On Rob Bell…broken foots and deep mysteries

Who begins a talk about the mysteries of the cosmos with a story about a broken foot and a Polish jack-of-all-trades miracle worker?

Rob Bell does.

In my last post, which was a review of the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference, I ended by alluding that Rob Bell spoke, without giving much print to him.

http://emergingyouth.com/2016/02/22/pym-16-progressing-in-the-cosmos/

Truth be told, Rob was indeed the featured “celebrity” speaker, the reason why some choose to attend the conference and for many the highlight of the weekend.

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For ten years, much of my youth ministry teaching and pulpit preaching drew ideas and insights from Rob Bell’s books and Nooma videos.  I have always appreciated his thoughts and admired his way of communicating.  I know he has received a bad rap by a sub-sect of more fundamental Christians, but I still applaud his vision and was very happy to see him invited to come and speak at this year’s conference.

In classic Bell fashion, he cleverly crafted a story that helped illustrate how every question (and relative answer) always lends to another question…with a set of answers that inevitably lead to more questions..  Etc.. etc.

Every question and answer leads deeper down into mystery.

One of the basic premises of his talk was the view that all discoveries of humanity thus far, have actually done little to make sense of the human experience and emotions involved.  Scientists becomes theologians the moment they exclaim “Wow” at some wonder they observe. Similarly we become theologians when we experience something profound that no discovery can address.

To Bell, the world will always need those who can create spaces for people to share in the unexplained mysteries of life.  The human experience is rife with raw emotions that cannot be simply explained or rationed away.  These emotions and longings draw us inextricably together in ways that modern science (such as quantum entanglement) may beginning to now realize.

The posture for people of faith towards the advancement of the sciences should be an openness without fear that it will limit our view.  Rather, all discoveries and “truth” should be claimed and celebrated as an expanding of God’s presence in the cosmos and our particular lives.

This mindset does indeed enhance, rather than inhibit, our sense of the inter-connectivity of everything and that the presence of God does permeate in all, through all and with all.  This seems to concur with the ancients view of God and Jesus’ own beliefs.  The great religious traditions have a beautiful role to still play in the world, but too often focus on creating (and then defending/protecting/expanding) their own particular “temples” i.e. institutions, buildings, doctrines, denominations, creeds, etc..

The challenge, Rob offered, is for church to build up the temple in order to inspire others but not to focus on the temple…rather tear it down and let the Divine flood into the world.  This does not insinuate that God’s presence and activity is not already permeable throughout the cosmos, but rather how often people of faith believe that it somehow exists and operates almost exclusively within particularities.   The Jews certainly believed that to be true with the Divine and the Temple.  Jesus came onto the scene and radially revolutionized that concept in many ways, one of which was his conversation with a woman at a well:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Sadly, many Christians have continued this false dichotomy and almost dualism by insisting that God can only be found, understood and experienced through very specific (and often limited) means.  This may include one’s particular creed, denomination, theological view, style of music, method of baptism, etc. etc.. etc…

What if….

What if the whole thing is a temple? 

Everything and everywhere.  The heights and depths.  The earth and the heavens.  The past and the future.  Those of homo-sapien origins and perhaps those of extraterrestrial existence?

It seems to me that if this were true, it would expand God’s majesty and beauty, while at the same time enhancing the importance of every aspect of life.  No more would the sacred -secular divide exist, which appears to be what Jesus desired and ushered in.

Well, every question leads to other questions, so I will ruminate on this idea for some time but am glad that Rob came to not only entertain us comically, but also enlighten us theologically in brilliant Bell fashion.

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#PYM14

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

PROGRESSIVE-YOUTH-MINISTRY-300x226

The Progressive Youth Ministry 2014 conference was my destination and reason I fly across the ocean from France back to the good ole’ U.S of A.  This has been a conference many have dreamed about for years.  Prior to moving, I would attend a few youth ministry seminars and conference each year.  Some big and some small but each time I would discover a like-minded affinity group of “progressives”.  Often treated like the extra grandchildren at Thanksgiving, we would be relegated to the “kids table” of some small room or late night pub discussion.  But from these encounters and interactions, deep friendships were forged and a vision born.

