Category Archives: Other Voices

The World Below is on Ancient Faith Radio!

Hello, all!

Exciting news! “The World Below” seminar is on Ancient Faith Radio! Please give it a listen if you get a chance! Here’s the link: The World Below – Ancient Faith Radio.

The seminar took place on June 30, and the speakers included myself, Fr. Patrick O’Grady, and David Paddison. Give the seminar a listen, and then join the conversation by commenting on this post!

In Christ,

Top 10 Things Every Adult Should Know About Teens

I came across this list in Missional Youth Ministry by Brian Kirk and Jacob Thorne. The only thing I took issue with was the last on their list, so I have eliminated it, and replaced it with my own! Enjoy!

1. Teens are people, too. Resist calling them kids (unless you mean it as a term of endearment) or talking about them as if they aren’t in the room.

2. Teens need time. It takes teenagers some time to think about what they want to say, particularly during discussions. Resist the temptation to jump in with the right answer and don’t feel you have to fill every moment of silence with talking.

3. Teens like adults. Despite what you may remember from your younger days, teens do enjoy the companionship of adults. They just aren’t always sure if we like them back, so they can seem standoffish at times. The truth is many teenagers are at a point in their lives when they’re trying to put a little distance between themselves and their parents. So they often seek other caring adults to serve as mentors and role models.

4. Teens have a lot to teach us. In many ways that ’80’s film The Breakfast Club got it right: Young people are unique individuals with unique talents, gifts, attitudes, and perspectives. It would be a mistake to lump them all together as one homogenous group.

5. Teens’ body clocks are different than ours. Most teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night, yet they often get much less than that. Most teens aren’t at their peak until late morning, and many of them are night owls. That means they have a ton of energy in the evenings and can be hyped up just when you’re settling down. Keep in mind that they aren’t being hyper to bug you. They’re just experiencing the high point of their day.

6. Teens are passionate. The first part of the teenage brain to fully develop is the emotional center. That means teens can have high highs and low lows all in one day. They’re sensitive to the pain of others and can be very passionate about the things they believe in.

7. Teens want to own their experiences. When teens talk about their struggles, we adults are tempted to say things like, “Oh, I went through the same thing at your age,” or “I had the same problems and I survived that just fine,” or “Here’s how I handled that problem.” In many ways the experiences of teens today are quite different from when we were young. Their struggles are real and they want them to be taken seriously, not dismissed with an “I survived that and you will, too.” Oftentimes the best approach with young people isn’t offering advice but just listening.

8. Teens are fun to be around. Adults may think that hanging with adolescents will make them feel old, but it’s just the opposite. Teens offer a perspective on life and the world that’s refreshingly honest, hopeful, and new. That sense of hope and possibility can be contagious.

9. Teens can be a great source of frustration. Yes, teenagers are great. But let’s be realistic: They can be incredibly frustrating to work with…unless you are willing to be flexible, can take a little good-natured ribbing and criticism (have I mentioned the girl who always tells me when my tie doesn’t match my suit?), and remember that they still have a lot of growing up to do. This leads to the final item on this list.”

10. Teens are young adults. This means exactly what it sounds like. Teens are not children. They are navigating the world of adults relationships in newly adult bodies, and they are still trying to make the transition fully out of childhood. This means that they may still have childish habits to release, moments where they don’t understand the complexities of friendship, and they may forget to honor their commitments and responsibilities. They are new to the adult life, and with that comes inexperience. We can thus “expect them to act like young people who are still growing, adjusting, stumbling, and trying to figure it out,” but they don’t have to do it alone.

Comment below!

Check out this bunch of non-threatening and happy teens. Don’t be scared of them; they clearly like reading the Bible…well, at least one of them does.

(Material Source: Missional Youth Ministry, by Brian Kirk and Jacob Thorne. Publisher: Zondervan, 2011. Pgs. 98-100.)

Image sources:

10 Characteristics Of A Healthy Youth Ministry by Kenda Creasy Dean

Hello, all!

