superbowl_snapshotHow did you spend your Super Bowl night?

It’s not uncommon for churches and youth groups to gather together for the big game. Some student ministries use it as an opportunity to serve others, while others make it a missional gathering one way or another.

This year’s game offered another opportunity… a rather unexpected one.

Putting it lightly, it wasn’t Denver’s night. That’s great news if you’re a Seattle fan, or salt-in-an-open-wound if you were cheering for the Broncos. Social media only amplified things, which may have even spilled into your party. You may have even found a tweet or two that resonated with you.

superbowl_tweet

Another site captured some of the quick retorts various companies used to leverage the game’s slant in their favor.

superbowl_summary

The summary of the game on news sites took on its own slant. For example, USAToday.com ran the headline “Peyton Manning, Denver can’t recover from Super Bowl mistakes.”

Really? That’s a powerful statement – “can’t recover.”

Granted, it was just a sports summary. We’re used to these types of post-game comments from 24-hour news outlets looking for yet another way to spin the game.

Still, might we need to seize this as a teaching moment?

  • How many teenagers (and adults, for that matter) have had moments where everything they planned to go one way ended up going another? What does the concept of “can’t recover” say to them, even subliminally?
  • When everyone at your church-sponsored-party was laughing at the first snap of the game that went over Peyton Manning’s head, did your guests take away a message of “works” or “grace?” Did you consider the kid who was sitting there because he hates being at home where his dad constantly berates him? How about the girl who never measures up against her more poised peers? What about the grown-up who gets bullied at work for poor performance just like the old high school days?
  • As the game ended up lopsided and every camera shot of the Broncos displayed their depression, was the conversation at your party, “Must stink to be them,” or did you stop a moment and say, “Let’s pray for those guys… for their spirits… for how Monday will feel to them and their families. Sound good?”

It’s ironic – you may have preached “Come as you are. God loves you just as you are.” on Sunday morning… yet promoted “IN YOUR FACE!” on Sunday night. Sure, it’s common… but might there be something more “Jesus-centered” you can foster?

Politics aside (let me say that again – politics aside), consider a pre-game quote from President Obama: “I try to focus not on the fumbles but on the next play.”

Admittedly, I didn’t claim all of these opportunities myself.

Awesome moment after the clock expired... Broncos players joined Seahawks LB Mike Morgan for a postgame prayer before celebrations.

Awesome moment after the clock expired… Broncos players joined Seahawks LB Mike Morgan for a postgame prayer before celebrations.

That said, is there still a teaching moment for the Super Bowl that you can instill in others today?

Thoughts?

Be reminded… following Jesus will never, ever make sense in a broken world.

Say AMEN to that, even if you want it the other way around.

As you do, listen to these insights from Frederick Buechner:

“God is the comic shepherd who gets more of a kick out of that one lost sheep once he finds it again than out of the ninety and nine who had the good sense not to get lost in the first place.

jesus with sinnersGod is the eccentric host who, when the country-club crowd all turned out to have other things more important to do that come live it up with him, goes out into the skid rows and soup kitchens and charity wards and brings home a freak show. The man with no legs who sells shoelaces at the corner. The old woman in the moth-eaten fur coat who makes her daily rounds of the garbage cans. The old wino with his pint in a brown paper bag. The pusher, the whore, the village idiot who stands at the blinker light waving his hand as the cars go by.

They are seated at the damask-laid table in the great hall. The candles are all lit and the champagne glasses filled. At a sign from the host, the musicians in their gallery strike up ‘Amazing Grace.’”

― Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale



Mondays on the SYM Today Newsletter (sign up here) will provide a focus on fueling your heart for youth ministry with encouragement from either Rick Lawrence or Jason Ostrander like Jason’s recent post on Jesus as Youth Leader.

 

*Sign up for SYM Today newsletter here*

Only wretches need saving

 

If you’re not signed up for SYM Today newsletter, you missed out on opening your inbox today to “Only Wretchs Need Saving,” a devotional from Rick Lawrence about growing in gratitude for God’s amazing grace in our lives.

Why are you waiting? Just sign up! Its FREE, its useful and has a different focus each day of the week. More on Tuesdays later!

Hope everyone had an awesome weekend! Praying for you guys this week as you love students well.