PYM14 was organized by the JoPa group and came together under the leadership of Tony Jones and John Vest, and I could not have been happier.

http://pym.thejopagroup.com/

The question left undefined, by design, was “What does ‘progressive’ even mean?  Moreover, how does one describe a progressive youth ministry?  While I have yet to answer those questions, I did realize a few things.

First, “progressive” does not mean liberal.  I really despise those division terms of conservative and liberal anyway.  Progressive also does not mean “anti-evangelical”

I was surprised to learn that approximately half of the over 200 attendees came from some form of “evangelical” background.  True, the vast majority of those are no longer working in those type of contexts, but are also unwilling to completely disassociate from their heritage.  The is a general belief and hope that the “left” and “right” can find beautiful points of convergence and experience a holy embrace.  Yes, this kiss might look ugly and sloppy at times, but at least it implies some form of connectivity and relationality.  We will see what this future looks like, but I sensed a palpable energy of openness to include those radically different.

Progressives do have a few common characteristics (in general).  Most support the rights of women and the LGBT community while also welcoming and affirming them within the Church.  While active in social and political issues, most progressives remain from political alignment, recognizing the importance of official separation. I would probably be unfair to say there were few Republicans in attendance, so I will not say that 🙂

Most importantly, the commonality shared in this conference was threefold:

1) Love for God and desire to serve the Church

2)  Passion for teenagers and belief they can change the future of the Church and world.

3)  Uncanny and unafraid openness to believe that God is bigger than we and the Spirit of Christ is, in fact, active and engaged in our world and future (and not just in the past)

Many attendees have blogged about their experiences.  You can read some of those here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/ProgYouthMin/223427967852288/?notif_t=group_activity

The following is a well-worded excerpt from Tony Jones’s blog, one of the organizers and key leaders in the conversation.  His reflection and sentiment cannot be better articulated, so I will let him speak for himself, and all those who attended!

“The speakers were incredible. Jeff Chu and H. Adam Ackley, a transgender theology professor spoke out of their own experience of being queer in their youth, and each of them explained how they could have been better ministered to by their churches.

And we listened.

Other speakers addressed how women are portrayed in rap and hiphop music, what “death of god” theology could mean in a confirmation class, what kind of youth pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was, and why process theology doesn’t suck. Otis Moss III preached us in, and Laura Truax preached us out. In other words, the content was amazing.

But something even more important happened last week at Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago.

What happened in that room was that we had a sense that something special is happening. There was an unmistakeable sense that we have an opportunity to claim a significant voice in the conversation about what youth ministry is in America, that we can fight back against moralistic therapeutic deism, and that we can start to articulate a view of God that is generous, life-affirming, and inclusive. We have a tribe — that’s a clear take-away from last week.

For myself, I knew from the opening session that I was among people whom I understood, and who understood me. Most of my own leadership skills were honed in youth ministry, so I appreciate the challenges that many of the folks in that room face. But I also knew that the energy in the room could only have been generated by youth workers. The laughter was a bit louder, the singing a bit bolder, and the tears a bit less restrained than we’d ever get at a different kind of pastor’s conference.”

People always ask me where I will “land” in ministry, and for now specifically youth ministry.  I certainly receive a warm “home” welcoming back from so many friends, both old and new.  The conference was fun and entertaining, especially the live podcast of Homebrewed Christianity with Tripp Fuller.

http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2014/04/13/youth-ministers-the-niebuhr-revival-pastormark-other-goodies-pym14/

This tribe speaks my language and speaks up for the issues closest to my heart. Yet one key admonishment during the week was for this small band of progressives not to become “tribal”.  Very easily that can happen.

I am glad to have feet in both camps of theological tradition and practical ministry.  I appreciate my evangelical heritage and foundation but also deeply appreciate the progressive soul and lived-out gospel.

My sincere hope is to continue to converse and communion with all youth workers from all denominations, traditions, backgrounds, races, and cultures.  For that is where the Body of Christ is most beautiful.

Thank you to #PYM14 for a much-needed voice and platform in the expanding world of youth ministry. 

