Youth Group Information

What’s In It For Me?

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What’s In It For Me?

You’ve probably heard this witty comeback at some point in your ministry. Savvy seekers exploring the idea of faith often will not commit whole-heartedly without this question being answered. At the outset, it seems to be just a non-committal hesitation. After all, the last ten years of ministry have been fixated on the mantra, “It’s not about you!” Sometimes we repeat it so often that we dilute its meaning. Further, it is often vocalized in frustration when our projects, procedures or positions are questioned. But in the end, it comes down to buy in. Youth will not commit full-throttle to this faith-gig until they have this question answered. Frankly, I don’t blame them.

When we jest in our gruff superiority, “It’s not about you,” we don’t really mean it’s not about you. Of course your faith it about you. Duh. The beauty of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is that he relates to each of us through our unique perspectives. What we really mean is, “it’s not about only you.” Faith is about all of us working together to reach others.

Faith is about all of us working together to reach others.CLICK TO TWEETIn a similar vein, what if the motives driving students to question the value of faith for their lives doesn’t mean what we think it means? When students demand to know what’s in this Jesus thing for them, I believe they are not exhibiting selfish motives. Instead, they are revealing a set of more elemental questions lurking below the surface. See if any of these alternatives below apply to your students.

WHAT PURPOSE DOES FAITH OFFER ME?

This generation of students craves to change the world, not as spectators but as purposeful…CLICK TO TWEETThis generation of students craves to change the world, not as spectators but as purposeful participants. The personal and national terrors of their childhoods have heightened their awareness that life is short. They are also not naively trusting. Yearning to get into the mud with this down-and-dirty business of changing the world, they demand specifics of that change in advance to guarantee that the time sacrifice is worth it. I believe that reveals much more than selfishness. It illustrates a positive stewardship of time and resources. Most importantly, they desire to understand Jesus’ specific role for them to play in that transformation. If we gave them a label, this generation could be called “street-smart problem-solvers,” in that they believe as Isaiah, and later Jesus, proclaimed:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1

Answer this question by giving them a powerful purpose and authorizing them to run with it. Ownership of that purpose will galvanize today’s youth into powerful players in the future field of faith.

WHAT VALUE DOES FAITH OFFER ME?

No matter how engaged students are, they are still teenagers. Each young person has a deep, unquenchable need to be worth something. Being valued for who we are is a basic human need. The reality that Jesus created us and loves us just as we are meets that need in a way that well exceeds most student’s expectations.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ, you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10

When students recognize that faith in Jesus Christ offers them eternal significance—coupled with a completeness that can be applied powerfully in the present– they are more apt to buy in.

WHAT CHALLENGE DOES FAITH OFFER ME?

Today’s students are movers and shakers. They don’t aspire to sit comfortably inside of the church walls, bored and entertained. They yearn to rage against the machine of injustice and evil. They crave an authentic, active and adventurous faith that empowers them to take great risks and results in even greater rewards. You mark my words, many of this generation will be among those standing before Jesus saying,

“Yes, Lord, I saw you in faces of the least of there and I stood with you.” Matthew 25:21.

It is up to us to embolden students to battle against injustice and speak out for the poor. To do so, we must live out adventurous faith ourselves. That is what they are really asking.

It’s not a question of what faith has to offer them; rather, what kind of faith are you as their leader going to model for them?

So the next time a student says, “What’s in it for me?” try to see beneath the teenage bravado to the real questions lurking beneath the surface. Before we respectfully explain the truth of the matter, we must search our hearts. I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to say with fierce authority as one who has experienced such faith, that true faith in Jesus Christ offers you a challenging life, full of purpose, value and adventure!


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SABRENA KLAUSMAN is the author of ZOMBIE CHRISTIAN, THE SACRED UNDEAD and has served more than sixteen years as a pastor’s wife, church planter, and curriculum-writer.

 

 

Five Promises For The Worried Youth Worker

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Worried youth workers worry me. I see so many men and women who are facing burn out, enduring constant scrutiny, and bearing the weight of others’ expectations. These men and women lack self-confidence, tend to make decisions out of fear, and allow worry rather than mission to consume their thoughts and drain their energy. Let me say this to worried youth workers: it doesn’t have to be like this.

“Youth workers allow worry rather than mission to consume their thoughts and drain their energy.”

