Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Rock

The final project for Youth Ministry Certification School 2002 was a 20-25 minute presentation that would be made to our congregational council.  The presentation would share what we had learned during the three-week intensive and would offer a proposal of how to incorporate those things into our particular context.  We shared our presentations with a small group of fellow youth ministers on our last day of class.  I used this Harry Chapin song to frame the presentation.

(Song lyrics here)

“What does this have to do with youth ministry?” was the universal reply from those gathered.  It’s a legitimate question, one that I didn’t adequately answer as a na├»ve, idealistic rookie. Eight years later, I’ve decided to take another stab at explaining The Rock’s implications for ministry.

It's important to consider how our enmeshed systems (a.k.a “churches”) respond to the everyday prophets in our midst.  I’m thinking, in particular, about leaders who receive new insights, inspiration, and education through required training.  Most ministry professionals attend conferences unveiling new styles of preaching and teaching, read new studies of shifts in religious culture, and meet with colleague groups to discuss how churches function in a local context.  

Ideally, these experiences are more than just intellectual and spiritual exercises.  They have the power to renew the entire congregation - and even the community - IF two things happen:

  1. Leaders effectively communicate what they've learned to a wide range of people in their congregation.  This requires multiple opportunities and platforms for sharing in a language that makes sense to their parishioners.
  2. Congregation members listen to what is shared, trust that the Spirit is opening new possibilities, and respond with enthusiasm and passion for trying something new.

I recently listened to The Rock and considered replacing "church" with "rock".  Doing this casts a dark cloud on how most established congregations respond to prophetic leadership.  By all measures, mainline congregations are in big trouble.  This is not a revelatory statement.  Denominations have steadily lost members and money for the last 30 years -- a period of time when the USA has grown by 35% and our gross domestic product (per capita) has increased 67%.  Most congregations see fewer than 40% of their members in worship on a weekend.  Of the faithful remnant, most are moralistic therapeutic deists with little Confessional or Scriptural understanding.  Millennials (people under 30) are increasingly becoming "spiritual but not religious" and not bothering to darken the doors of the big, beautiful buildings their parents and grandparents built.

Some would argue that this signifies the end of denominationalism...but I think it indicates something just as grim about congregationalism.  Regardless, I think it's fair to say that what we're doing isn't working like it should.  What's worse, a majority of people in churches aren't swayed.  Many of the over-50 crowd still see "their people" at church, so not only are they still getting their spiritual needs met by honoring traditions, but their relational circle is unaffected by the loss of young people or the lack of new faces.

Here's where the trouble starts.

If a congregation doesn't embrace prophetic suggestions, the ministry professional has two options.
  1. Stay the course even if it slowly leads to the demise of the church
  2. Bear the personal responsibility of being the change agent

Neither are good; the second is worse...and this is where The Rock starts to make sense.

The prophetic man does all he can to convince the people that the rock will eventually roll down the hill and destroy the town.  Frustrated by their rejection, he literally throws himself at the problem to save the town.  His sacrifice cost him his life, but the solution was only temporary.  There will be a day when the rock falls and the town will wish they had listen...but it will be too late.

Too many of our church leaders feel that it is their job to do change instead of inspire change in their congregation.  They do so at the cost of their sanity, wellness, and effectiveness...and it rarely produces long-term results.  The leader will eventually leave (or die) and the same grim reality will be staring down at the faithful remnant.

What we're doing isn't working. 

Will we have the courage / faith to listen to how God is speaking through the prophetic leaders in our midst and do what is necessary to renew our congregations as centers for ministry and mission?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Best Blogs

Youth Specialties recently posted their list of Top 20 Youth Ministry Blogs. I can't imagine the work it must have taken to compile such a list. It's a great list and a fantastic resource for people who want to see what's going on in the world of youth ministry. Naturally, there's plenty of discussion (especially in the article's comments section) about the process, the criteria, and the omissions.

