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Tag Archives | youthmin

The Fault In Our Stars

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A few weeks back I spoke on the topic of pain and suffering. Something happened in my message that has NEVER happened before…

A little background:

I had done a little “research” and read some books that several of my students had been talking about lately. Most of these books are written by John Green. I now refer to him as the Judy Blume of this generation. These books are filled with sadness, love and even hope…but they address the suffering that young people may face in their life. His books include: The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines.

I recently read The Fault In Ours Stars. This book is a best seller and is currently set to come out as a movie in a few months. This book had a few great quotes that fit right into my message on pain.

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When we flashed the image of the cover onto our screens…and I referenced the book…the room erupted with noise. I kid you not, there was moaning and gasps coming from everywhere in the room. It was like I had posted a photo of a cute kitten being held by a newborn baby. In that moment, by using the book cover and the simple quote from the book I was able to draw almost every student into this tough conversation regarding pain and suffering.

This moment reminded me of the power of being aware and being interested in what is happening in the lives of our students.

Being aware says I know what’s going on in your world…and being interested says that it matters to me too. A easy and simple step that earns you credibility to speak truth into their lives.

I want to be more aware and more interested. How do you say engaged in what is going on in lives of your students?

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What Do You Think: Baptism?

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I would love to hear your thoughts on something that has been running through my brain lately regarding baptisms.

Do you ever get that gut check that a student may be getting baptized for the wrong reasons?

What do you do?

They say the right things but something doesn’t feel right..do you go ahead and baptize them?

What is our responsibility in making sure a student understands fully the statement they are making in baptism?

What do you think? Share your insight!

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“Grow” Your Students

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A couple of years ago I was quite discouraged with ministry.  A friend of mine asked me if I had an “encouragement” file.  I had no idea what they were talking about.  They told me:

You know it’s a file or folder you keep with notes from students and parents that make you remember why you serve them.

Now I got even more depressed.  Not only did I not have such a file, I couldn’t even make one if I wanted to.  The reality was (and is) that I worked in a “type” of youth ministry that did not lend itself to garnering accolades.  Even today after 22 years of family ministry  in the inner city I have about 3 notes from students and none from parents.

This is when the Lord reminded me of something He had shown me years before.  We all focus on the idea that the “harvest is plenty and the workers are few.”  However, we forget about 1 Corinthians 3:6-9.  Paul is talking.

  I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.  The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.  For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building

We are farmers and that means we do more than “harvest.”  Farmers prepare the soil.  They dig up rocks and dirt and make hardened ground ready for the seed.  They fertilize and till.  Then they plant little seeds.  They water and wait and wait and wait.  They protect the baby plants from pests, weather, and the  ”elements” that might attack them. In short there are a lot of things that happen before you ever even see a plant bloom.   Farmers work with others.  No one can plant a whole crop by themselves.  As Paul pointed out some of us will plant, others will water, and God makes it grow.  We don’t all get to collect the “fruit.”  Often when we do get to be the one who “harvests” we forget the hard work of a “farmer” that came before us.

If you can put together a “file folder” like my friend said, I highly recommend it.  I think it is a great idea to take time on the days we want to “quit.”  However, I think we also need to start a list.  When are the times you can see the ground moving in an immovable life?  Just last night I had a conversation with a student who told me they are less angry than they were a year ago, and God is doing that.  It isn’t a full harvest, but it’s a seedling.  I need to celebrate that.

Our job as farmers is to look at every heart and believe that one day they will grow.  God is making them grow. He is the only one who can do that work at all.  We just have to look with his eyes.  It may look like a field of dirt to the average passerby,  for us we see something amazing.

How are you working as a farmer?

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When Helping Hurts

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In a recent issue of a Seventeen magazine, there was an article about one of the young actresses from the TV show, Pretty Little Liars. In the article she comes clean about her years of self-harm.

