For the past two years we’ve done a can food drive. We’ve done a battle of the grades and the sophomores won. So their prize was a music video. This is something that I love to do. And It was so much fun and it’s always great getting to create something with students!!!! I also had a student shoot and edit the video. Love creating opportunities for students to use their talents.

ac

stereotypes

I need to begin with context. Our ministry is a multi-site urban youth ministry. We work with a mix of “churched,” “unchurched,” “dechurched” and “overchurched” students. Our students are primarily African-American. My family and I have chosen to live in a neighborhood with some of the families that are a part of our ministry. That particular area happens to be a multi-ethnic community whose residents are primarily living under the poverty level. To be blunt we are known as the “white family” on the block.

At one of our small groups a couple of weeks ago we happened into a discussion that has left me thinking. One of my students made this statement:

“All white people are rich.”

I almost choked when 15 other High School students nodded their heads in unified agreement. I thought of the struggle to pay bills weekly in our own home, the one car we drive, and the “stuff” we don’t own. However, I also knew that many of these students didn’t have a car at all, and food in their cupboards is sometimes dwindling. My mind wandered to where this perception had been perpetuated.

“ALL is a strong word,” I said, “You do know we live three blocks from here?” (Intimating we live in the same neighborhoods they do, and they did not believe themselves to be rich.)

“Yeah, so,” was her response. I could see from the wheels turning that she knew we choose to live there. Even more so, it was her belief that at any point we could make a move to any other location, while she may never.

“ALL,” I pointed out once again is a strong word.

“When we start using that word we fail to see individuals.”  We talked about struggles, racism, and those who have fought for each student in that room to be able to truly be “anything” God has called them to be. I asked how many people in the room had cable or a flat screened television. All hands went up. I said, “We don’t, and this is a choice based on finances. As a matter of fact our television is 30 years old, and we have to use a pencil to turn it on.”  There was an audible gasp let out across the room, followed by perplexed looks. “Now don’t get me wrong,” I went on, “Our needs are met, however,  we are far from rich. My kids don’t get everything they want, and neither do we.”  We then talked honestly about barriers they might face that I might never know. I also let them know that Jesus came to overcome all of this. Their road might be difficult, however, this can’t be an excuse to give up now.

We talked about what a “stereotype” is. It is a negative over-exaggeration based on some common traits. In short, it takes the bad habits of “some” of a group of people and labels them “ALL.”  There are movies and television shows that perpetuate certain “stereotypes” based on our background and the color of our skin. There are others that are attached to our gender, size, hair color,  or geographic upbringing. Some of them make us laugh. Some of them we latch onto. However, I was struck with just how dangerous stereotypes can be.

For these students were using that statement as an excuse. They had already come to believe their lives were on track to be the same as most of those they knew. They would never attend college. They would exist day to day. They would struggle and be called “poor.”  Most of all they would be “stuck” in a life they hate, living in a place they despise and they would never have a way out.

“We can never know “ALL” people are any one thing,” I told them.”  They were shocked at the number of African Americans I am friends with who are married, living in suburbs and not struggling to put food on the table. I finished with letting them know it is about the willingness to get to know people and never looking at only the surface.

I got to thinking about when I was their age. I had made some connections and carried my own stereotypes:

“People in certain denominations weren’t really saved.”

“Kids from that side of town were “those” type of kids.”

“People from the north were ALL cold and indifferent,  people from the south were ALL shallow.”

I too used them as an excuse to not believe Christ can change everything.  I used them as a reason to never see or talk to certain people.  I used them as a reason to stay “stuck” existing in a box that couldn’t see the rest of the world.

Chew on this today. What are the stereotypes your students carry?

What are those we carry?

What will we do to stop using the word “ALL?”

Tomorrow, I would like to cover ways we can start a discussion to help students look at the stereotypes they carry and what we can do to help.



One of things I love to do is watch students use their gifts and abilities for the kingdom of God. I have a student who’s aspiring to do videos and photography on a larger scale. So I gave him the opportunity to shoot and edit this video for our weekend service. He did an awesome job and the students loved it. I spoke on the armor of God at youth group. So for an element of fun I did this video with my son. Just to give you some context: I played it while revealing the fact that I love old kung fu movies. Especially the really cheesy ones. Check it out!!!