- Amber

I love visting other youth groups and seeing the different ways that each of them approaches ministry and seeing the different cliques and types of students that each group attracts. In the city I work, the diversity between each of the different ministries is pretty surprising but something I love to see, that students can find a place that speaks their language, with a community they belong to and feel safe in. Each group is a reflection of the the values and style of each leader and fulfilling the purpose of reaching different students.

When I visit a new group I am always on the look out for one thing, the awkward kids. The ones that don’t fit in a lot of places, the ones that maybe don’t have tons of friends and that might look and act very differently than other students. I am not looking for the jocks, the hipsters, or any sort of “cool” kid, in fact I think most youth groups have their fair share of those students, I am looking for the complete opposite. Show me your kids that like to use the coat rack as a light saber, show me your Zacchaeus’s, those are the students to help point to a healthy community.

It’s easy to create a space where social students can be social, but creating an environment where students that don’t fit in can fit in is what it’s all about. You show me a ministry that has no awkward kids, I would be able to argue pretty quickly that, that group is not a safe place. There are students that are reminded often at school that they are different and they don’t fit in, but there is no way that the same should be said of youth group. You belong here, you are safe here, you are one of us here, you are accepted here.

Awkward kids are a sign of health, a sign of a culture of grace for students of all kinds, where young people can feel that they belong, they are safe and are accepted when in many other areas of their life they don’t experience that reality. A group that is diverse, is a group that is experiencing authentic community and youth group is a great place for that to happen.

-Geoff @geoffcstewart 



This month I got to contribute another Slant33 article on the topic of leaving a youth ministry. There are a couple of great responses to the question, wise words from Tash McGill and Ian McDonald. Here’s a clip of what I shared there as well:

Leave at the right time. It isn’t always possible, but leaving at a natural break is best. The end of summer is ideal but not always possible. But even more than leaving at the right time in the calendar, pray through leaving at the right time in the church culture as well. Stay too long after you know you’re done, and it’ll be painfully obvious. Leave too soon, and you’ll blindside people.

Make the transition short. I understand the need for a transition time to help prepare students or ensure a peaceful exchange of leadership, but there’s nothing worse than a lame duck who is out but still in. Pray through the timing of your announcement and the timing of your last day. Typically I wouldn’t put these more than a month or two apart at the most.

JG

A few years ago, my wife Jennifer and I were asked to organize and lead a one-day children’s and youth ministry training for churches in our state that were part of our denomination. We invited a few speakers to lead different seminars throughout the day for both volunteers and staff members from local churches. My wife–who has a degree in human development and extensive experience working with kids and adults with developmental disabilities–led a seminar at the end of the day on how to minister to kids with special needs. During the break before that last seminar, a group from a church that had traveled a few hours for the training packed up to get a jump on their trip home. They explained that they didn’t need to attend the last seminar anyways, because they didn’t have any kids in their church who were developmentally disabled.

My wife handled the conversation very graciously, even though she can be quite passionate about caring for people with special needs. On the inside, however, she was thinking, maybe there’s a REASON you don’t have any kids with special needs! It’s very possible that a family may have visited their church, but left after one Sunday (or even before church was over!) because it was very clear that church would not be a good environment for their autistic or developmentally disabled child or teenager. In fact, it may be that a family has visited your church, but did not stay because they didn’t feel like it wouldn’t be a good place for their special needs teenager.

Not every church or youth ministry of any size is able to perfectly accommodate and minister to any special need teenager that walks through their doors. However, there are a few things every church can–and should–do to be ready to love and serve students with special needs. Here’s a quick list:

Be ready to serve. A teenager with special needs and her family will be able to tell right off the bat if your church and youth ministry is willing to serve them or not. While you and I both know that a teenager with special needs matters just as much to God as anyone else, most special needs kids are treated as an outcast in one or more areas of their lives. And what did Jesus do with people that the world mistreated? He loved them with open arms. You may not be a doctor or have a degree in human development, but anyone can serve by welcoming someone with open arms.

Educate yourself about different kinds of disabilities. Thankfully, my wife is a walking library of how to serve kids with autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs, and she answers a ton of my questions. Find a good book on the topic, or better yet, get to know a special education teacher in your church. You don’t have to be an expert, but a little understanding can help you be a better youth worker to kids with special needs.

Show a little grace to parents. Before they found their way to your church, chances are that the parents of a special needs teenager have had less-than-ideal experiences in how schools, churches, or other organizations have treated their son or daughter. So, if a parent has a few more questions than you’re used to, or if they seem to be checking up on you a lot, that’s okay. They’re just trying to make sure their son or daughter is being taken care of.

Help them know Jesus. If the Bible is to believed, then God wants every human being to be reconciled to him through a relationship with Jesus (1 Timothy 2:4). The last time I checked, an IQ test was not a biblical requirement for learning about Jesus. If you take the extra time to help someone who might have a developmental delay or cognitive disability to know Jesus, you’re being faithful as a youth worker. One of the highlights of career as a youth pastor has been baptizing a special needs student who was more excited than anyone I’ve ever known to be baptized.

Integrate them into the ministry wherever possible. The answer to helping a group of special needs teenagers is not to give them their own small group. Help them be a part of your family by actually making them a part of your family. Get them in a small group. Let them lead in some way. Pair them up with another student to help them have a great time during your large group gathering.

Be flexible. Be willing to go out of your way to help a special needs teenager attend a retreat or be a part of a small group. You might even need to make an exception to one of your rules. Parents of special needs kids are used to being told “no” when it comes to things their kids can do. Go out of your way to find a way to able to tell them “yes.”

Remember, you don’t have to be an expert on working with teenagers with special needs to be able to make your youth ministry a welcoming place for them. You just need to be willing to serve and go the extra mile.

Benjer McVeigh serves as a pastor to students at Washington Heights Church in Ogden, Utah. He resides in Ogden with his wife, Jennifer, and his two daughters, Bethany and Samantha. He blogs at www.BenjerMcVeigh.com.



1. Have grace for yourself, and trust Christ IN you!
- When I focused on all the things I could have done better or the mistakes I made I became paralyzed and unable to minister to my students. I learned it was so important for me to have grace for myself and trust that God was bigger than that time I said too much, or didn’t say anything at all, and that He is in me, guiding and using me despite myself.
- Also, don’t be afraid to ask for advice! Talk to other leaders and pick their minds. The Lord has given us all different gifts. More than once I’ve found another leader’s approach to a certain topic helpful.

2. Meet the students where they’re at — full of grace.
- Over half my life group struggles with sex and drinking, BUT they keep coming to group. I try to challenge but never judge, and show them grace and love ALWAYS.

3. Be open and transparent about past struggles — with discretion, of course.
- The first time I met some of my girls was at Summer Camp. It wasn’t until later in the week when I opened up about my past relationships that the girls felt comfortable enough to let me in on the really difficult stuff they had been facing.

4. Hang out together outside of group.
- This helps foster community. The closer your students become as friends the easier it is for them to connect in your group on a deeper level. Even the students that wouldn’t normally bond find they enjoy each other’s company.

5. Hang out with your students one-on-one.
- This is where discipleship happens. In the beginning your students may be apprehensive so hang out two or three-on-one. This is where you have the chance to really hear their hearts and poor into them on a more personal level.

6. Encourage them and let them know you’re available.
- Never underestimate the power of a birthday card or a text letting them know they were missed when they didn’t show up for group that night!

Hope Schoen is an intern on the High School Ministry team at Saddleback Church.

I cannot believe I am about to enter my tenth year in student ministry. Time flies when you’re having fun! Of course, my time in ministry has had its highs and lows. Overall, however, it has been an incredible and exciting journey. By working with people everyday one gets to see the best and worst of humanity. There are moments when I see the change God is making in young people’s lives and I cannot imagine doing anything else. Yet, there are also times when teenagers break your heart by making a terrible choice or decision. Those are the times when you consider working for a bank.

One particular truth that has really helped during these moments is my belief in God’s prevenient grace (yes, I know that’s a big word for a youth minister to be using). This is the grace that goes before us. This is the grace that pursued us long before we accepted Christ. This is the grace which declares that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners!” God’s prevenient grace is the love that surrounds all humanity and stirs in us a deep longing for freedom from sin and moves us toward faith.

My deepening belief and trust in God’s prevenient grace has greatly impacted my ministry to students. I have realized over the years that the spiritual lives of teenagers are not in my hands. It is a great relief knowing that God has loved these young people much longer than I have. Furthermore, God has been working in their lives long before I ever met them. On one hand, understanding the beauty of prevenient grace removes some of the burden when my ministry is struggling. On the other hand, prevenient grace eliminates the temptation of pride when my ministry is going well. I am reminded that we, as youth ministers, are merely participants in God’s mission of redemption.

Brandon Dasinger has been working in student ministry since 2002 and is currently the student minister at the First United Methodist Church in Crestview, Florida.