3 Students with Jeremy Zach

XP3 students

My Broken Palace with CJ Casciotta

My broken palace

YWJ (Youth Worker Journal)

Youth Worker


Youth Ministry Today

NNYM (National Network of Youth Ministries)


Click here for a complete list of all the exhibitors

NYWC 2010 exhibitors

Updates from Nashville to be typed with BBQ sauce-dripped hands in a few days…..

Re:form Confirmation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

participatory learning environment for all types of students.

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

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

what they believe, through three components:

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

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

does God let bad things happen?”

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

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

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


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

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

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

been learning.

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

We are Sparkhouse

Re:form Gallery

ReForm Confirmation_SessionTitles

Back into the swing of things?

(BTW…I chose this picture simply because I am a Red Sox fan and huge admirer of the late great Ted Williams. And also because as sad as it is to see summer end, I love fall baseball)

I’m not sure about you, but summer always seems to turn out differently than expected.

I had grand plans to write a bunch of blog posts, hang out with my students all the time, and be really prepared for the start of school (for once!)

Well, summer came and went.  It seemed to be busier than summers before…although I seem to think that each year.

The school year started before I even realized it.  I am already starting to look ahead to our winter calendar!

This past summer, our youth group had a wonderful (but very intense) service project trip, numerous summer events, activities, and meetings that kept everyone connected.

These were all really good, but the things I hoped to finally get around to doing (you know those things that in the spring you say you will do when things “slow down” in the summer).  Yeah, those things… I have not gotten around to doing.

Now, partly was because I made a conscious decision and effort to spend quality time with my wife.  She is a school teacher and the summer provides her only stress-free and work-free time of the year.  We took day trips, road trips, and just enjoyed each other’s company and did things in our community we seldom find time to do during the year.

That was good.

What was not good was not getting to everything I had hoped for.

And friends, summer is over.

Here is the northeast, the weather has changed almost overnight. It seems that as soon as school started, the mornings and evenings got real cool and the days are getting shorter.  Leaves are already starting to change, pants and long sleeve shirts are brought back from storage, and the beaches are vacant.

Now, the full school year is upon us.  I am planning staff meetings, youth retreats, youth leader training, and three months of lessons.

We are in the process of a major overhaul of our Sunday AM program and also beginning a brand new Confirmation program thanks to the good people at Sparkhouse

Re:form Confirmation

From a writing standpoint, we (Chris Folmsbee and I) are hoping to have God is Loud finished and distributed this fall and I am currently signing a contract for a new book called Postmodern Shifts, first draft due by January, 2011.

Every youth pastor I talk with feels overwhelmed this time of year, as do I.

I can only recommend staying focussed and centered in Christ, however that works for you.

Moments of rest and retreat.

Times of laughter, play, and recreation.

Walks with Jesus and talks with others.

Enjoy a fall hike or take an hour with a freshly brewed cup of coffee

Some find refreshment and restoration in solitude and silence, while others enjoy the embrace of noise.

I am trying to find my rhythm this fall as another busy year creeps up on me.

I know this year will be full of wonder, mysteries, majesty, confusion, doubt, frustration, smelly vans, joy, despair, upset parents, painful budge meetings, some kids “getting” it while others not paying attention, and hopefully enough grace to make it through!

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.