Let me remind you of these five promises from God’s Word:

Worried about numbers

When you’re worried about numbers, remember that God looks at the heart. The most common question asked of youth workers is, “How many students were at youth group this week?” And while numbers may be the world’s easiest measurement of success, God’s version of success looks more like changed hearts than high numbers. He states this directly in 1 Samuel 16:7, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” When we consider God’s priorities, we can spend less time worrying about the size of our ministries and more time focused on teaching students about the Savior who rescues and changes their hearts.

Nervous about pay

When you’re nervous about pay, trust that God will provide for your needs. Money and anxiety oftentimes go hand in hand. Underpaid youth workers worry that they might have to change jobs or leave the ministry, and they are prone to distrust church leaders who set the terms of their paycheck. We must remember that we serve a God who is able to “meet all [our] needs, according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:18). Not only that, but our same God has declared that “the worker deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18). We need not worry about what God has promised to provide. To learn how to get paid what you’re worth in youth ministry, look back at this earlier post.

Afraid of inexperience

When you’re afraid of your own inexperience, remember that God promises wisdom to those who ask. I talk with youth workers all the time that have no idea on how to do their jobs. They are without training and mentors, and they are terrified of being found out. God, however, isn’t at all concerned with our inexperience or our weakness; his track record proves it. And his promise in James 1:5 is true. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.” Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know; the Lord will give you everything you need to be an effective minister in his Kingdom.

Concerned about parents
When you’re concerned about parents, remember that God promises to give you the words to speak. Most youth workers don’t feel like they have the experience to work with parents, and it becomes their tendency to avoid them or pretend like they don’t exist. We’re not alone in this fear. Jeremiah made the same claim when the Lord first called him as a prophet to Judah. He says in Jeremiah 1:6, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” But the Lord responds with, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:7-8). The Lord promises to give us what to say, and he says there is no reason to be afraid of pursuing even the most difficult conversations with parents.

Anxious about competition

When you’re anxious about competition, remember that the gospel must be preached all over. We tend to wonder if the program down the street will be more attractive to our students, and we feel pressure to have activities that are better than nearby ministries. But the Lord is clear in Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” We need more ministers, not fewer, if we’re to reach more students for Christ. Competition becomes less important when we remember that we’re on the same team and living out the same mission.

Therefore, do not worry about numbers. Don’t lose sleep over your paycheck or dwell on your inexperience. Don’t avoid parents out of fear or be anxious about someone who is not your competition. Instead, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Doug Franklin

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have a dog that thinks he is their only child. Diesel is a 70-pound Weimaraner  who never leaves their side.

5 Things You Should Know About Self Harm

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“Today was a great day,” Aaron thought as he pressed the razor blade into his forearm. He watched the blood slowly pool in the wound and then drip around his arm onto the cement floor. “At least it started out that way.”

With the first cut, he felt the tension in his shoulders begin to ease.

With the second, his breathing began to even out.

With the 10th, he felt the guilt of relapsing.

With the 25th , a familiar peace set in.

As he replayed the day’s events in his mind, the emotional relief began to leave. His breathing once again increased and the tension returned to his face and shoulders.

Tears mixed with the blood.

“Why am I such a f*** up?” he whispered to himself as he began to dab his forearm and shoulder with a Kleenex.

The day had started out great. For the first time, at age 17, he felt like he actually had friends.

They spent the day together: Walked around the mall, got high, went to a movie.

Aaron was on top of the world.

After returning home, he texted Monique a bit of gossip about the mutual friend that they had just hung out with.

Monique’s response was sharp and unexpected. She was upset with Aaron because he was badmouthing their friend.

Aaron melted down.

He went from being on the top of the world to the depths of despair in seconds.  The world was crumbling around him. He thought he’d never have friends again.

On the verge of a panic attack, he had run to the basement, grabbed his hidden razor and began to cut.

Now, as he cleaned up, he was getting light headed.

Like always, the cuts didn’t hurt, but he realized he cut too deep and too much.

Fortunately, when he stopped responding to Monique, she got worried and called me. She was exasperated by his drama but still concerned for him.

I called his mom. She found him in the basement, still bleeding and rushed him to the emergency room.

Several stitches later, he was back in his room, thinking about the razor he had hidden under his mattress.


When working with teens who self-harm, people often find themselves anywhere from mystified to intrigued to scared.

My hope here is to demystify self-harm a little bit, and in a subsequent post, I’ll give you some practical tips for helping students who struggle in this area.

1. SELF-HARM WORKS

Self-harm is a strategy people use to manage strong emotions or numbness. And for some, it works really well.

