ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Category: Youth Ministry (Page 2 of 4)

Called to Include

The smell of Central American coffee was rich in the air.  The roar of the blenders making smoothies filled the small coffee shop.  High school students were slowly gathering in for their Thursday night ritual of coffee, cookies, smoothies, and Jesus.  Andrew had been working as the youth minister at a small mainline Protestant church for a number of years.  This small group of high school students had just started meeting at a local coffee shop recently.  The owners of the shop had graciously allowed Andrew’s students to meet in the back of the coffee shop where sofas had been set up.

The high school students were scattered on the sofas, some were on the floor, and others had pulled chairs over.  Then, Mike walked in.  Mike was a freshman in high school.  Middle school had not been good to him.  He had been picked on, teased, bullied, beat up, face stuffed in lockers.  You name it, it most likely happened to Mike.  Mike was a tall and skinny guy, but he walked slummed over as if an old man beaten down by age.  He found a space on one of the sofas, and slouched down into the sofa with his long legs extending higher into the air than his head.

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We held a fundraiser at our church for the Youth Mission Fund where the congregation could “vote” for someone’s yard (choosing from four people) to get flocked with flamingos by the youth. Their votes were in dollars. The person with the most “votes” won the flocking. Well, I won this year, and here is the flocking:

Noah: Discussion Questions

ark4As I’m been working on collecting my thoughts and reading other thoughts about the new film Noah, the Christian educator in me wrote out some questions. I’m sharing them here for those who are looking for such a resource. As a Christian educator, I should tell you, if you use these questions, don’t feel like you have to use them all. If anything, let the questions be a guide to having a conversation around the themes presented in the film.

Noah Discussion Questions

1. Which of the characters, as they are presented in the film, did you relate to the most? In what ways?

2. There is a lot of longing for communication with God in the film. How have you experienced (or not experienced) communication with God? What was that like?

3. In the film, God communicates with Noah through a dream. How has God traditionally communicated with the Church?

4. His father tells Noah about the tradition that has been handed down regarding caring for God’s creation. How is this a part of your faith tradition? How do you feel about humanity’s responsibility for caring for creation?

5. The film depicts the results of sin and wickedness through the barrenness of the earth. In what ways have you seen sin and wickedness depicted in prayers, hymns, or other forms of faith tradition?

6. Use this chart to compare the Biblical narrative with the film. Discuss how the filmmakers depicted different parts of the story.

7. There were a number of added scenes that were not recorded in Genesis. For example, the Bible does not communicate what happened on the ark through all the rain and floating. The filmmakers make an attempt to fill in that gap. What do you imagine may have happened on the ark? If you were one of Noah’s family members, what would it have been like for you?

8. One of the Watchers comes to Noah in the middle of the night to help him and his family get to Grandfather. Why do you think he came at night to help him? In what ways is this Watcher like Nicodemus (John 3)?

9. When Noah is describing his dream from God, he tells his Grandfather, “I saw death and new life.” How does this statement summarize Christian theology?

10. The first animals that are sent to the ark are doves. What do you think the significance of that is?

11. Ila, the girl Noah adopts and who will become Shem’s wife, is barren at first. Note other women in the Bible who were barren (at first). What similarities are they between them and Ila? What does barrenness symbolize in the spiritual life?

12. Noah changes in the film. At what point does this change happen and how does it affect him and his relationships?

13. What significant changes have happened in your life that has affected you and your relationships?

14. Noah and his wife have a conversation where Noah says that there is wickedness in all of us. His wife counters that there is goodness in us. How does this relate to the debate over original sin?

15. In what ways is Noah’s wife like the persistent widow in Luke 13?

16. In the battle scene, the Watchers one by one return to the Creator. What form do they take when they return to the Creator? How is this redemption?

17. While on the ark, Noah tells his family the story of creation. Temptation is symbolized by a black snake coming out of a green snake, living the skin behind. The fruit of the tree, beats like a human heart. A shadowed figure of Cain kills his shadowed figure of Abel. These images are shown throughout the film. Talk about each symbol and how it is significant to the Christian Story.

18. When Noah finds out that Ila is pregnant, he holds true to his task of destroying humanity. Why is Noah so certain that God has called him to destroy all of humanity?

19. Noah walks out of the ark and cries to God, “Why do you not answer me?” When have you had days like that? Why do you think God seems so silent at times?

20. After the ark finds dry ground, how has Noah changed? If you had such an intense experience, how would you have changed?

God Has a Purpose For You

purpose_10509cThis week I’ve stumbled upon some well written blogs by young people pondering faith in their life. Some are searching for purpose in the midst of it all. Others are ready to give up and turn away from this God figure and this thing called faith. One is bravely stepping out onto the bridge of doubt, asking questions about what he believes and why. Another honestly shares about her eating disorder and how Sundays are the hardest days of the week.