Our culture is slowly embracing the idea of vulnerability. The idea of admitting our lives are messy and broken. And I have seen a similar trend in our churches. We are getting more comfortable admitting that life isn’t all happy and perfect…that sometimes it hard and painful.  

I believe this trend is way healthier than the alternative which is ignoring the pain or pretending it doesn’t exist.

But I have seen some negative side effects with this trend that I think warrant us considering a few thoughts on the idea of vulnerability with teens.

Years ago, I had a student who suffered from an extreme eating disorder. When we talked about how she learned about anorexia…she admitted it was from an episode of Oprah, which featured a young girl battling this the same disorder. Obviously, we don’t blame Oprah or her guest…in fact, that day they may have helped many people gain a better understanding of this disease. But this story shows us a little bit of what might be the issue with our vulnerability.

When we bring attention to any destructive behavior like self-harm, pornography, eating disorders, etc…we need to take a few precautions so that we don’t perpetuate these behaviors:

1. Use words wisely. Be mindful of giving a recipe or a playbook for these behaviors. I once heard a student share their battle with an eating disorder where they described what exactly they ate each day. Another time as a student talked about her battle with cutting, she explained how she cut herself and hid it from her parents. Or the leader who when identifying with his small group guys and their struggle with porn, mentioned some of the sights that were his biggest downfall (Oh, I wish this one wasn’t true but it has happened…) Honest conversations that happen to be given students a play by play for these types of behaviors. All this to say, I think we MUST keep talking about these issues but we must guard are words. Talk about the issues, be honest but don’t provide a playbook for these behaviors.
2. Don’t forget to mention the process. One thing that can happen is when these destructive behaviors can be glamorized in our stories or those of our students. It can happen when we or those sharing their stories forget to explain the process of recovery. When we ask students to share their stories, we ask them to share what their life was like before Christ and what their life is like now with Christ. Sometimes it is not that simple.  There is pain in the process. There is struggle. Let’s be honest about the lifelong journey that many of these behaviors lead to, they are not fixed in a moment. Let’s include the conversation around therapy and support groups. Our students need to hear that these “issues” don’t have to define them and that there is hope in the midst of pain BUT they must know that many times the process of healing can be long and hard.

Let’s not run from or discourage the honest conversations but as the shepherds of our flocks- let us be wise in how we engage.

How are you balancing these conversations?

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Faith & Body

(Photo courtesty of PostSecret)

When I saw this disturbing PostSecret my mind began to think about the challenges that girls face when it comes to their body image. How do we help girls battle low body image issues especially when they escalate to eating disorders? I think as youth ministries we need to have a more wholistic approach.

Here’s 4 ways we can develop more of a wholistic approach:

1. Always keep the truth of Jesus’ love and acceptance at the forefront. For a girl to know that the Creator of the universe loves and accepts her unconditionally is a solid foundation for health. Faith does matter.

2. Provide resources for both your students, parents and your leaders. Here are some really good ones…

(for youth workers)

(for students)

(for parents)

3. Know and refer to outside counsel. Find and create a list of christian therapist in your area that focus on teen girl issues. Make the list available to all the parents in your ministry. Don’t assume that they don’t want your help in this area…because they do.

4. Gather around the girls with other signficant people in their life. Once everyone is on the same page – communicate to the girl and her family that everyone is committed to her health. By doing this you create a circle of support for any girl that can help her process any of her life issues. It is important to girls that they are not alone in this journey.

Low body image is a real issue and we should always be prepared to help girls and their families. What do you do to help the girls in your ministry with their body issues?

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Ganja, Mary Jane…Weed.

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I live in Seattle, last year Marijuana became legal in our great state of Washington.

Weed is a big deal here. Students have been talking about the impacts of weed politically and physically in school for years. So, while it is a big deal…it also has become normalized. I remember talking with a student at a camp about how in their mind, smoking weed was less dangerous than drinking and getting drunk.

Last year with the legalization of weed our church included the conversation in our “hot topic” series. I loved our lead pastors message and I thought it was perfect for even helping our students engage in the conversation.