Teens who are prone to strong emotions often report a period of peace and clarity following a “cutting session.” On the other end of the spectrum, some struggle with unbearable numbness. Cutting helps them to feel alive again.

Since self-harm tends to work well to help teens feel better, they might not want to stop. They might feel like they’ve finally found an effective means of managing their feelings and be afraid to let it go.

As someone who’s never personally struggled with self-harm, that was hard for me to grasp at first. It can seem bizarre that taking a blade to your skin could change your emotional state in a positive way, but it can.

In order for us to effectively help teens work through this behavior, we must radically accept the fact that their actions make sense based on their beliefs and experiences. We must lay aside any disgust, disdain or disappointment we might be feeling and treat them with dignity and respect.

That is not to say that we affirm self-harm as good, godly or positive. But we affirm the teens in the midst of their struggle.

2. SELF-HARM ISN’T A SUICIDE ATTEMPT

Perhaps because wrist cutting has been referenced as a stereotypical method of a suicide for years, many have associated self-harm with a suicide attempt. It isn’t. In fact, it can be looked at as the opposite of a suicide attempt.

People who self-harm are looking for a way to live, while people who attempt suicide are looking for a way to escape living.

That isn’t to say that people who self-harm cannot be suicidal. But the action of harming themselves isn’t an attempt to take their lives.

3. SELF-HARM IS ADDICTIVE

If you’re trying to put self-harm in a category, put it closer to substance abuse than suicide. People who have been injuring themselves for a while can be addicted to the response their body has to the harm they inflict. And like with any addiction, there is a law of diminishing returns. This means they’ll have to inflict a greater level of harm in order to get the same response from their body.

If you have a teen who is in this place, take a deep breath, you might be in for a long journey. Overcoming any addiction comes with bouts of successes and failures, self-hatred and self-righteousness, ups and downs. Remember to not tie your identity to their success. Walk alongside them as they journey toward health, but don’t ride the rollercoaster with them.

4. SELF-HARM ISN’T AN IDENTITY

“I have a cutter in my youth group” is a nasty little phrase that we use all too often in youth ministry.

It’s false.

It’s a lie.

Our teens aren’t “cutters,” they’re humans made in God’s image. And if they’ve accepted Christ, they’re holy, perfect and blameless. Even in the very moment they’re harming themselves, they’re completely pure.

Teens soak up identifiers, hungry for labels. Let’s give them the labels God gives them and let the worldly ones fade away. The more a teen becomes immersed in the false identity of their harmful behavior, the harder it will be for them to change their course.

5. SELF-HARM ISN’T THE END OF THE WORLD

As youth ministers, there are certain things that can really affect how we view teens. Things like sexual experimentation, drug use, doubt, and cutting might tempt us to feel differently about certain kids.

Be encouraged, their behavior isn’t the end of the world. They’re young and sanctification takes time.

My prayer is that as you walk with teens on their journey, you are able to lead with empathy and love.

In my next post, I’ll give some practical tips to help you lead your teens toward healing in the area of self-harm.


Ash Headshot 200x200Ash SanFilippo has done youth ministry from the streets of Chicago, to a small church on a secluded island, to the suburbs of Minneapolis. He currently works for TreeHouse, leading a team that creates online training content aimed at helping people minister to at-risk teens. Ash lives in Minneapolis with his wife and 1-year-old son. Check out TreeHouse at: TREEHOUSEYOUTH.ORG.

How to Combat the SEND NUDES Trend

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How to Combat the SEND NUDES Trend

written by David SmithJanuary 11, 2017
send nudes problem

Spilled potato chips. A freshly baked pepperoni pizza. Some wiggly Chinese noodles. Are these the cravings of a pregnant woman? Nope. They’re just a few images young people are using to ask one another for nude photos. And these requests contain absolutely no subtlety!

Excuse Me, I’d Like a Naked Picture of You

While scrolling through your Facebook feed lately, you may have noticed a video or picture with the message SEND NUDES. It might be a picture of foods, clouds in the sky, or even a note spelled out in Christmas lights. Regardless of the format, the message is always the same: SEND NUDES.

According to the website Know Your Meme, SEND NUDES is “an expression used to request sexually explicit photographs from someone via various forms of communication, including web based services and text message.” The site also gives a brief history of how the phrase entered our culture’s language.

If you haven’t seen any of these creative requests, here are some samples from The Chive. (These graphics don’t contain any nudity.) The site offers the following advice to help (mostly) guys score naked pics of female friends: “It’s no secret now that the more creative you get when asking for nudes, the higher your chances are of actually receiving them. Intense research has also shown that if you can include some laughs with your requests, your creepy factor will go down and return photos will go up.”

College Humor offers this list of 11 “best” SEND NUDES requests. The tag line? “Rumor has it, these 11 people are still receiving nudes from these top notch requests.”

Thanks to this colorful and brazen social media campaign, the SEND NUDES phrase is growing in popularity. You can buy cell phone cases with the phrase, and if you type “send nudes” on Amazon’s homepage, you can purchase everything from hats and shirts to winter gear—all with SEND NUDES emblazoned across the front. Recognizing the massive appeal of the message, Kim Kardashian sold her own SEND NUDES merch this holiday season. Clearly sex still sells…literally.

Silly or Serious?

Undoubtedly, many young people will dismiss this trend as just a joke. “I wasn’t really asking for naked pictures; I just thought the video was fun to send.” Granted, some of the creative videos and photos might make kids chuckle, but it’s no laughing matter when young people’s lives are ruined by sharing or receiving nude photos.

Parents and youth workers must help shape a generation that often defines itself by other people’s reactions to their images. Here are some practical suggestions.

  1. Monitor social media. Sexting has been a youth culture reality for more than a decade. But sharing racy pics is no longer restricted to just text messaging. Snapchat built its empire on the (empty) promise that images sent to friends were completely temporary, causing nude photos to increase faster than the national debt. And when Instagram added its “Direct” service, many people rightfully believed it would encourage users—young and old—to send naked photos. Caring adults need to pay as much attention to kids’ social media apps as they do to their text messages and web-browsing history. (Here are a few tips from BeWebSmart.com for doing that with Instagram.)
  2. Keep having conversations. Of course, the best way to deal with this problem is to avoid sending nude photos in the first place. For that, maintain ongoing dialogue with kids about the potential disasters that can result from sharing nude photos. When you read an eye-opening article about Snapchat, share it with teenagers and ask for their insights. Listen to what they have to say. (On his blog, Jonathan McKee recently provided a helpful video and discussion questions about cell phones). You might think the 27 talks you’ve already had on the subject were great—and they might have been! But it takes only one lapse in judgment to undo all your hard work. Talk. Listen. Repeat.
  3. Combat the normalcy of overt and public sexuality. From sexting and magazine covers to racy billboards and the explosion of online pornography, our culture is enamored with sexuality. The SEND NUDES trend is just the latest expression. Granted, the phenomenon will probably disappear like a Snapchat photo of Aunt Ethel asleep on the couch at Thanksgiving. But something similar will soon take its place; after all, our culture salivates for all things sexual. Make sure young people have a biblical understanding of sex, as well as responsible habits for relationships and dating. Helpful resources include Sex Matters by Jonathan McKee and Pure Sex from Group Publishing.

Teenagers don’t have to lose their minds (and more) just because millions of other kids are. Ultimately, the more seriously you treat the SEND NUDES trend, the less silly your kids will look.

This article was originally published by our friends at The Source for Youth Ministry. You may find the original article here.

David, a 15-year youth ministry veteran, helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel and equipping others to do the same. He recently co-authored the book “Ministry By Teenagers.” On his website, DavidRSmith.org, David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers. He resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

Yes Means Yes: Affirmative Consent

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YES MEANS YES: AFFIRMATIVE CONSENT

[This post is part of our Let’s Talk About Sex Series] Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about the topic of sexual assault and rape, especially in high schools and on college campuses. The issue that has been put front and center after many horrid incidents, is what consent looks like.

Many youth ministries have sex as a regular topic on their agenda, and rightly so. But few include open conversations about what consent looks like. Yet we need to talk about this, because it’s not something that is crystal clear to students (anymore).

Youth culture in general does not embrace a clear affirmative consent, but perpetuates the stereotype of girls who say no or say nothing at all, but in reality ‘want it’. Our students may be raised in church (if that’s even the case), but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to this line of thinking. And—dare I say it?—the derogatory culture towards women in some churches doesn’t help to give women a full, equal voice in sexual matters either.

“She said no, but I know she wanted it.”

How often do we hear variations of this in rape and assault cases? And that’s nothing to say of the many, may rap songs that include some reference to this line of thinking.

Then there are the many instances where there was no consent at all, where girls or women were either too drunk to give consent (or to protest), or drugged, or both. There have been cases where bystanders watched, filmed even, while a clearly unconscious or dead-drunk girl was being raped. Somehow they thought that meant consent.

affirmative consent

But even if students are raised Christian and even if they do believe girls and women are valuable and worthy, we still need to teach them what consent looks like. Because they’re growing up in a time and age where they get bombarded with conflicting messages when it comes to this.

In New York (my state), a new policy called ‘Yes Means Yes’ has been adopted on state universities and colleges and is spreading to private campuses. They key thought is that only an active ‘yes’ is consent for sexual activity, not silence or a lack of resistance. That’s exactly what we need to teach our students.

This is what affirmative consent looks like:

  • the consent is voluntary and cannot be given when it is the result of any threat, coercion, intimidation, force, etc.
  • consent is active, not passive; silence or lack of resistance does not mean consent
  • consent may be withdrawn at any time and at that point, sexual activity must stop
  • previous consent does not mean continuous consent
  • consent cannot be given when a person is incapacitated, for instance due to alcohol or drugs, or when someone is asleep

The bottomline is this: no does not mean yes; yes means yes.

As youth leaders, we can help push back against culture and show students what affirmative consent looks like. Yes, these kind of conversations are messy and risky and highly uncomfortable. But they need to happen.

I came across a unique approach this week, made by students from Carnegie Mellon. It’s an interactive graphic novel-experience called Decisions That Matter, where participants make choices and are confronted with scenarios. It’s certainly a fresh approach to the topic of consent, if not a Christian one. I haven’t done the whole thing, so I can’t say for sure if it’s suitable for high school students (definitely not for middle schoolers), but you could have a look at it to get some inspiration.

Have you ever talked to your students about consent? If not, how could you make this happen?

[Photo Credit: Vincent Anderlucci, Flickr, Creative Commons]

For the Win: Trusting God with the Details

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I am a newbie. Only eight months on the job. Looking back over the first few months, they were a whirlwind of organizing, making to do lists, curriculum cramming, closet cleaning and name learning. Our youth pastor, Ryan Pendergraph, had eighteen years of experience but was brand new to the church and area. While I had no experience working for a church, I had eight years as a member of our church on my side. We teamed up well, I knew the people and the traditions and he knew the how and the why. Some days I was more of a tour a guide than an assistant. He was (and is) more of a mentor than a boss.

We managed to dodge a few landmines as we navigated the world of confirmation; we stirred the pot by changing-up some of the traditions of Senior Sunday; we experimented with the flow of Sunday nights; and somehow, we made it successfully to the end of the year and into summer.

I was beginning to gain confidence. I told him I thought our kids needed a local mission opportunity. Something right here, in our own back yard. “Next year,” he said. But the opportunity presented itself and I boldly declared that I would take on a VBS service project, alone, at a nearby church that had no kids or even young adults. He agreed, finally (with a slight smirk).

It only took one meeting with the Associate Pastor of the little inner-city church for me to know I had gotten in way over my head. The church had about 20 regular attendees. All but two members were over the age of seventy. At that point I only had two adult volunteers, and a dozen kids, mostly middle schoolers. There was no backing out. Ryan encouraged me and gave me a pep talk worthy of rallying an underdog little league team in the final inning of a championship game. Frankly, I was still convinced the week would be complete chaos as he headed out of town for a mission trip with our most active high school students.

Ryan’s wise words were, “I am trusting God to provide the extra people you need […] But regardless, I know that those kids will be loved well and shown the grace and truth of Jesus, the rest is up to the Holy Spirit anyway. And if all you can do is sing “Father Abraham” and play “Jesus says” for three hours, it will be more than what they had if you and others didn’t show up. God won the moment you said you would do this VBS, do your best to take care of the details and trust Him with the rest. You can’t lose.”

He was right. God did provide an overabundance of youth volunteers. We had over 40 youth and 5 adults to serve an average of 16 VBS kids for six hours a day for a full 5 day week. And we did much better than “Father Abraham” and “Jesus Says.” The Holy Spirit did show up in very unexpected ways. And I certainly didn’t lose. I won, we all won.

I spent the next days sitting back and watching our youth step out of their comfort zones, take charge, and lead the activities all on their own. I saw families being connected with a church that they desperately needed. I felt the joy of kids and heard their laughter filling the halls of a dying church. I watched God take our VBS lesson and use it to bless the teen sister of a VBS camper. Never saw that one coming during all the hours of planning and worrying if the lessons were too mature for our intended audience. But God knew all along that these lessons would speak to her when she needed it most.

So here I am, eight months into the best job ever. Ryan’s words of encouragement for me that VBS week stay with me. What have I learned in these short 8 months? I have learned to do my best to take care of the details and trust God with all the rest. He will show up.  He can, and will, use even me. He will surprise me. And I should always be bold enough to say: “Here am I, God. Send me.”

Angie serves as the Assistant Director of Student Ministries at Covenant UMC in Greenville, SC. Angie has also worked with teens as a teacher, coach and athletic director. When she is not pouring into the lives of students and fellow leaders, Angie spends time with her husband Brian, raising and encouraging their four kids.

Pornography and the brain

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This morning I got up early to head south to Daytona Beach. I’m spending the next couple of days with a group of youth workers talking about significant trends in youth culture. This afternoon, I will be speaking about pornography’s growing and pervasive influence in our culture. For some reason, my mind wandered back to a day almost five years ago when I was flying and noticed what the young women in the row in front of me was reading. While sitting here during a delay, I went back to read that post. I’m sharing it here once more. . .

Today I had a long flight. I decided to dig into the stack of books that’s growing on a spot on my office floor. My summer reading/study emphasis is pornography. . . its place in our culture and what it’s doing to our lives. The pile of books has grown in the last few weeks and I’m not at all looking forward to what I’m going to be reading and what I’m going to learn. Still, it needs to be done.

As I settled into my seat I pulled out my copy of William Struthers’ Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain. I’ve been fascinated by the little bit I’ve read from this Christian Biopsychologist who teaches at Wheaton College so I’ve been yearning to learn more about the not-so-surprising connection between pornography and the things it does to men’s brains. After all, we’re integrated beings created by a Maker who has made us with amazing complexity.

At the same time that I was opening my book, a young woman who appeared to me to be in her early twenties settled down in the row in front of me. She quickly stowed her carry-on bag under her seat and then eagerly opened her book. . . . Fifty Shades of Grey. You might remember that I blogged on this blockbuster book a few posts ago.

And so I proceeded to read these words about what pornography does to the male brain:

As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed. The neural circuitry anchors this process solidly in the brain. With each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through with images of women are destined to flow. This extends to women that they have not seen naked or engaging in sexual acts as well. All women become potential porn stars in the minds of these men. They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women right as created in God’s image.

Repeated exposure to pornography creates a one-way neurological superhighway where a man’s mental life is oversexualized and narrowed. It is hemmed in on either side by a high containment walls making escape nearly impossible. this neurological superhighway has many on-ramps. The mental life is fixated on sex, but it is intended for intimacy. It is wide – able to accommodate multiple partners, images and sexual possibilities, but it is intended to be narrow – a place for God’s exclusive love to be imaged.  .  .

And as I read these words from William Struthers, I kept wondering to myself about what was happening in the brain of the young lady seated in front of me. . . . . and the brains of so many other young men and women.

The Positive Phone Calls to Parents

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THE POSITIVE PHONE CALL TO PARENTS

By Cheryl Franklin Baertschi January 6, 2017

When was the last time you contacted your student’s parents? Oh, I don’t mean to tell them that their daughter broke the church window during the lock-in or that their son is coming home with a goose egg on his forehead from the winter retreat.

When was the last time you reached out to a parent to share something positive about their son or daughter? If you have had enough time to say, “Ummm,” then it has likely been too long.

“When was the last time you reached out to a parent to share something positive about their son or daughter?”

As leaders, we have the unique opportunity to see students outside of their normal element. We see how they deal with the stress of an overseas mission trip. We watch how they navigate social waters and reach out to a student standing alone. And we witness how they lean into a friend and pray with them during difficult times.

From personal experience, I have seen a mom’s eyes well up in tears when she heard how her daughter was including some of the girls who felt like outsiders. Another mom was completely surprised when I shared that I had seen great leadership potential in her daughter. And once I even saw a mom squeal in delight when I told her how polite her son had been while riding in my van to an event! We see what others aren’t always privileged to see, and that reason alone merits more conversations between us and parents.

I’ve found it most helpful to reach out to parents during these times of the year:

Beginning of the Year

At the beginning of the year, I call and introduce myself. I let parents know my contact information and that I will be their student’s small group leader/mentor. I ask them to tell me about their child, and I let them know that my role is to say the same thing they are saying, just as a different voice. Then I encourage them to call me if there is anything going on that they feel l need to know to support their child well.

In the Middle of the School Year

At least one time during the school year, I send a note or make a phone call to tell parents about a “positive happening.” Parenting is by far the hardest job I have ever had, and I can still remember the times when I received a positive phone call about one of my children. So often those calls came when I felt like I was the worst parent ever!

End of the School Year

I also call or send a note at the end of the school year to thank the parents for sharing their student with me and recap several positive moments over the past 9 months. I tell them about how I have seen their student grow in their relationship with the Lord and as an individual.

Graduation

When I have the opportunity to work with a student for their entire high school career, I reach out to their parents close to the time of graduation. I use this as an opportunity to thank parents for their support and reflect on a students’ growth and participation and various youth group activities over the last four years. This helps me to be mindful of the time and financial sacrifices made by our families.

You might ask, “But what about those challenging students or the quiet ones?” I would argue that even challenging or quiet students show some signs of growth and maturity. Look for the positive, and you will find it. Holistic ministry requires caring for the whole student, and that includes their parents. You may never know how much they need to hear what you have to share!

Cheryl Franklin Baertschi

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cheryl Franklin Baertschi

Cheryl and her husband live in Carmel, Indiana and have raised 4 boys. After their youngest left the nest 6 years ago, she decided to fill the quiet house with high school and college age girls that she could encourage, mentor and disciple. She continues to learn daily from them.

Visiting Students At Lunch Without Being Weird

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VISITING STUDENTS AT LUNCH WITHOUT BEING WEIRD

You want to visit students on their turf. You want to go where they are and all that right? Absolutely. Being present in the lives of students doesn’t count if it only happens on your time, in your environment, at your church. If you want to be incarnational…and be present in students lives you need to be on school campuses.

I get it. You are not able to be at all of your student’s schools…not every day, not every lunch break….So many schools. So many lunches. But YOU CAN pick one or two schools and choose to be as present as you are allowed to be[important…don’t go until it’s been cleared with the school administration] without being creepy.

Oh, so you are an insecure introvert? Or middle aged and drive a minivan? Not exactly the hip young, confident college age youth leader anymore perhaps? How do you spend time on campus without completely dreading it? Without being you know, awkward. Here are some tips for how to hang out at school lunches and seem good at it.

  1. BE ACCOUNTABLE TO SOMEONE

Seriously, strange but true- years could go by without anyone ever asking me about how often I am present on school campuses. That’s why I [a full time paid youth pastor] have volunteered with both Young Life and Campus Life over the years. They require “contact work” and being present on school campuses [and hint they know how to get you on campus through established relationships with school administrators]. And they will ask you about it. “So how is your contact work going?”

  1. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING FOR 15 MINUTES

Go. You can always go to at least one lunch once a week. You don’t have to go to two of them if a school has back to back lunches. Hanging out from 11 am til 1 pm for multiple lunch hours is not fun for anyone. Unless you are some super extrovert, who loves the smell of crappy cafeteria food and lives for that kind of thing. Tip: Arrive a little late. You can walk into a school cafeteria after lunch has started and hang out for 15 minutes. Anyone can do anything for 15 minutes[so says FLYLADY anyway].  After you’ve figured out how fun and quickly 15 minutes fly by, you can work your way up to longer visits. Once you get to know students and their stories, you will have so much more to chat about.

  1. START WITH KIDS YOU ALREADY KNOW

I text a few students from my youth group ahead of time [same gender…I don’t seek out the opposite gender via text to stalk at their schools, too creepy!] so they know I am coming to lunch. They tell me where they are sitting, and they introduce me to their friends. When I walk into lunch, I know exactly where I am going and where I am sitting. That helps me feel so much less awkward. Sometimes I bring French Fries because they LOVE it when I do.

If you don’t know anyone, just look for a group of kids and ask, “Can I join you?” Chances are they will say yes. Introduce yourself so they don’t go home saying, “Mom some strange lady sat with me at lunch and gave me candy.” That isn’t weird or anything. A simple “I am a youth pastor at a church nearby and came to hang out today at lunch” is usually a good enough of an explanation.

  1. TWO HELPFUL THINGS YOU CAN BRING WITH….

  • Candy. Bring candy. Now keep in mind that I don’t walk around with a huge bag of it because principals don’t really like that. Especially if kids leave candy wrappers all over the place. I keep a small stash in my purse and pass it around to the kids I am sitting with. You don’t want to be mobbed by 200 middle schoolers begging for candy, so be smart about it. You also don’t need to bring stuff to be liked. It’s just an easy icebreaker.
  • Games. WOULD YOU RATHER’S, UNO, SCRABBLE SLAM…games like these are awesome to have on hand. I tried downloading a few fun apps to my phone, but apparently I barely have any space left on my iPhone, so that didn’t work well. Having games in my purse really come in handy when I need help keeping conversations going.

Those are my tips, what are yours for visiting students at lunch without being awkward?


GINA ABBAS, the author of A WOMAN IN YOUTH MINISTRYhas been hanging out with middle schoolers since the year Mulan hit movie theaters. Gina recently joined the pastoral staff of the Meeting House in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. When she’s not leading small groups, she can be found shooting foam finger rockets at her children and roaming Gettysburg with her history-loving husband.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

How Did We Do?

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How Did We Do?

I’m sitting in Tim Hortons (one of the perks of living in Canada) and there’s a sign staring at me. It reads, “How did we do?” What an important question but one that most youth and young adult ministries never ask.

No wonder, because most churches don’t ask it either! But what an important question! If you’re not getting honest feedback from your people you are walking blind. Here are vital areas you should be getting regular feedback on. (and a quick survey that you can use!)I was surprised to see also that when I logged on to Tim Horton’s wifi, I was directed to a page that began with the same big question and an online survey “HOW DID WE DO?”

I took quick look at a dozen youth web pages and the church they are a part of and no one seems to care “how they did.” Maybe they don’t really want to know? Does your ministry provide multiple avenues for honest feed back? Or do you just deal with compliments and complaints as they come in ? It’s better to seek feedback!

Areas to consider.

Visitor Info

Whether you work with youth, young adults, or older adults you should get regular feed back. The most obvious kind of feedback is visitor details. Visitor cards or sign in from youth provides an an excellent opportunity for follow up. A phone call asking about their first impressions can be incredibly valuable to determine how visitors feel about what you provide.

Event Comment Cards

Most restaurants want to know how you liked the service, the food, the pricing, and other aspects of the dining experience. Youth or church events should include quick simple surveys with the most important evaluations questions. Like

  • Did you enjoy the event
  • Did you like the food
  • Did you meet new people
  • Would you like more information about future events

Program/ Service Feedback

For a youth program or a worship service there are some common areas to evaluate –this would be for all participants not just the new ones.

Welcome

  • Were you greeted with a warm welcome
  • Did other people greet you beside designated greeters
  • Do you feel accepted by the group?

Worship

  • Did you feel the worship was heartfelt and genuine?
  • Did you feel that the group participated and enjoyed the worship?
  • Did you enjoy the worship?

Announcements

  • Were the announcements interesting?
  • Did the announcements disrupt the service?
  • Did the announcements apply to you?

Teaching/ Preaching

  • I felt the teaching was relevant to my life
  • The teaching was interesting and engaging
  • It seemed people around me were listening and following along
  • I felt the teaching did not go too long

Overall experience

  • I feel good enough about this experience to invite friends
  • I look forward to coming back each week
  • I feel that this group/ church is meeting my personal / spiritual needs
  • I have a group of friends here that I look forward to seeing each week

Open Comments

Seldom will people comment but leaving a place for people to explain their choices or to provide feed back about other areas that you didn’t ask about can be very useful.

Ways to Survey

Taking time at the end of a retreat, service or an event to do a quick survey could be very useful

Having comment cards “How are we doing?” at the info desk and other areas all of the time is helpful.

Survey Monkey is an application that collects this kind of data. It could be sent out to every email address that the youth group or church has. The nice thing about this source is that the feedback is completely anonymous.

Website A button on your website to a quick online survey  -the same questions as listed above can be on the website and if done right people can fill out the survey on their phones.

Kiosk Some churches use ipads or kiosks to collect information. On the way out of Starbucks I saw one that wanted answers to just 4 questions.

Focus Group. We do a lot of these at my college. The downside is that they are not anonymous. If a neutral person, not a pastor sits a group down and gets feedback the input would be valuable.

Get Feed Back

A mirror gives us instant feedback on our appearance. Properly conducted surveys and polls can also give us needed feedback. When we see what we are doing right we can do it even better. When we see what we are doing wrong we can fix it. It will take discipline to gather the data and courage to act upon it!

Ron Powell

ronpowell

Ron Powell is the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com