So I thought I would write this post asking the question: what would it look like if you created areas in your ministry where students could use their gifts and abilities for the ministry?

The value is immeasurable when it comes to creating areas in your youth ministry where students can lead and serve using their gifts and abilities. Here are a few of the wins from doing just that:

  • A door into the ministry for students.
  • Easy way to get students connected to the ministry.
  • Easy way to build communities within the ministry.
  • Great serving opportunities for students.
  • Gives them a sense of ownership of the ministry.
  • Gives them confidence in themselves.
  • Shows that God cares about them using their gifts and abilities for spreading the gospel.
  • Brings value to the ministry in the eyes of the students.
  • It could draw more students to come see their friends.

Here are a few areas your students maybe gifted in or have the ability to do:

  • Making Videos
  • Photography
  • Music
  • Djing
  • Singing
  • Creative Brainstormers – you may have students in your youth group that love thinking up creative stuff.
  • Dance
  • Graphics
  • Serving
  • Stage Design
  • Planning Events
  • Cooking
  • Skate Boarding
  • Sports
  • Surfing
  • Doing Audio
  • Speaking
  • Writing
  • Researching

How does this look in your ministry?

Hope it helps

ac

Pizza Church

Leneita Fix —  August 15, 2013 — 8 Comments
Picture courtesty of Brothers' Pizza

Picture courtesty of Brothers’ Pizza

Recently my 7th grade son came up with what he felt would be a brilliant idea.  He is going to offer “Pizza Church.”  At the end of each service he will have and alter call. As he invites others into a relationship with Jesus there will be a Pizza down front.  If you come forward for prayer you get a slice or two.
While he was not serious, it did get me thinking about the “gimmicks” we use to get our students and their families to come to church.  Our answer is always another “program,” or “formula” to get people through the door.  We know it doesn’t keep them returning, yet we do it anyway.
So I thought I would offer other ways we can keep youth from NEVER coming back week after week:

Focus on “The Show”

By all means make the Pizza the star.  Kids like free food and that is the only reason why they would want to be a part of something bigger.  Make your youth environment one where they can slip in and out without being noticed.  Like any good concert or movie, make certain they are merely spectators.  After all if you have put on a good show then you feel  good about what you offered.

Avoid Authentic Relationships

There will always be the superstar student and the overtly needy student.  They will find us and we can go ahead and spend all of our time with them.  Never make time to get to know students, and of course avoid parents at all cost.  Assume all of your “good kids” are home schooled and all the “troubled” ones are unchurched.  Go ahead and even make time to see students in their latest sports endeavor or school activity.  Wave afterward or perhaps give them a high five, but never actually sit with anyone, find out their heart or ask them who they really are.

Make Assumptions

Never actually ask any of the families in your ministry what their needs are.   Do not under any circumstances ever hold a forum and brainstorm ways you can better serve your youth.  In a silo pick curriculum that reaches your student’s deepest issues.  It’s a media driven culture so they must want videos, movie clips or the latest and greatest idea.  You know what better yet they don’t even know what they want or need so you decide.

Lower the Bar

Our students are apathetic and lazy.  It’s best to not ask too much of them.  They couldn’t possibly want questions answered or to know the Bible in a deep way.  None of them even open up the Word at home so just push them to do less.  They don’t really want to be here anyway.  Make sure to never expect them to lead or do more,  this is very helpful.
As we laugh, how many of these do we do anyway?  How many has a “youth ministry culture” perpetuated even when we know they don’t work?  My 7th grader understands that “Pizza Church” might get them to the alter, but it doesn’t grow a deeper relationship with Christ.  Could we need to shift paradigms and learn to reach a generation that is genuinely hungering for more?
What are some ways we might ENGAGE youth and get them involved? What are YOU doing?

I would love to hear!



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We love you guys! Keep on keepin on.

- Amber Cassady aka The new girl aka AC

 

camping

Summertime can be a great way to build relationships with our students.  Missions trips, camp and the like build in the time to really hear the heart of our students.  It is not uncommon to have conversations in which students admit a frustration with life.  They are angry and they don’t even really know why.  In an article that TIME magazine wrote about angry youth they had this to say as to the reason why it happens, “The teenager is trying to grasp the responsibilities and freedoms that come with entering the second epoch of life — that between childhood and adulthood. His identity is fragile, and it can be inevitable that anger comes with that.”

The problem however is that very few 10- 17 year olds are mature enough to be able to talk about their feelings.  They just feel them.  I would equate it to that panic you get when you have a bad dream you think is real.  Your heart thumps,  you wake up in a cold sweat,  disoriented and confused.  Most  youth have that going on in the pit of their stomachs 95% of the time.

The anger and frustration is not the issue.  Learning what to do with it and how to identify it is where those of us with youth need to help.  Navigating the water before adulthood is complicated.  The opportunity to have a deep conversation in the summer is the perfect opportunity to talk this through.

How Can We Help?

 

1.  Teach Communication Skills

In our small groups and one on one times we need to teach youth how to listen.  Ask pointed questions that helps to draw out their feelings.  Teach them how to say things like, “When you say that it makes me feel…” Try mirroring with students,  they tell you a feeling you,  relate it back to them.  ”I’m ticked at my parents” says the youth.   You respond,  ”I hear you saying your parents make you angry.”

 

2.    Think the “Golden Rule.”

Treat others how you want to be treated is just another way of saying,  ”Love your neighbor as yourself.”    Help youth to think about what other people are feeling  (or could feel)  if they follow through on “acting out,”  in their anger or frustration.  Youth are not known for thinking through to consequences.   We need to be proactive in talking students through potential scenarios they might encounter,  so they are ready with a proper response.

 

3.  Train about Anger

The emotion is not a bad thing.  We all know that Jesus got angry.  It is how we respond that matters.  Bottling it up or throwing chairs are both improper responses.  Self-Control is a Fruit of the Spirit. Proverbs 14:17 tells us, “Short-tempered people do foolish things and schemers are hated.”  The way react to our anger is what sets us apart.  While exploding or back biting might feel good in the moment it actually might get you a reputation that brings you farther down the “popularity” ladder.

 

If we use these moments given, our students can begin to work through their emotions even in the midst of the adolescent struggle.



 

SAM_1656

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a couple of potential youth pastors/parents.  For different reasons both were praying/contemplating starting youth groups in their homes.  They had reached out to me to ask my opinion on the “way it should be set up.”    ”We’ve never done anything like this before, so we could use some guidance.”  they asked.  However, as we chatted it got me thinking about the unwritten “formula” that equals a “good” youth program:

  • Games (Boys need more intense time of play.)
  • Fun (The sillier the better.)
  • Food (Some would contend pizza is a must.)
  • Singing
  • Bible teaching (Usually involving one person standing in front of a group of students, telling them something about Jesus/the Bible/Christian living they can apply to their lives.)
  • Small groups/Object lessons/Videos optional

I got to thinking about how many of the “norms” of youth ministry often fail in my group of primarily urban/unchurched students.  The “funny videos,” usually flop.  They don’t tweet and only a handful use Facebook.  Boxed curriculum usually needs to be rewritten, and silly games don’t fly.  The reason why for all of these is a post all on its own.

My own three children hunger for something different.  In the past year they have visited numerous churches and youth programming.  When asked, “How was it?”   They have told me,  ”It was fun, but I didn’t learn anything.”  ”I was hoping some of  the hard questions would get answered.”  ”I really wish they didn’t just talk at me.”  ”We didn’t even open our Bibles.”

It’s not the formula is “bad” I just wonder if it’s working anymore?

I spoke with a youth pastor yesterday whose church just went through a year long readjustment process.  They took a step back and realized they were offering programming, but didn’t feel like people were being transformed in Christ.   The big question they asked was:  Are we meeting the people in OUR community at the core of THEIR need?  Isn’t this the way Jesus approached ministry as well?  Take a look at the Gospels.   He never performed the same miracle in the same way twice.  People were healed with a word, a touch, and mud just to name a few.  Lazarus was “healed” by dying first.

Why is it then when it comes to youth ministry we keep holding onto a formulaic model? (Yours might be different from above. However, if I asked what your youth min looks like would you describe a program?  Honestly,I probably would.)  I wonder if like Christ, if like my friend we might be willing to admit what isn’t working and start over.  The danger of course is  you will then come along and try to reproduce the “thing” that works for me.   Thus we will create a new formula.

However, I think we have to adopt the same question I heard yesterday, read it carefully:

“What will meet the needs of the people in My community, that I AM serving?” 

It could start with asking the people what they need.  For my friend’s church this has meant major renovations in their attitudes, approach and even their building. They have gone into the community with the purpose of offering service.  On way is to offer a good clean down (including gum scraping) at the local schools. Realizing VBS wasn’t meeting the needs of their community truly,  they instead decided to offer three consecutive family evenings in the park.  He admitted that this was way more work than anything else they have ever done. He also told me it was way more worth it as relationships are being built.

Now hear me, if the program and the “way” of youth ministry is working for your group, don’t change.   I am not suggesting you need to scrap VBS.  What I’m asking is will we stop making generalizations and genuinely take the time to see what the youth, the families, the people God has put in our path really need?

What are you doing in your group to challenge the formula?

 

 

 

 

 

2011-12-21_14-08-11_426

 

I was sure the shock and disappointment crossed my face visibly as Rita shared her news.  Her eyes were were puffy and red as she shared the story of her summer romance. Five different pregnancy tests and a doctor had confirmed her pregnancy suspicions,  as we sat together just two weeks before she was to leave for college. Rita had a free ride to the school of her choice.  She was bright and future focused. One ill thought out decision would alter her life forever. I wanted to have just the, “right thing to say,” as I could see she needed someone to  tell her it was all going to “be fine.”

I wish I could say I have perfected knowing all the answers to these tough situations.  I still struggle,  do you?

How do we react?

1.  Reality check:

There are students who make life altering choices.   At least Rita came to me for help and guidance.  This choice was not the direct result of something we did or did not do. We might have preached the most awesome sermon series or mentored her 7 days a week. Yes, we need to do these things.  It is up to us individually to decide whether or not to listen and follow Christ. If this is a student that you are really close to or have been mentoring, the sense of loss for the student can be great.  We may need to even grieve our own “hopes” for our students in PRIVATE.  This is normal. HOWEVER, do not put this pressure on the “Rita,” involved.  This is about them now, not us. Remember that the Lord can and will work in their lives. The Lord is not “done” with Rita at 16.

2.  Pray:

The greatest hurt came for me when a student who I had been discipling decided to run away and never look back.  There are times when our youth get off track and unlike Rita DON’T allow us to walk it out with them.  In these cases all we have is prayer.  Keep putting them in front of the Lord.  Allow Him to never stop interceding on their behalf.

3.  Love, Love, Love:

The hardest element in this story is Rrita just needed my love.  I am not saying we ignore the issue at hand, but let’s not forget what 1 Peter 4:8 tells us, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sin.” Love these kids, show them that Christ loves them. They need us to be that light to them right now. Again, they need to know- Rita needs to know- Jesus has not given up on her.

4. First Responders:

If we are the “first one” she tells what is going on we can’t keep it a secret. The parents must know.  We may offer to go with the youth to tell the family, but ultimately they are the ones that need to step in and help here. It is not our job to “judge” what the parent will or won’t do well in this situation.

 5. Ask For Help:

We aren’t called to “deflect,” responsibility with our youth, however,  we don’t always have the answers. There may need to be professionals,  other church members,  or leaders we reach out to assist with situations.  They may give us advice, or come in to provide a role we can’t with the youth.

These steps help us to remember that this life belongs to Jesus. No one is a “lost cause,” here. The Lord wants to redeem those he loves. Sometimes each of us get caught in our selfishness and forget to allow him to have control. However, as we tenderly extend the hand of our Lord, three lives will be changed… forever.

How do you reach out to students in these “wrong” life choices?