I don’t know if weed is a big deal for your students but it is for ours. Sometimes I don’t think we talk about it enough. More students are seeing the use of marijuana as no big deal.

If you are wondering how to get the conversation started, check out this video from our church.

How do you talk about weed in your youth ministry?

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In the Midst of Suffering…

I consider myself a glass half full kind of girl. Even when things don’t tend to be going my way, I find myself looking to the bright side of things.

That’s why  it is a bit hard for me to admit this…ministry is hard right now. In some ways, there are great things going on right now. (See, I can’t even turn off my optimistic side.) We’ve been short staffed for over 6 months and programs are still running strong. We’ve had a big Fall…and it’s been good.

Programs aren’t what leave me struggling. I am overwhelmed by the pain and suffering that our students are experiencing right now. I don’t know what is so unique about this season but I have never in my years of ministry walked along students who are in the midst of this level of issues and pain. Some of this pain is self-induced and some is caused at the hands of others.

There are tons of great resources in the youth ministry world about helping hurting students. I am grateful for these resources but in the end they don’t really do the “work” for you. You and I, we still need to sit with the girl who just loss her dad to a sudden heart attack or talk with a parent about their child’s suicidal confessions. Doing the actual work of ministry is exhausting and overwhelming. These moments are hard. There is no easy way around them.

I guess typically, here is where I am suppose to turn the corner on this post, tell you 4 ways to deal with the “work.”

But I won’t. Because I don’t want to make light of suffering… Our students’ and our own suffering and pain.

What I do want to leave you with is the Beatitudes. I have decided to memorize them, hang them in my office and tape them to my bathroom mirror at home. Because I think as youth workers we need to remind ourselves that our only hope isn’t a helpful tip or a new program* but the promises of Jesus.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Praying these promises for my students and for us.


*Don’t get me wrong- I love good programs and helpful hints…and these things are an important part of being a youth worker. I just need to remind myself sometimes that they are not the end all to my ministry…or to the suffering of my students…But Jesus is

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Young Girls Shaping Culture

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The other day I was walking through the airport and noticed on the TV monitors in the terminals this story about young girls shaping pop culture.  I stopped and listened to it for a while and couldn’t help thinking about the girls in my youth ministry.

At first, my thoughts were on the fact that these celebrities were shaping the culture of my students…both in positive ways and negative ways.

But I found my thought shifting to the idea of the “power” that culture as given these young famous girls. (Though we have still have some things to figure out- check out these interesting stories on girl in media. Here and here.) The reality is that these girls are given avenues and platforms to shape culture.

I wondered, do we do the same thing? Do our churches give girls in our ministries, the avenues and platforms to shape culture? Do we teach them to use their gifts and their voices to influence others for God’s kingdom?

I can guarantee that each of our youth ministries has young girls in them with the potential to shape the cultures our ministries, of the schools in our communities…of our churches, if we would just equip and encourage them.

Can I encourage you to send a note or an email to a girl in your ministry today…offer her a word of affirmation and encourage her, allow her to shape the culture of your ministry for the better.

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5 Conversation Starters from 2013 for Girls (Part 2)

It isn’t always hard to get girls talking but it is important to help direct them to conversations that can lead to life change.

In 2013, there were plenty of viral videos that provide a platform for conversation.

Yesterday, I shared 2 of my favorite. (Part 1)

Here are my remaining 3:

3. Malala on The Daily Show

Questions:

1. What stood out to you about Malala’s story?

2. Why do you think Malala was so passionate about her education?

3. What in your life do you feel that passionate about?

2. Brave (Music Video)

Questions:

1. What was your favorite part of that video?

2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how brave are you?

3. How can we help each other be braver each day?

1. Shrinking Women

Questions:

1. What do you think about this video?

2. Where do you think women learn these type of messages about themselves?

3. How can we change the way we see ourselves and other women?

Those were my top 5 videos from the year (when it comes to getting the conversation started), what about you? What videos did you see this year that helped you communicate and care for the girls in your ministry? Share your ideas!

