Archive for October, 2010

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If your student likes nelly, then she will like . . .

October 29, 2010

http://www.youthworker.com/youth-ministry-resources-ideas/youth-ministry/11640567/

For the longest time, I have tried really hard to relate to students. I have known that music was a very powerful gateway, and if I just had a little guidance then I would be able to relate to them, to understand them, and be able speak their language. But even more than relating, I would be able to influence their musical diet and help them transition into artists that would help them develop spiritually as well. Year after year I would buy curriculum that would help me “understand” my students and would be able to point them to “appropriate” choices. And as I did this, year after year, I realized that this attempt to understand youth culture actually did a disservice to me, my students, and my calling as a youth worker.

When we look to some outside person, group, curriculum, author to tell us about our culture, we are actually embracing a false reality. There might have been a time when there was a youth culture. But that time is no more. Even in our small youth group we have students from different versions of youth culture together in one room creating our own unique culture. Because there is no one, two, or even three versions of youth culture, we can not rely totally on outside voices to speak into our lives and equip us to do the heavy lifting in our context. It might be time to put that resource back on the shelf and do some hard work.

We need to first swallow the tough medicine that there is not one unified culture, one way to meet kids’ needs, one model of student ministry that will work for us. We live in a fractured culture where there are millions of options to define us, and every option defines us in different ways. In order to understand how to meet the specific needs of the students we work with, we have to figure out the specific context we find ourselves in.

What is the context we find our selves:
Where do we live? Urban, suburban, rural?
What are the economic conditions? Rich, poor, depressed, generous, stingy?
What is the spiritual climate? Are people churched or unchurched? Pro, Neutral, Anti Christian?
What kind of church do you work in? Evangelical, Mainline, Catholic, Pentecostal?
Who is your church in your community? The leader, the follower, the biggest, the smallest?

By just figuring out our location, we see that there are already a variety of issues and needs that will need to be addressed and will need to be addressed differently depending on where we live. But these questions only get us part of the way. This just gives us a broad picture of where we find ourselves. Within this unique context we have our fractured youth culture with an entirely new set of questions.

Who are the student in our ministry and in our community:
What is their family background? Strong family, broken family, really broken family?
What kind of resources do they have? Huge allowances, part time jobs?
What activities are they involved in? Sports, band, art, service, video games?
What is their spiritual background? Churched families or unchurched families?
What are your specific students main needs? Felt, unfelt, spiritual?

With just a cursory look at the actual place you are called to do ministry and the specific students to whom you are called, you can see that there is no way a boxed curriculum or author or speaker can tell you what your students needs are or how best to meet them. But we do have an example from scripture of someone who understood their unique context and unique sets of people within that context. The apostle Paul was a master at this.

In In Acts 13, Paul finds himself in a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. In this Jewish community Paul easily retells the story of God’s faithfulness to his people; God rescuing the people of Israel from Egypt, giving them the law of Moses, conquering Canaan, and establishing a king, King David. And although David died, Jesus, his decedent, rose from the dead and conquered sin and death, and offers the forgiveness and justification the law of Moses was unable to do.

In Acts 17, Paul finds himself in a completely different context. Now he is in the middle of a Gentile city, surrounded by pagan idols. The story of the people of Israel have no touch points in this context. Paul’s personal testimony of persecuting the Jews, or the heartbreak of his ministry doesn’t matter to the people of Athens. And instead of Paul relying on his own history, his own experiences, or his own expression of faith, Paul taps into a larger gospel story, one that will be received in this unique context.

During his time in Athens, Paul notices the religiosity of the people and uses their idol worship as a thin place to share Jesus. He capitalizes on one of the temples and uses a known poet as a hook and then shares how this mysterious and unknown God has been made known by Jesus his son whom he rose from the dead. And although a revival didn’t break out in this city, Paul did manage to capture their attention and opened the door for further conversation.

The apostle Paul understood that his location impacted his message. Paul understood that even in s similar location, the specific backgrounds of the people he was sharing with impacted his message. Paul had a deep faith in Jesus Christ and had an amazing combination of passion and wisdom. This is the combination that we are going to need to move forward in ministering to needs of the specific students in our specific context

So, even though we are colleagues in ministry. And even though we share a passion to walk with students along this journey toward Christ. And even though we may do student ministry in the exact same context and in the exact same town, God has given each of us totally unique and special people with very complex needs and issues. We may be able to share ideas and resources, but God has given you the call to ministry to the specific students in your ministry.