Kenda Creasy Dean is a professor of Youth, Church, and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary (see her bio here). Her research and works have been very insightful in my thinking about youth work. I’m currently reading her book, Almost Christian, which has proven to be very helpful in understanding the various things that face the American Church today. Though I haven’t finished it yet, I do not hesitate to recommend it highly.

Below is some text taken from her website. It is a post titled, “What Are the Top 10 Characteristics of a Healthy Youth Ministry?” It should offer a great insight to a good approach to youth ministry. Let me know your thoughts below!

In Christ,

What Are the Top 10 Characteristics of a Healthy Youth Ministry?
By Kenda Creasy Dean

10.  Safe space.

We live in what sociologist Ulrich Beck calls “a culture of risk.”  There are lots of dimensions to that, but what it boils down to is a loss of certainty (I would say confidence) that were once provided by traditions and institutions.  The upshot is a current of anxiety running through our culture that we mask with consumerism (“retail therapy”), attention to self-presentation (working out, body art, etc.),  an overabundance of activities (“extracurriculars keep kids out of trouble”), and countless other practices designed to keep anxiety at bay.

Young people need safe spaces in their lives where they can “be” themselves instead of trying to “prove” themselves.  Safe space can means time, relationships, or physical space where young people have the emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual freedom to explore, to risk, and to fail in a safety net of love–real love, not the Hallmark stuff.  Safe spaces give youth the experience of being really “seen” and known as God sees and knows them, as beloved brothers and sisters of Christ.

(It goes without saying that “safe space” in youth ministry assumes a system of protection for sexual misconduct is in place.)

9.    A culture of permission and creativity.

A safe space yields permission–permission to take risks, to move outside comfort zones, to initiate and to lead.  Healthy youth ministry creates a culture of permission where young people can follow Christ where they sense they are being led, where adults are guides but not programmers, permission givers rather than gate keepers, trail guides rather than tour operators.

Creativity requires freedom–which safe space and permission provide.  Young people need practice in multiple “faith languages” – words and actions, art and prayer.  Increasingly, the language of the arts is becoming a “spiritual language” for young people (especially emerging adults).  Healthy youth ministries recognize that young people live in a participatory culture, where they create cultural content as well as consume it.  Treating youth primarily as consumers (of worship, programming, mission) fails to recognize that they are created in God-the-Creator’s image, and also makes church seem unwelcoming and archaic.

8.    A culture of theological awareness.

Youth ministry ought to help youth see their lives the way God sees them–which means becoming aware of theological categories like grace, forgiveness, redemption, sin, hope.  One of the findings of the National Study of Youth and Religion is that churches are not helping very much on this front.  The result is that kids growing up in churches frame their lives in pretty much the same was as anybody else–which makes it tough to buck cultural norms that run contrary to the gospel.  Healthy youth ministry creates a culture of theological awareness, teaching young people how to imagine themselves as participants in God’s story.

7.    Integration into worship and congregational life at every level — while maintaining significant peer groups of faith

Teenagers need people to reflect back to them who they are;  this “mirroring” is basic to the process of identity formation, and for the church to be absent from this process is a lethal sin of omission.  Only in the church do young people begin to see themselves through the eyes of people who try to see them as God sees them:  beloved, blessed, called. Interaction with Christian peers is part of this process, but adults are significant mirrors as well.

Christ calls teenagers, like the rest of us, to follow him–which makes youth as integral to the Body of Christ as anybody else.  Separating youth out from the larger congregation is both theologically irresponsible, and a pragmatic mistake.  Segmenting youth exclusively into “youth activities” leads young people to associate church with their peer groups–making “graduation” into the intergenerational faith community extremely difficult .

6.    A community of belonging that is authentic, fun, and passionate about living as Christians in the world.

Truth is, it doesn’t really matter if the community of Christians in which youth participate is a youth group, a choir, a drama troupe, a Bible study, a parachurch organization or even the congregation as a whole (though the larger the congregation gets, the less likely people are to experience it as a community of belonging apart from small groups of fidelity, intimacy, and prayer).  The point is that teenagers need to feel like the church is a place they belong, and not just attend–and belonging means they participate with joy alongside others who are living in the same direction.