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5 Conversation Starters from 2013 for Girls (Part 1)

Want to start a conversation with a group of girls in your ministry?

Here is the deal…it’s real easy. In fact, 2013 provide many viral video moments to get girls talking.

I want to share you with my favorite 5 videos from 2013. Plus I’ll provide a few questions to kickstart the dialogue.

5. The Sexy Lie

Questions:

1. Why is “sexy” not empowering?

2. She talked about how much time girls spend thinking about our bodies, why do you think we (or girls) do that?

3. What were the action steps she mentioned?

4. Labels Against Women

Questions:

1. What do you think about the labels in this commercial?

2. Do you ever feel like people treat you differently because you are a girl?

3. Does our church/student ministry ever make you feel this way?

Tune in tomorrow for more simple video ideas to get the ladies talking in your ministry!

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What She Said (the art of listening to a girl)

Have you ever been in an argument where you noticed that you weren’t really listening to the other side because you were too busy thinking of your rebuttal? Or have you ever had a girl corner you in the youth room…she is crying and you can’t understand a word she is saying, which leaves you thinking of way to make it stop. I know I have. I have also noticed in several of my conversations I am busy forming a solid reason for why a student should do “something”,  that I don’t always even hear what they really are saying. You know…solving their situation so we can move on to the next task.

But, I have found, especially with girls, that you have to really hear what they are saying to understand them. (I mean that in both a literal and figural way)

Generally in youth ministry we need to start by…

1. Make room for LISTENING. Maybe this is just me but if I am not ready to really listen than it won’t matter what technic I use to hear. For example, if I am in the youth room and there are other students around I can’t hear anything but words. I am ADHD in the youth room especially if it is before a program or service. I see people sitting alone or notice someone who hasn’t been in awhile…I am easily distracted. One Christmas party, a student walked into the room right to me and was crying. SHE WAS CRYING AND TALKING at me…and in all honesty all I could think was we are suppose to start the santa relay game right now. Luckily, she said something about her parents that triggered my attention back to her. I asked another volunteer to run the game and took the student out of the room to talk. Finding a quiet place with no people is huge for me when it comes to really listening. Included in finding a good location is forgetting about the other locations and focusing just on this one student in this moment. I need to make room for listening.

Now, more specifically when it comes to listening to girls…

2. Notice the “feeling” statments. Try to get pass the details of the situation and listen for statements that indicate their feelings. Girls (myself included) can get lost in the details of a story- because we assume that if you know the details you will understand the feelings but that just isn’t the case. Don’t be afraid to stop a story and ask the girl what she is feeling. “How do you feel about that?” It might sound funny coming out of your mouth but it helps them focus away from ALL the details to the heart of the issue.

3. Listen for your role. Excuse my overgeneralized gender statements…but sometimes girls just need to vent and they don’t nessecary need a game plan for dealing with the situation. And sometimes guys just need to come up with a game plan instead of listening to all the details! They may need more from you than a safe place to vent BUT listen first to see if they already know the help they need. All they may need from you is a confirmation of a decision or intervention for a friend. Likely, they have come to you because they need you…but don’t assume you know exactly what they need without really hearing them speak.

I am still trying to learn to be a better listener, I have a long way to go… What tips do you use when listening to students, especially girls?

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The Game Nobody Wins

You know the number game, right? The one where we measure our success or failure soley on the number of students that show up to our event or our services.

When we play the number game, when we focus on numbers…nobody wins.

I know that numbers matter. Healthy ministries grow but what happens when numbers become our only means to determine our health. {No one is really willing to admit that numbers are all that matter but when I reflect on events and judge my feelings based on the event I am always surprised by how many times they are tied to numbers.}

But when we focus only on numbers, nobody wins.

Leaders- We don’t win because we fall into traps of shame and pride with each win or lost. We compare and judge others who are doing “worse” or “better” than us.