Let us give up trying to be someone we are not. You see, I don’t even like Nelly. And the truth is I couldn’t tell you one of Nelly’s songs. All I know is that Nelly has a song that is in the top ten downloads this week. I will never know “youth culture.” But I do know my students. And It has been a pure joy to walk with them, as they work out their issues of life and faith. And because I am working with my particular students in my particular context, I get to spend time getting to know them, praying for them, speaking truth into their lives, and showering them with grace and mercy. It is actually easier not knowing anything about “their” culture. We are already outsiders, With this reality, may we now have the freedom to ask questions and be invited into their world.

As we go, may be be true missionaries to our unique context with the passion and wisdom of Christ as we proclaim the good news to our students. Amen, and amen!

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king sized snickers for everyone

October 7, 2010

It is impossible to walk through Target these days and not be overwhelmed with Halloween. Since the beginning of September, aisles of orange and black decorations, bags of candy, and costumes have been calling out to my children, building excitement and expectation for their dream holiday. For my kids, Halloween is that holiday. For them it is a simple holiday that involves their two favorite things, candy and dress up. For Christians, Halloween seems to be a bit more complicated.

No matter how you slice it, Halloween has a dark and seedy past. It’s history can be traced to a roman festival that involves worshiping the goddess of fruits and seeds, or a pagan festival of the dead, or a Celtic festival celebrating the end of summer. This part isn’t that bad, just the part of the festival that celebrates the spirit world coming close to the living world. And, it is also a holiday that has many touch points with the occult.

This is not good. How in the world can Christians get behind a holiday that, at best . . . Ok, there isn’t anything we can get behind in the history of Halloween.

As bad as it seems, I think there might be another way we can look at Halloween. And I don’t mean to pretend we are against it publicly, and quietly celebrate it with our friends and family (like a good wine). I think there is a way we can actually celebrate and even promote Halloween in a way that honors God and might even bring the Kingdom of God closer to your neighborhood.

Before you call my pastor and get me fired, humor me for one minute. How many of us Christians have Christmas trees as part of our family tradition and home decoration? If you google, “Christmas Tree Pagan” you will find there are over 3,000,000 sites. A quick view of these sites and you will find many stories and traditions where evergreens were used in worship and celebration as a symbol of life in the midst of death. In ancient Rome and Egypt there are traditions of tree worship, burning sacred logs. The most worrisome history is that of Odin, a German god who would require sacrifices to a sacred Oak tree

. Even though the history of the Christmas tree is shady at best, it has been recast in a Christian light. and by the 18th and 19th century, the Christmas tree became a full blown part of the celebration of Christmas.

Christians transitioned the Tree of Odin to a tree with some vague inferences to Christianity and now all is well with Christmas Tree. The goal was to take a cultural norm with pagan symbols and use it to tell the Christian Story. In a similar way, that is what we need to do with Halloween. But simply transitioning Halloween to a Harvest Festival to make it more tolerable might be a missed opportunity.

If our cultural context had many touch points to spirit and ancestor worship, goddess worship, or occult practices then celebrating Halloween might be a tough sell. However, in my context, suburban America, Halloween has nothing to do with anything except candy and make believe. The only people who are even remotely aware of these darker issues are Christians. Because pagan worship has nothing to do with the world I live in, and Halloween is actually a totally secular holiday with zero spiritual overtones, maybe we could actually embrace it and use it as a place for Christians to impact their communities.

Halloween gets to be our holiday, a holiday of hospitality. With hospitality being one of the Christian virtues that is being thrown away, Halloween gets to be the holiday where we embrace our neighbors. We get to break down some of the barriers that have built up among those people who live on our street and be a blessing to them. In a time when you are less likely to be known by people in your neighborhood and they are less likely to be known by you, Halloween gets to be the perfect holiday to rebuild that bridge. Halloween is our holiday. It is the holiday for Christians to ooze the love and grace of God to their entire neighborhood. If you haven’t celebrated Halloween in a while, here are a couple of ideas to make this our holiday:

  1. On a normal day, no one from your street comes to your house. Halloween is the one day where the entire neighborhood comes to your door. The one day where all your neighbors mill around your street is the one day that your lights are off and door is locked. That doesn’t seem quite right. Step 1: be home, turn your lights on, and answer the door.
  1. If everyone is coming to your house, why not be the house that gets the reputation for best house to trick-or-treat at. Instead of the house that gives away raisins or toothbrushes, or even tracts, your house can be known as the house that gives away full-sized Snickers Bars. 30 years later, I can still remember the stingy houses and the very generous houses.
  1. As a youth worker, this holiday can even be a blessing for your students. Get your kids off the streets and put them to work by helping you make your house amazing. Have a party for them at your house. While they are there, have them decorate, pass out candy, do card tricks, whatever. By just being there, your house transitions into a place of life.