It is hard, at times, to acknowledge that God has a purpose for you. Buried deep inside each of us, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians, is a treasure. This treasure was placed in us by God. What I hear in the blog posts I found this week are voices trying hard to find the treasure within. They are rejecting conformity, which is what the Bible says to do (see Romans 12:2). Yet, they too often do not find or feel support of that from their communities of faith. Which saddens me deeply, for these communities are not fulfilling their purpose of discipleship.

I’m not going to sit here and be one of those Christian guys who tells you that life is going to be perfect if we just accept that God has a purpose for us. Yes, God has a purpose for you. But what is it? What isn’t the right question to ask. I think the better question is, “How do we know what it is?” Discerning, or figuring out, what God’s purpose for us is is not easy. It’s hard! It’s challenging! And sometimes, it’s not fun. In the midst of all of the promises Jesus made, there is one he did not make. He never promised that this thing called being a disciple – being a Jesus follower – would be easy.

So, how do we discern what God’s purpose for us is? In a word: prayer. As we spend time with God through spiritual disciplines or practices like daily devotions, journaling, mediation, and prayer, we begin to discern God’s purpose for us.

When I was a teenager it pissed me off when adults would say that we were the church of the future, like it was some attraction at Walt Disney World. It bugs me still when adults say that about teenagers and young people. You are not the church of the future, you are the church of right now. And I believe strongly that not only does God have a purpose for you, but God has a purpose for you in a community of faith. Partipicate in worship leadership. Lead a service project. Serve on a committee. The church needs you. I’ve been to a lot of church meetings, believe me when I say it, the church needs you.

As teenagers and young people, you have a voice that the Church needs to hear. You have a voice and insight that will make the church stronger and more faithful. To those young bloggers I’ve read this week, God has a purpose for you and it easily may be what you are doing now. So I thank you for your voices. Thank you for being brave enough to share where you are and how the church is or is not apart of that. We need to to hear it. We need to have our eyes opened to the world around us. We need you.

Young Leaders in the Church(*)

“Be the change you wanna see!” the Newsboys rocked out at a Christian Rock Festival one summer.  The church youth groups were spread out through the stadium seating around the green lawn, and yelled and cheered with excitement.  This is how they felt.  This band understood how they think about the church.  Their energy was around being the change, not talking about the change.

Of course, Newsboys wasn’t the first to say we should “be the change.”  Gandhi is most often quoted saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  And we’ve done with that what we do with most quotes we think are truly awesome: we plaster it everywhere imaginable.  Bumper stickers: check.  T-shirts: check.  Mugs: check.  Magnets: check.

But are we really being the change?

One of the greatest complaints that young people have about the church is that the church does not walk its talk.  The church, through the eyes of many young people, is not faithfully being the change.  The reality is that the church is situated on prime real estate for not just being the change, but for nurturing young people to be leaders of change in the world.

Nurturing young people to be leaders of change involves empowering them to be themselves. Whether is it adolescents or college students, they are on a journey of self-discovery developmentally.  They are doing the same spiritually, and the church needs to be a safe place for them to be who they are, when they are, because they are.  This means that we in the church need to receive each young person with open hearts and open minds.  We need to accept them for who they are.  We need to look pass the flip-flops in church, holey jeans, and random pop culture t-shirts, and hear their voices.

By hearing their voices, I mean listening deeply to what young people have to say, because they have a lot to say about a lot of things they see around them.  Dori Baker and Joyce Ann Mercer remind us in their book Lives to Offer that “young people today are concerned about the deep wounds of the world” (page 25).  Young people have insights and opinions that are worth listening to and worth taking the risk of putting these opinions into action.  It means being flexible with our own ideas, giving up some of the decision-making that we in the church tend to hold on to, and giving it over to the young people.

There is a saying that the young people are the church of tomorrow.  Friends, young people are the church of right now.  Leadership development of young people is not for the church to exist in the future.  Rather, developing young leaders is a partnership for the church today; a partnership that nurtures change in the world. The church learns just as much from young people as young people learn from the church.  This kind of partnership opens the door for intentional intergenerational opportunities, where mentoring happens.

About fifteen years ago, while working in children’s ministry, the third to fifth graders were pen pals with older adults in the congregation.  One of the third grade boys and one of the older men formed a close mentoring relationship that resulted in them working together in leading others in the children’s ministry to plant a community garden.  The harvest from that small garden was used to make a difference to the hungry families in the community.  This act of mission succeeded all because a third grader saw a need.

A high school student returned from a mission trip to Central America with a heavy heart as she remembered the children she had met who had so little to eat.  As she transitioned back into normal high school life of school, dance practices, exams, and lunch tables, she could not shake the image of children sitting alone in dusty shacks waiting for a few pieces of rice and bread at the end of the day.  She pulled a number of people from the mission trip together and she spear-headed a project called Feed Diques.  Now over fifty children get at least one hot, nurtritious meal a week because this high schooler saw a need.

Why is this kind of partnership so important to the church?  Because the way in which young people vision the church is a new and hopeful vision compared to the way we have always done church.

(*) Originally published in the Virginia United Methodist Advocate, June 2013 issue.

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