Ministry isn’t about us…it is about Him.

Students- Our students don’t win because once we counted them – we stopped seeing them and caring for them except for their attendance or their ability to bring more students. We miss the one, the individual. We stop looking into the eyes of our students and REALLY seeing them.

Ministry is about caring for the one. (The Lost Sheep, Coin, Son)

Church-  Our churches lose because students start to think the church is only about attendance and not about BEING the church.

Ministry is about equipping students to be the Body not just attenders.

Go ahead and count your students at your next program but know that the success or the failure of that program isn’t based on the number. What is good and true comes when we rely on Jesus and not on our own ability to care and equip for the students in our churches and in our communities. I realize this is easier said than done, especially in the current culture of church but I am certain that it is the way of Jesus.

Praying that you are freed from the game nobody wins this season.

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Cringe Worthy Moments

This cringe worthy moment is brought to you by a sweet 8th grade girl.

Check out what was hanging around her neck:

So many things wrong with this…where do you even start?

I was speechless which is kind of a big deal.

Do you ever have these types of moments…cringe worthy moments?

Share the details. (I need some community support!)

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Truth or Dare

truthIf I am honest, I don’t always want to hear what my students want to tell me.

A few weeks back, I was hanging out with a few girls from our ministry and was asking them about what it means to be a Christian. They were using a lot of words to me that sounded flat…and boring. So, I asked them point blank, “do you think being a christian is boring?” And each one of them quickly answered yes. This is not what I wanted to hear. It was a major bummer on so many levels.

BUT then I realized something. They told me the TRUTH. It would have been so easy to lie to me, to tell me what I wanted to hear but they chose to be honest. And while this doesn’t dissolve that we have some stuff to figure out…(good thing they are only 9th graders, we have some years), it did give me hope that we have a safe and honest relationship.

Question of day: Do your students feel safe enough with you that they can tell you what you don’t want to hear?

I love these girls and I know that I can’t “fix” them. I hope they keep telling me the truth…even when it hurts or disappoints.

How do you create this type of safety in your ministry?

(image credit RJ Gruenwald)

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Damaged Goods

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I had a moment in our ministry a few months back and I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. I’ve been trying to think about how to share it. I wish I knew how to change the way girls felt about themselves and the way the church talks about sex but I can’t do it alone…that is where you come in.

Here is what happened:

We were in our final week on sex and I spoke on what happens when you have gone too far. I challenged two lies that we believe about ourselves and going “too far.” The first one is that we are damaged goods, I apologized for any words that our students heard in church about being a used flower or a cup of water filled with spit…having sex doesn’t make you those things. God’s grace and love covers us…completely. I also briefly addressed those who were sexually abused…again, just briefly.

After my message we allowed students to text in questions. In EVERY service, at least one student texted in a question about whether or not God saw them as a virgin if they were sexually assaulted. Even typing this breaks my heart, how much have we focused on virginity that these girls (and possibly boys) who were victims of abuse are still worrying about how God sees them and if he is upset with them for losing their virginity? In that moment, I paused and told the students if this is you than you need to hear me loud and clear…Jesus doesn’t see any of us as virgins…He sees us as HIS beloved children. The end. Period. That is it. We paused and prayed. I wish who ever wrote those questions would have found me after the service, but they didn’t. 

May this be a warning to us. When we talk about sex, virginity and God’s best for us…our students are listening and they are processing every word we say and they are looking for grace and hope.

Grace for the things we have chosen for ourselves.

Hope despite the things that have been done to us.

1 in 3 girls is a victim of sexual abuse before they are 18.

1 in 6 boys is a victim of sexual abuse before they are 18. {Taken from Parents for Megan’s Law}

We’ve made great progress in the conversation about sex, I am praying that we continue to make even more. May our youth ministries be places of grace and hope, where every student knows exactly how God sees them…as a son…and as a daughter.

Will you join me in a new conversation about virginity?

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