5.    A team of adult youth leaders who are actively growing together in faith and who embody the quality of community with one another and missional attitude that we want our kids to have.

You can’t lead where you don’t go.  Adults need to unpack their own baggage so we don’t accidentally bring it into our relationships with youth–and we need to model the kind of spiritual investment in ourselves, in one another, and in the world, partly because it’s a faithful way to live, and partly because youth need examples of what communities that support each other in living as Christians in the world looks like.

4.      A supportive congregation where people actively seek God and that talk about God as the subject of sentences.

Let me unpack this one.  First, I’m convinced by the 2003 Exemplary Youth Ministry study  that congregations where young people reliably develop mature faith “talk about God as the subject of sentences.”  Two things are important in that phrase:  1) People talk about God, which means God is a lively concern in these congregations;  and 2)  God is the subject of sentences, which mean when people talk about God, they are saying that God does things.  God is an actor in their lives, in the life of the congregation;  God is doing things through them;  God is alive and present and in their midst.  And, they talk to God as well as about God.  You can probably think of churhces where God is about as inert as the couch in the church parlor. But congregations that help young people have vital, lively faith talk about God as the subject of their sentences.  God happens to them and through them.

Talking about God as an actor in the world is an indicator that people in a church are actively seeking God, and that they believe God makes a difference.  That’s Step #1 in becoming a supportive congregation for youth ministry.  But I’m equally convinced by Mark DeVries’ thesis inSustainable Youth Ministry that congregations that impact young lives deeply invest in the infrastructure and leadership (lay and clergy) that make it happen.

This is not in lieu of investing directly in teenagers; people in congregations need to know young people by name, and welcome them “as they are” (even kids who don’t fit the congregational norm, and who look, sound, and smell differently from the kids we imagined).  Supportive congregations give young people given concrete evidence that they are known (“Hey, how did it go with that teacher who was giving you trouble?”), and challenge them to grow beyond who they already are, and into the person God has created them to become (“You can’t smoke weed here. I care about you too much to let you hurt yourself.”)  They give youth opportunities to grow in their faith and to live into their vocations, naming teenagers’ God-given gifts and inviting them to use those gifts on behalf Christ in the church and in the world.

Third, a supportive congregation is one where the whole community invests–visibly–in growing in faith together, and where teenagers witness the fruits of this investment as people takes risks on behalf of others in Christ’s name.

3.    A senior pastor who is crazy about young people.

See #4, above – all these things are true for people who lead congregations as well.  The senior pastor or head of staff, in many ways, embodies the congregation’s “brand.” If a congregation supports youth ministry, it will be clear because the head of staff talks about young people (positively) in public, includes them in leadership, embraces the faith development of parents, knows youth and their leaders by name, and makes himself/herself available to young people for spiritual conversations.  The senior pastor is youth ministry’s head cheerleader:  Go, team.

2.    Lots and lots of parents who are growing in, and living out, their love of God and neighbor (and who are aware that this matters to their kids).

You’ve heard it before:  parents are the most important youth ministers young people ever have.  No variable in the National Study of Youth and Religion is more important in young people’s faith identities, or in their ability to sustain those faith identities between high school and emerging adulthood, than parents who are religiously active while their kids are teenagers.  And if young people don’t have parents who are investing in faith, then churches need to be places where kids can find adults who are investing in faith, and who are willing to  “spiritually adopt” these teenagers so they can eavesdrop on what it looks like to be an adult follower of Jesus Christ.

1.    Jesus. (Read below)

I know, I know:  the “right” answer in church is always “Jesus.”  And of course, Christians understand God as three-in-one, so Jesus is not the only person of the Trinity who matters in youth ministry, so please don’t misunderstand me as reducing God to the Incarnation.

But Christians understand God as Triune through Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection reveals who God is and who we are in relationship to God.  Doing youth ministry without God is like doing dinner without food:  you can come to the table, but there’s nothing to eat…so why bother?