Times are changing, and as the Spirit progresses forward ahead us, so must we. 

When love goes astray

Over the past few weeks, like many pastors, I have been following the news coming from Mark’s Driscoll’s church Mars Hill.  Naturally the reactions and responses to online articles and blog posts run the spectrum.  On one side are Driscoll supporters who stand by his actions and on the other side are individuals who vilify the man and his team.

For a good perspective on the most recent news regarding the firing of a pastor from Driscoll’s church, I commend this blog post:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2012/03/22/mark-driscolls-house-of-cards/

What strikes me about all of this is the major differences and gaps in how people, especially pastoral types, use the word love.

As Tony’s post referred to, pastors have excommunicated their own children and disowned former members and elders “out of love”.  In their minds, it is precisely out of love for these wayward sinners, that harsh actions are required.  For them, failure to punish or convict is a sign of weakness and, in essence, not having love for someone.

Of course, others (pastors and non-clergy) alike seem to use this same philosophy in protesting abortion clinics and LGBT parades.  Their “love” leads toward the abasement of people with fear, in hopes of repentance so these sinners will avoid the fiery torture of hell. We have all heard sad stories of violent acts and words supposedly done in the name of God and out of love.

Now, truth be told, in my experience many of these people have no love at all.  They may use that language, but it is pure hatred that comes forth in every form.  But I think they are the extreme and do not represent the majority.

The majority of pastors that use “tough love”, as many refer to it, I think in general do love those they are dealing with.  It may not look, sound, or feel like love to others, but only God knows their motivation.

It is their particular theological slant and biblical interpretations that they must come to terms with. For them, loving others and its implications and applications, must come through the lens of biblical interpretation.  Of course, they too realize (to a point) the cultural and contextual boundaries and probably do not follow the letter of the law strictly and literally i.e. stoning to death a homosexual or woman who is having an affair).  Verbal stoning and excommunication seem to do the trick today!

And so, we have examples that are now widely circulated and gossiped about.  Sadly these pastors and churches are lamented for being judgemental, arrogant, close-minded, narrow, and well…just plain mean.  I doubt (or at least hope) that is not their intention.

As always, there are two sides to everything and so another group of pastors out of “love” will open their hearts and doors to all people, specifically to the ones other churches will not. They welcome people and view them not as “sinners” but as fellow humans created in God’s image.  The love of Christ compels them to openly affirm their individuality and uniqueness with a message of acceptance.

For them the love of Christ knows no limits or boundaries and is unconditional, as a good father’s love towards his children would be.  Rather than being gossiped about for excommunication, they are lamented for being too tolerant or inclusive.  These pastors and churches not only allow people, marginalized by society, into their doors, but support them in leadership.   They will interpret the Bible through a lens of love and grace and then make decisions accordingly.  Their theological views compel them to love lavishly, and for that often they are criticized (and also then called “sinners” by others)

Both sets of pastors and churches I am sure claim they love people.

The question and difference are how that love is displayed and received by others.

There appears to be quite a contrast.

Where do you stand?  Is there a clearly right or clearly wrong path?

John 13:35
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus was right.  This is still his dream.  How we interpret and act on this command makes all the difference.

Is there a better Love moving forward for pastors and churches and youth ministries alike?

The solution may lie in the middle ground somewhere, but I will reveal my cards on the table and say this:

If excused of anything on that day of judgement (whatever one may believe about that) I would rather God tell me that I loved too much; extended too much grace; was too lavish with acceptance than to be condemned for being too harsh, too critical, too condemning, too exclusive, and too judgmental.

a new endeavor: “coaching” social media

I am excited to embark on a new adventure working as a “coach” for Social Phonics…the social media brainchild of Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt.

I have known both guys for a number of years and was thrilled to see them branch out and create an organization to assist the church in its mission by “training pastor, ministry leaders, and non-profit leaders in the use of social media.”

Here is a brief blurb about the organization from the website Socialphonics.com

“Social Phonics, a division of JoPa Productions, is the premier organization training pastors, ministry leaders, and non-profit leaders in the use of social media.  Through our Social Phonics Boot Camps, Social Phonics Summer Camp, and our certified Social Phonics Coaches, we provide hands-on training that immediately empowers leaders to harness the power of social media.