Halloween is the one holiday where your neighborhood actually comes to your house. Instead of running away from this holiday, maybe we should embrace it, redeem it, and make it our own. What story are you telling to your neighbors when they knock on your door? What are the values you are sharing with them? Jesus came to give us life, and life abundantly, and Halloween is the perfect time to share this abundant life. How great would it be if your house is the house that celebrates life; if your house was the house the neighbors couldn’t wait to get to. Let us recapture the value of hospitality and let’s show off this abundant life we have in Christ! KING SIZED SNICKERS FOR EVERYONE!

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is your gospel too small?

October 2, 2010

One of our favorite hobbies as youth workers is bashing on the church. For those of us who have grown up in it, and now do ministry with in it, we have a lot to bash. I find myself wresting with the institutional church and its relevancy for me and our culture. I have decades of examples of hypocrisy and hurt. I see little difference in the lives of people in church, including myself, and those outside the church. I have a faith that is trying to break free from the systems and programs that have shaped me up ‘til now. But these issues and growing places are my issues and my growing places.

As someone who works with students it is essential that I am aware of my faith and the places where Jesus is meeting me, transforming me, and challenging me. And thankfully I can identify and am enjoying these places. But even more importantly, I must be aware of the faith development of the students I work with and the issues they are wrestling with. As someone who shares the gospel with people in a completely different season of life and in a different culture, I must enlarge my view of the gospel. This means I must discern the parts of the gospel story that help students come to know the real Jesus who loves and cares for them where they are at. Part of this process is separating my own walk with Jesus as he loves and cares for me in the place that I am at.

The apostle Paul was brilliant at this. Paul encountered Jesus in a very real and wild way on the road to Damascus. This is by far the most unique conversion story ever! Paul writes in his epistles about his struggles in faith and in ministry. He writes about wrestling with sin and doing the things he doesn’t want to do. He writes about the thorn in his side that overwhelms him. He writes about people in his ministry that have personally wrecked him and broken his heart. Paul had a dynamic and growing faith that was real and intimate.

And while all this is going on in his walk with Jesus, Paul was able to separate out his own issues with Jesus and discern what the people in a particular context needed to hear so they could connect with Jesus and begin to experience their own walk.

In Acts 13, Paul finds himself in a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. In this Jewish community Paul easily retells the story of God’s faithfulness to his people; God rescuing the people of Israel from Egypt, giving them the law of Moses, conquering Canaan, and establishing a king, King David. And although David died, Jesus, his decedent, rose from the dead and conquered sin and death, and offers the forgiveness and justification the law of Moses was unable to do.

In Acts 17, Paul finds himself in a completely different context. Now he is in the middle of a Gentile city, surrounded by pagan idols. The story of the people of Israel have no touch points in this context. Paul’s personal testimony of persecuting the Jews, or the heartbreak of his ministry doesn’t matter to the people of Athens. And instead of Paul relying on his own history, his own experiences, or his own expression of faith, Paul taps into a larger gospel story, one that will be received in this unique context.

During his time in Athens, Paul notices the religiosity of the people and uses their idol worship as a thin place to share Jesus. He capitalizes on one of the temples and uses a known poet as a hook and then shares how this mysterious and unknown God has been made known by Jesus his son whom he rose from the dead. And although a revival didn’t break out in this city, Paul did manage to capture their attention and opened the door for further conversation.

In this season of my life, I am wrestling with growing deeper in my love of, and for Jesus. And this wrestling has been bringing up more issues then it is settling. And while I love the wrestling match, I need to get myself and my story out of the center of the ministry God has called me to. My walk with Jesus is my walk. I am called to be a cross-cultural missionary to this adolescent culture. And I need the Holy Spirit to illuminate my heart and mind as I attempt to find the thin places in their culture where their brokenness can meet Jesus’ healing. I can not make my thin places theirs. And thankfully the gospel of Jesus Christ is big enough to meet the brokenness and needs of every person in every culture in every time in every part of the world.

Jesus, show me where these thin places are in my students’ lives.