Letters To The Church: By Teens

Hello, all!

I pray that you are all well and entering fully into the first day of Lent! I trust that this season will be full of the “bright sadness” that comes along with honestly encountering oneself and the Lord.

This post is meant to serve as an introduction for something that I plan to begin doing regularly on this site. Since this is a site dedicated primarily to upbuilding and increasing the efficacy of youth ministry in the Antiochian Orthodox Church of Southern California, I found it fitting to begin a series of posts, written in the form of letters, that would allow the teens to speak for themselves in terms of how they view the Church and the role it has played in their lives.

The letters will be posted as anonymous, and the content of these letters might be shocking, delightful, saddening, encouraging, or any other number of things. It is important for these young people’s voices to be heard, and we must be willing to take their words to heart and examine ourselves in their words. Let us see these teenager’s honest engagement with Christ, the Church, and with their own faith as a call for us to honestly engage Christ, the Church, and our own faith, too.

These teens are brilliant, funny, talented, engaging, thoughtful, and heartfelt people; it is time that we understand exactly what they’re experiencing, and it is best that we understand it in their own words.

Letters will begin being posted soon and will hopefully be posted on a weekly basis. If you or any teens you know might be interested in submitting a letter for this purpose, please e-mail them to

In Christ,

Check Out This Article: Saint Aidan Orthodox Church: Parenting for Faith (Part One)

Check out this article. The things Fr Richard reminds parents to do seem like no-brainers, but they are also good to remember. Even though I’m not a parent, I look forward to more of his posts about parenting.

Hope you enjoy it!

In Christ,

Other Voices: St. Peter’s Youth Director

Since this blog is representative of the work of the entire Southern California Deanery, I figured it might be a good idea to include different featured writers, both pastors and youth directors, from various parishes. This is the first entry that will take such a shape.

Recently, I asked the youth director at St. Peter in Pomona to write a brief statement on his view of youth ministry. Below is the result of my request. Enjoy!

On Youth Ministries by Austin Halsell

If I might be so cliché and presumptuous as to start this little blurb with a scripture, allow me this one: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). Many of us sing this every Sunday as we receive the Eucharist, and, if you are like me, you do it rather absent mindedly. If you are exactly like me, often you have more of an appreciation for the melody than for the meaning of the words, and this is a tragedy, for these words tell us of a simple and powerful truth. When we have love for each and every person, we truly reveal ourselves to have the light of Christ in us.

Now, what does this have to do with youth ministry?

Everything. In as plain of language as possible, love is the single most important thing in youth ministry. Saint Paul talks continually of love throughout his letter to the church in Corinth. “And though I bestow all my goods to the poor, and give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” Having a successful, lively, and active youth group hinges on this. We must love the young adults given to our care.

More than this, we cannot allow ourselves to love them conditionally. We must accept them for who they are. When they disappoint us with some decision, we must turn away from the reprimand that is so ready to be said and, instead, meet our disappointment with love. Their quirkiness cannot merely be accepted, but it must be appreciated, loved, and nurtured. If we have this kind of love for our youth, it will lead us to the second most important thing in conducting this holy ministry: understanding. An understanding of who our teens are as individuals with identities of their own. We must understand that these teens are in a crucial stage of development, as we were at that age. They  question everything, especially the faith, and are beginning to see the world in a new light with new understanding. It is not our place merely to tell them what to think or how to believe or how their faith should be acted out. Our duty is in guiding them into an understanding of Christ’s love for them, and we should be doing so through honest discussion, not through simple instruction.

I realize the last paragraph might have been a little preachy or strong, but these are the things that we as the leaders of the youth must understand. We are here to love those that God has given us because He loves them, and we must love them because of who they are – not who we think they could or should be. After all, the Lord loves them, as he loves us, in this very way, and these quickly maturing teens and pre-teens deserve to be told that.

Austin is a graduate of UCR, where he studied Creative Writing. He currently works as an aide for children with Autism and has worked with the youth at St. Peter in Pomona for the last two years.
He can be reached at: