Tag Archives: adults

Message To St. Michael, Van Nuys

Hello, all!

Today, I had the privilege and honor of giving a “homilette” at St. Michael Church in Van Nuys, and I figured that it might not hurt to share it with you all! I would be remiss (and likely plagiarizing) not to thank Kenda Creasy Dean for some of the finer points of the homily. Her books, Almost Christian and Practicing Passion, are constant sources of inspiration for me.

So without further ado:

Listen to the message!

In Christ,

5 Reasons To Say Yes To Relational Ministry

Having explored 5 Reasons To Say No To Program-Driven Ministry, I think it is only fitting to offer an alternative. I’m now going to offer five reasons to approach ministry as a more relational endeavor than a programmatic one.

1. Relational ministry is personal. One of the great things about a relationship between two people is that the relationship can only be experienced by the two involved. It is a unique, beautiful, and organic expression of Christ’s love for us. When I was 16 and developed a relationship with my high school English teacher, I was blessed because in the smallness of our relationship, I experienced his raw, broken humanity, and he experienced mine. We got to know each other well, and our relationship took on a life of its own, and that life was and continues to be experienced only by me and him. That reality has left an indelible mark on my understanding of God’s love for humanity. While God’s love for humanity is universally true, it is specifically experienced. This is what we attest to in our relationships with others.

2. Relational ministry is a ministry for everyoneThe great thing about relational ministry is that the only credential you need is a birth certificate. If you are a human person, then you are capable of engaging in relational ministry. By opening your humanity and experience to another person and by allowing them to open their humanity and experience to you, relational ministry occurs. Since everyone is capable of entering into relationships and meeting Christ within that context, we become less reliant on a single person (like a charismatic, connectable youth director, for example) to “keep our young people in the Church.” With everyone bearing the load of this ministry, that brings me to my next point.

3. Relational ministry is sustainable. Since relational ministry is the work of the entire Church, then this frees the youth director to think of ways in which she can facilitate relationships between young people and adults. Instead of running around, desperately trying to make connections with young people herself, the youth director can bring other adults into the ministry and not be so prone to burnout. If all people in a congregation embrace their roles as relational ministers, then youth ministry can be sustained indefinitely. The youth director, like any other adult in the congregation, is then able to invest in journeying closely alongside 3 or 4 young people. This might beg the question, though, of why a church should have a youth director at all. My thought is that the youth director should know enough about the young people in the church and enough about the adults in the church to be a functional relational ministry “matchmaker.” In this way, every young person is taken care of, and the ministry of such a congregation will not only thrive, but it will last.

4. Relational ministry is eternal. When I say it will last, I mean that it will last eternally. Unlike programs, relationships do not have to end upon graduation. While many do (and this is clearly the non-eternal part of relationships), I think we do injustice to relationships when we fail to understand that when we open our humanity to one another, we meet Christ concretely within the context of that relationship. In Orthodoxy, we confess, “Christ is in our midst,” but we fail to act as though we believe this when we concentrate our efforts on developing programs, curricula, and other things by which we well-meaningly intend to convince our young people about the Faith of the Fathers. As we enter into relationship with one another, however, we transcend the temporal nature of this world and touch the eternal hands of Christ in our midst. Relationships are a mystery for this reason, for in entering into them, we enter somehow into the eternal mystery of the person of Jesus Christ (“Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” Mt. 18:20)

5. Relational ministry trains minds. If program-driven ministry is highly programmer-oriented, then relational ministry is highly other-oriented. If we step away from program-driven ministry and enter into relational ministry, we make room for young people to struggle openly with their questions, doubts, concerns, fears, and desires. In doing so, we can discuss these things with our young people and challenge their thinking much more effectively. Rather than simply conveying the message of “Get with the program,” we offer a sort of training ground for young people to learn how to dialogue about their Faith in a way that is constructive and non-threatening. Within the intimate context of relationship, these young people will develop the capacity to think critically and clearly when they are later faced with something that, in their youth, they simply had been told not to do. We need to be focused not on simply instructing our young people about what is and what isn’t Christian-y, and we must focus more on training young people to begin thinking Christianly. Relational ministry allows this to happen.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly think that programs have their place. I would say that programs and relational ministry can be compared to baseball stadiums and baseball games. The baseball stadium is a place that has been set aside to give room for the baseball game to occur. So with programs, we must remember that they are the place in which relational ministry ought to occur. When we wonder why our young people are leaving the baseball stadiums, however, the answer isn’t simply to build more baseball stadiums. The answer is to offer them games. It is, after all, the game that is compelling, and not the stadium (although, some stadiums are much more appealing than others). But let’s not get confused and focus on the stadiums of our programs; instead, let’s get more intentional about entering into the beautiful, eternal, small game of relationship.

Baseball: An American Tradition
Relationship: A Christian Reality

Image sources: http://www.harpyness.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Law-of-Friendship.jpg

A Seminar For Parents, Youth Workers, Pastors, and Teens

Greetings, all!

His Eminence, Archbishop JOSEPH, has given his blessing for a seminar for parents, youth workers, pastors, and teens.

The seminar is titled, “The World Below: Engaging the Hearts and Minds of Today’s Teens.” In it, Fr. Patrick O’Grady of St. Peter Church in Pomona, David Paddison (psychology student and youth worker extraordinaire) of St. Luke Church in Garden Grove, and myself will be addressing these questions:

  • What does the world of young adults look like today?
  • How did it come to be like this?
  • Why are so many young adults leaving the Church?
  • And how are we to respond?

I have a great deal of confidence that this gathering will be useful to all those who wish to attend as we will be discussing the real world that teens face and will be laying out a vision for an Orthodox Christian approach to youth ministry.

All jurisdictions are welcome to attend, and I highly encourage people of all ages to attend as the youth of our Church are not simply a group to which only a select few are called to minister. It is the job of the Church to care for her youth, and we will begin to discuss exactly what that looks like and how it can be done. It should be great.

If you wish to print out the event flier, you can access it HERE. Please spread the word about this event, and do all that you can to attend!

In Christ,

Flier image source: http://www.simpleinsomniacures.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Multiple-Factors-Hurt-Teen-Sleep.jpg

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: http://www.bucketlistidea.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/bucket-list-ideas-for-teenagers-2.jpg

Moving Toward Relational Ministry

In case you missed this post on my personal blog, here it is for you now.

I have had a lot of time lately to think about a right approach to ministry. One of the big problems that we face is that we have become too reliant on the use of programs. We need to reclaim the smallness of the Gospel and the world of discipleship. We need to abandon the idea that we are going to “influence” kids. They aren’t looking for “good influences” any more than they are looking for “bad influences.” With so many voices competing for their attention in their social settings and in the commercial world, we cannot simply assume that since our voice is “reasonable” they will hear us. Rather, we must abandon the idea of influencing them at all and enter relationship for the sake of relationship and remember that the community of Christ is the concrete context in which the Holy Spirit moves, and ultimately, it is the Spirit of God, not us nor our programs, that causes transformation and has influence on the hearts and minds of people.

Our call must be to enter into the crypts of young people’s hearts and to invite them into ours. We are to share suffering with each other, for this is what the Lord Jesus does. He shares our life and offers us his. His teachings are not abstractions nor can they be separated from who he is. When we teach our children about the Christian life, we must remember that these things are not abstractions, but they are (or ought to be) inextricably bound to our lives. This is the same reason for the wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous in asking recovering addicts to participate in the struggles and suffering of less experienced recovering addicts. They are able to speak to the life of a recovering addict precisely because they know it from the inside. So, too, Christ speaks to us from his experience of the divine and human life. His word is him.

If we are to encourage young people to embrace their lives as Christians and to take hold of the things to which they are called, then we must be prepared to open our own lives to them and share our own struggles and joys. This is different than sharing our piety and our teachings; we are simply sharing life with young people, and this is the path to true Christian discipleship. We don’t learn to be Christians by being told to practice the Christian virtues and to avoid sinning anymore than we learn to swim by being told to paddle hard and to avoid drowning. We need someone to get in the water with us and to hold us as we struggle to stay afloat. There is safety in the struggle of learning to swim at the hands of a patient teacher; so, too, there must be safety in the struggle of learning the Christian life at the hands of patient mentor.

This does not necessitate a perfect teacher, but it demands the hard work of sharing life with teens. In these moments, we can share the things that excite us and that move us, inviting young people to “come and see.” However, this must be seen as different than influencing teens; we are simply opening up our own hopes and sufferings in the context of relationship. Is not this the core of the Gospel message anyway? When does Jesus or the apostles tell people, “Go and see.” It is not this way, but rather, it is an invitation into a shared experience. “Come with me, and let us see what it is that Christ has for us.” It is true that the Lord commissions his apostles at the end of Matthew, but he does so with the end idea being to “make disciples,” and disciples are defined by their proximity to one who disciples them.

Ministry is no great puzzle to be solved. It is, however, a simple mystery to enter. We need to share our lives and hearts with people. In a postmodern world, this is the only thing that moves souls. Modernism’s pedagogy of (more or less) “See this the way I see it” has been replaced by a pedagogy that asks, “How do you experience this thing that I see, and how can my perspective be shaped by yours?” With shows like American Idol and Survivor where viewers can vote to make the show they want; with websites like Facebook and YouTube where users comment on the lives of others; with applications like Instagram and Twitter where subscribers update the world on the present happenings of life, the Church must respond to the participatory inclination of many of these young people who engage such things. Young people crave community and dialogue, not simple regurgitation of Church creeds and moralistic platitudes. We must offer a forum for true knowledge of the other, and this forum must be small, immediate, and authentic.

One of the great things about postmodernity is that it suggests that every story matters. The flaw of this, however, is based in the assumption that each story marks its own truth and reality. With the abandonment of the metanarrative (that is, one, large unifying narrative of human existence), the only mark of truth becomes the individual experience. Where Christianity must counter this attack on Reality is by showing that each story matters while also fitting squarely within the Grand Metanarrative of God’s love for his people; I (and St Irenaeus) would probably title this story The Recapitulation of All Things. Survivor, Facebook, and Instagram are all desperate pleas to be noticed and have lives affirmed; yes, you matter, and to prove it, I’m going to take the time to comment on your status. The Church must not criticize this movement in the souls of her young people. Rather, it must affirm that each young person does matter and that she fits within the larger framework of the Lord’s Metanarrative. But this takes work.

Too often, we convey the message to our young people that what matters is their attendance, their adherence to a lesson that is being taught, their obedience to authority, etc. This must stop if we are to reach the postmodern young people (after all, postmodernity isn’t going anywhere simply by wishing it away). We must stop the insistence that kids “show up.” We must stop insisting that they “get something out of it.” We must simply slow down and say, “You matter, and I am here for the journey. Even if you screw up everything. Even if you never quit sleeping around. Even if you never stop using drugs. You are not alone, and I will never forsake you.”

Is it any wonder that so many of us feel forsaken by God when our fellow humans (frequently those who speak about the eternal love of God) forsake us in our folly? I would suggest that it is not. We learn about God from others. We learn that the grace of God is big enough to handle us by how our fellow persons experience and externalize that all-encompassing, sufficient grace. Our relationships are the concrete context of Christ’s presence in this world, and we must begin taking this seriously.

[Much thanks to Dr. Andrew Root as his works Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry and Relationships Unfiltered have shaped much of my thinking about ministry.]

Image sources: http://cyberlens.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/friendship.jpg

“Hurt 2.0” by Chap Clark

If you are looking for a book that is painfully honest about the environment of adolescents in contemporary America, then Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers by Dr. Chap Clark (Fuller Theological Seminary) is the perfect book for you. It is grueling, disheartening, encouraging, heartbreaking, fascinating, and necessary to read. Hurt 2.0, published just last year, is a second edition of Hurt, which Dr. Clark published in 2004. If the proximity of these releases doesn’t itself indicate the increasingly rapid rate of cultural changes that face our young people, consider this fact: in 2004, Facebook didn’t exist. Now, it’s almost impossible to walk into a local business that doesn’t have a sign that says, “Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook.” Dr. Clark’s work is important as it addresses the contemporary life of midadolescents (roughly ages 15-18) with brutal frankness that might shock, offend, or (worst of all) elude adult readers. Hurt 2.0 offers an invaluable look into the lives of midadolescents, and if you read no further in this post, please note this: I highly recommend the book to anyone who has been, works with, or knows a teenager. Continue reading

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?