We are convinced of the incredible power that social media have to connect people to one another and to churches, ministries, and organizations.  And we are committed to staying on top of the latest developments in social media so that we can keep you and your organization up-to-date.”

I have been an advocate of all forms of social media and networking for a while.  Though no “expert” by any definition, I have both personally and professionally seen the impact and influence from effectively utilizing these online tools.  My own church and youth ministry has benefited with more public exposure and community connectivity through social mediums such as Twitter, Google, Yelp, and Facebook.

Personally, this here blog of mine has led to teaching classes, traveling and training youth workers, speaking engagements, and a book contract.

You know that old adage from that hair growth company “I’m not only the president…I’m also a client”?

I am proud and honored to be a “coach”, simply because I really do believe in the power of social media and the ability of all church people (paid and volunteers) to leverage the influence of the internet for the greater good of God’s kingdom work.

Anywho…..

I have included the announcement about the new coaching program:

About our Coaches

Here at Social Phonics, we’re thrilled to have five new Coaches on our team.  You can read about them and what they’ll be doing below.  They’re all great and highly qualified individuals to help you and your organization maximize your social media footprint.

One of their duties will be to expand the number of Boot Camps we’ll be offering, beginning in the Fall.  If you’d like to host a Boot Camp in 2011-2012, please drop us an email and let’s start that conversation.

Our Certified Coaches

We have added five new members to our team.  Please welcome them:
Adam Walker Cleaveland
Kimberly Knight
Mike Baughman
Wendy Johnson
and
Dan Haugh

Each of them is perfectly suited to join the Social Phonics team.  They’ve got extensive experience in both social media and in the church.  You can read about each of them, and see them, on our Coaches Page, but for now, here’s a little teaser on each of them:

Adam is a pastor, runs one of the most popular Christian blogs in the blogosphere, and designs websites…

Kimberly has pastored a Second Life Church for several years…

Mike wowed his church staff with a successful Facebook Ads campaign for their Christmas Eve service…

Wendy has parlayed her work as a denominational communications officer into her own business advising small churches…

And Dan parlayed his youth ministry blog into a book contract.

So, as you can see, this is a great group!  They’ll be doing several things as Certified Social Phonics Coaches, including running Social Phonics Boot Camps around the country beginning in the Fall.  They’ll also be offering one-on-one coaching and consulting contracts with churches, non-profits, and individuals.

Contact us to set up an appointment with the Social Phonics Coach in your region.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

If any of you happen to be interested in attending a Social Media Boot Camp or having your institution (church, seminary, college, denomination) host one, send me an email at dan@socialphonics.com

Going Deeper with: Tony Jones’s “A Theology Primer”

Tony Jones, author of Postmodern Youth Ministry, wrote an excellent and thought-provoking article for the latest edition of Immerse Journal.

I have known Tony for a number of years and very much appreciate his friendship as well as  theological insights, passion, and innovation in ministry.

His focus was on practical theology in youth ministry.  I was asked to write a reflective companion piece for Immerse Journal sharing the implementation of these ideas in my context.

Here is a sample of the article:

When I first arrived at my church, I was fresh from a college education steeped in systematic theology. I was schooled in theories of understanding attributes and characteristics of God. So naturally, some of my first teachings with high school and middle school students were based on intellectual assertions of Christian doctrines. I taught lessons such as the doctrine of humanity, the revelation of God, the nature of sin, conceptions of salvation, the role of the church and so forth.

I had a clear structure and system for my teachings. Everything fit neatly into this theological package, of sorts. Of course, I tried my best to use clever illustrations to make my point so students would not fall asleep.

After a few years of trekking down this path, I began to make important observations.

First, I began to struggle with certain “proofs” and ways of attempting to articulate and define the mysterious and indefinable. I wondered if God could, in fact, be simplified to a bulleted list. It seemed to me that God was becoming who I wanted him to be and how I wanted him to work. These attempts are often seen by students as trying to figure out God or box God in. This can minimize the majesty and wonder of our Creator. Rather than come to the conclusion that we can fully understand what God is and how God operates, our practical theological hope has been to discover how God is at work in our lives.

Second, it was increasingly difficult to discern or qualify spiritual transformation in the lives of my students. Sure, I could gauge thought processes and intellectual affirmations, but were these beliefs really making a concrete difference in their lives? Were these ideas helping them become better people who desired to use their lives to bless and serve others?

I learned that what was really happening was that my students began believing that defending these particular “proofs” about God was their purpose; thus, they spent more time apologizing for God than promoting his love.

Third, my students’ life experiences were seldom matching up with the faith-in-a-box presentation. Kids struggled with their parents’ divorces while we read Bible passages about God hating divorce. Students questioned the morality of war or the divinely commanded genocide in the Bible and were left with no real answers. We taught that all people were created in the image of God, yet we had no idea how to be in dialogue with students born with a complex and confusing sexualities.

After a few years of actually doing youth ministry, I discovered firsthand the truth of Tony’s statement, “Life and ministry are rarely, if ever, systematic, thorough, comprehensive. Life and ministry are not clinical. Instead, they’re messy and challenging, and they demand ad hoc, on-the-fly decision making.”

To read the rest of the article, click on this link  Immerse Journal-featured article

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

NYWC_Brochure_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

YMtoday

Youth Ministry Today

NNYM (National Network of Youth Ministries)

YouthWorkers

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…..

Hooked on Social Phonics

Last week I was able to attend a Social Phonics social media boot camp put on by JoPa Productions and hosted at Andover Newton Theological School.

Boot camp info

Here is a brief blurb about the training from their website:

“In our one-day Social Media Boot Camp, veteran pastors and social mediaistas, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones will guide you through the basics of the most popular social media services, including blogging, Facebook,Twitter and free broadcast media. You will learn how, in just three 30-minute periods each week, you can dramatically increase your communication to members of your church or people interested in your organization and, even more importantly, to those who have the potential to visit your church or business. Most importantly, we’ll help you determine your own social media philosophy, so that you’ll know exactly why you’re going online each week.

Imagine getting real-time feedback from your parishioners as you prepare your sermon, spreading the word about a church outreach program without buying a newspaper ad, or posting a YouTube welcome to new neighbors in your community. Imagine hearing what customers are saying about your business or organization.

All of this is possible, and it doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, we’ll make it fun!”

Tony Jones instructed and taught this group of pastors, leaders, congregants, and educators.

I highly recommend attending or hosting this training seminar as it applies to everyone ranging for technological novices to those considering themselves social media junkies.  Both basic and advanced ideas and training was presented in a way that clearly made sense and was applicable.

Topics and Tech covered included:

The rise of importance, relevance, and influence of social media.

How to increase your reach and message via social media platforms and devices.

Effectively communicating and connecting your congregation and audience.

Getting your name into the community with maximize exposure and minimum cost.

Twitter, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, U-stream, and Blogging

I consider myself fairly adept with technology. I have a growing blog, Google profile, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube account, etc and I was surprised at how much I still did not know.

Even in the past few weeks, Facebook and Google have added excellent features to help track web traffic and simply makes things more convenient, and none of those features I had previously known or used.

I also learned some great ideas to help improve my blog feeds and reader accessibility.

You can stay current (and even be ahead of the curve) by attending this boot camp.

The day was fun, affordable, learner-centered, and extremely interactive.

We are hoping to have JoPa come to the NY area and host a boot camp for our area.

Church denominations, all pastoral staff members, public and private educators, communicators, and anyone else looking to make an impact in today’s (and tomorrow’s) society must be up to date with technology and the use of social media, and the Social Phonics boot camp is a great way to get started.

SocialPhonics on Facebook

Follow SocialPhonics on Twitter

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

stickers.

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

FirstThird recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cost was inexpensive and covered most of the meals.

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

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

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

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

Here is what I hope.

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

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

JoPa productions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FirstThird days 2 & 3

Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

No one raised a hand in response!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3

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

Sparkhouse resourcing

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

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

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

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

Some rules for translation:

The best translators are people not programs

Translation works best in community

Translation can threaten those in charge

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

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

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

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