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





emerging youth ministry recommended resources

These are not listed in any particular order. I hope you may find some of these resources beneficial in the ever-changing climate of contextual youth ministry.

I have benefitted from these organizations, curriculum, and networks both in New York and now in an international setting in France.

Barefoot Ministries

Recommended:  “Missio Life”, Immerse Journal, Credo, “A World Unbroken”




Re:form curriculum (Confirmation, Ancestors, Traditions)

Echo the Story

The United Church of Christ

“Our Whole Lives” Justice and Sexuality Education series

Paraclete Press

The Jesus Creed (student edition)

YouthFront– spiritual formation and camps

The Youth Cartel

“Instigating a Revolution in Youth Ministry”


The Good News Curriculum

Open YM events

Short-term missions:


Habitat for Humanity

Group Work Camps

Academic and Theological Training:

Princeton Theological Seminary

*Institute for Youth Ministry

Fuller Theological Seminary

*Fuller Youth Institute

International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry (IASYM)

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 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

Week 1: God

Last Wednesday we launched a new series on the theological foundations of faith with our high school students.  For more info about why and what, please visit the last two posts.

Naturally, it makes sense to start with God.

I mentioned to my team how difficult of a topic this one was.  How can you define or describe God in one evening, let alone 30 minutes?

Additionally, last semester we made major shifts towards dialog-based group discussions, in place of content-driven lectures.

It seemed to me that doing a series on systematic theology lends itself more to the teacher-oriented atmosphere which I have been moving away from.

So, plenty of time and thought was spent on how to approach this subject in an engaging, interesting, and hopefully powerful way with our students.

Flashback: (not to the 80’s…just a few years back)

As mentioned in my previous post, I found my lesson notes from nine years ago on these same topics.

When I first taught this type of series I was very concerned with getting the “right” information into the minds of my students.  I read multiple theology books in preparation.

Remembering back, I believe I spoke for around 40-45 minutes straight on God.  Peter Rollins, author of How Not to Speak of God, would probably disagree with my approach back then!

Here was my outline (I tried to find examples or illustrations for each point, but ended up really just verbally spewing out a ton of information and hoping my students could and would understand and remember)

The Pre-existence of God

God’s Universal Revelation

God’s Particular Revelation

The Nature of God

  • divine
  • eternal
  • infinite
  • spirit
  • invisible
  • personal

The Attributes of God

  • omnipresent
  • immanence
  • transcendence
  • omniscient
  • omnipotent
  • sovereign

I basically gave 5 minute mini lectures from theological courses I had taken and the books I had been reading.  Back then, for me, information, not transformation was key.

It mattered more to me what my students believed (or least what they told me they believed) than why they believed and how it impacted their daily lives.

Looking back on that lesson about God I wonder a few things:

1) Did my students actually grasp the content…could they really understand it?

2) Did they even care? – did the lesson and approach come more from me than their journey and needs?

3)  How much of the information did they retain?

4) What would they remember about that evening besides me talking for so long?

5) What was I really trying to accomplish anyways?

Present Day:

Being able to look back in reflection benefitted me (and hopefully this current group of students) a great deal this time around.

I began the evening with the realization and public acknowledgement that in truth, we really cannot fully understand God.

Attempts are often made and what happens is people conclude that God is______ and functions like _________ and so forth. (insert your own words)

These attempts in actuality do the opposite of the stated intention.

They limit God and box him into neatly packaged constraints that we can understand (at best) and at worse use to manipulate control our expression or version of God.

How can our finite and limited minds comprehend the indefinable and infinite?

How can our words and language describe the indescribable?

I did not leave it there though.

Just because we cannot understand does not mean that we should not try.  The problem is when we actually believe we have arrived and have God figured out (and then write a book on systematizing God!)

God is not an idea to conquer and claim to use.

God is a person to be in relation with.  As you grow in that relationship you will come to a greater (though always limited) understanding.

I played an old school song that (truth be told I do not particular favor anymore) seemed fairly appropriate at the time.

Indescribable by Chris Tomlin

Having that as the context for speaking about God, I launched briefly into the question of What God is?

We also addressed the question of whether God is Male or Female.  For a great resource, I recommend using this video from Re_Form confirmation by Sparkhouse.

After this we briefly touched on the attributes of God and had students guess what some of the above words meant and how they relate to our experience of God:

all-knowing, all-powerful, fully present, eternal, mysterious,  uncontainable, etc…

*Interesting to note that the students were not as concerned about those and were okay with the basic conclusion that God is….God.

I suppose that if you believe in God and believe the stories in the Bible,  with those beliefs come  many, if not all, of those assumptions about what God can do.

The real interesting, and I think, engaging part was of the evening was discussing Who is God?

We had students use materials to create a very large heart.

We asked them to write in and around words/images/pictures that depict and describe the heart of God

Some included: compassionate, caring, kind, loving, generous, just, fair, merciful, tender, Father, comforting, friend, listener, supportive, faithful

We then discussed the names of God. (which will serve a good launching point for next week!)

A had a student attempt to spell out each name and the group could offer her assistance, but only 3 times!

(she only got one right!)

After we correctly spelled them we defined them together.

Elohim-strength, might

Adonai-owner, possessor, master, Lord

Yahweh or Jehovah  God IS (and we are NOT….God)

during this time we played the song “Yahweh” by U2 giving students time and space to reflect on the name(s) of God and their experiences and interactions with God as those names.

Yahweh- Itunes

How do these names reflect our experiences of God?  How do these names help us better understand God?

What does it mean to be created in the imago Dei (image of God)?

The “teaching” time ended by giving each student an index card and explaining to them to write one question they have for God.

If you could meet God (like Bruce did in Bruce Almighty) what would you ask him?

I wanted to give freedom for them to think, but did mention that perhaps asking who would win American Idol was not the best idea.

Questions like why did my parents get divorced, what is your plan for my life, will I ever get over my depression, why do you seem so far away…these kind of questions are circulated in our students minds and hearts.

I then encouraged them on the opposite side of the card to write something they would like to say to God…anything on their heart and mind.

In closing, we reminded the group about the reality of God’s presence in our midst and within our prayers (whether spoken, silent, or written)

Those cards could serve as reminders each day that God is in fact listening and we can approach him with whatever is on our mind and heart.

This closing activity was my attempt to get the “idea” of God and make it real and personal to them, hoping in the process not to manipulate.

For this particular evening, instead of then dividing up into small groups to further discuss, we ended our time together with something special.

That night was the last youth group for two of our members. One was moving back to his home in Haiti and the other was moving with her family to North Carolina.  We decided to have a time of communal affirmation and blessing for each one.

I reminded that group that God exists in community from before Creation and referred briefly to the Trinity. I also reminded them that we were created to be in community: with God, with each other, and with our world.

When communities are broken it can be a difficult time, however the relationships remain together.  Sure, the relationship will naturally look and function differently when someone is physically absent, but at the core, the intimacy and community does not change

What was so cool to see was each member of our group take turns sharing fond memories, what they appreciate or respect, or just affirming our departing students. This actually last 40 minutes (sorry to all the parents waiting outside)  We ended in a large circle with those two students in the middle and spoke a prayer of blessing as we lifted them up to God and sent them on their way to the next phase of their journey into the mission of God.

I suppose it was a fitting way to end an evening getting focused on God, for in and through God we have our being and community.

Next week’s topic: Jesus

NYWC 2010…afterthoughts from Nashvegas

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

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

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

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

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

Mike King- \”Back from Nashville\”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

2) Academic/Theological track

3) Seminar or affinity gathering for the Northeast

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

5) Offer contextual mini-conferences in strategic geographic regions

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

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.