My main beef with the YS list is that it provides a ranking of each blog instead of listing "popular youth ministry blogs". The list also includes the previous year's rank, so readers can see which blogs are getting better and which ones have remained stable or gotten worse. Adam McLane, one of the people who worked to create the list, is transparent for how they came to their conclusions (67% is derived from publicly available stats, 33% is an influence rank), and I don't doubt his authenticity. I just think that, when it comes to sharing ministry resources, we don't need to feed the culture of competition that creates winners and losers.

At the heart of the conversations about the YS blog list is the definition of a youth ministry blog. For example, I wouldn't consider to be a youth ministry blog, even though I am a congregational youth minister and occasionally share thoughts about church work. Some of the blogs on the YS list are almost exclusively written about youth ministry, though not all of the bloggers are full time youth ministers. Other blogs post a ton of free materials that can be replicated by fellow ministers, while still others are written by youth ministry veterans that talk mostly about personal things.

Part of the conversation is about purpose. Everyone has their own reason for starting a blog, but I think most people who write a public blog ultimately want people to read what they have to say. It doesn't matter if a blogger just wants a place to spout ideas, or they need a creative space to flesh out concepts for the next book, or if it's part of their job...bloggers want people to read their stuff.

With that in mind, I asked a few tech-savvy bloggers for their suggestions for how people can expand their network. Here's what they said:
  • Post new stuff regularly
  • Link to other sites you like
  • Discern your unique gifts to find your niche
  • Read, read, read other people's stuff
  • Claim your blog on Technorati (they give you a unique code - like this one K3Y9E86MF7T4 - to register your blog in their search engines)
  • Use tags / categories for your articles
  • Ask people to be "guest writers" once in a while
  • Do a multi-post topical series once in a while (like "7 People That Changes My Life")

It's fun to see how blogging has morphed in the past five years. I'm inspired by the people who faithfully update their websites with information, ideas, and resources that I can incorporate into my youth ministry settings. If you have other suggestions for how amateur bloggers can increase their readership, or if you want to suggest some blogs that might not have made the YS list, feel free to share them here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Pension Problems

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to read another round of Beth Lewis bashing over on Pretty Good Lutherans.  I submitted a few questions and comments at the end of the article, but was informed that they wouldn't be posted.  So I'll post them here.

Susan, your reply to Pastor Justin's comment raises some questions for me:
What do you mean when you say, "even if (Beth Lewis) is innocent of wrongdoing, she deserves to be taken to task." Why? She didn't make the decision to terminate the pension plan; the Board of Directors did. Furthermore, if she did nothing wrong, why does she need to be "taken to task"?
 If the Lutheran Magazine article contains inaccuracies, how does that demonstrate "courage in publishing a viewpoint that didn’t bow to the stance of the church executives"?
Why would we assume that Lewis is misrepresenting facts and state that she "has not operated in an open and transparent fashion with church members regarding the financial records of Augsburg Fortress"?
I'd love some additional insight.

It's important for me to clarify -- my unwillingness to vilify Beth Lewis should not be interpreted as apathy toward those who lost their pensions. There are good people and families that were hurt by the closure of the pension fund. Nobody should disregard their misfortune in the midst of the lawsuit. I also think, in the meantime, it's our obligation to pray, listen, study, and exercise patience, instead of assuming the worst in people.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Walking a Thin Line

Let's play an SAT-style buzzword comparison game...

Missional : Emerging Church
_______ : Youth Ministry

a) Chubby Bunny
b) Lock-Ins
c) Strong Coffee
d) Relational Ministry

The answer, of course, is (d).

Everyone is talking about relational ministry these days, and with good reason. With the growth of a communications platform that has increased the volume of our interaction with people and decreased the quality of these connections, young people are craving meaningful face-to-face relationships. The questions I continue to ask revolve around why? (purpose) and how? (praxis).

The poster boy of cerebral youth ministers and pomo-theologian, Dr. Andrew Root, has milked three excellent books out of the premise that relational ministry is about encountering Christ in "the other" with no pretense or agenda. He rejects the traditional notions of relational ministry as a means to an end -- attendance at youth group, for example -- and calls ministers to a level of authenticity that is both beautiful and terrifying. I, for one, am totally on board with Root's thesis and still find myself re-reading Revisiting Relational Ministry often.

So, assuming a Root-ian understanding of why?, I delve into the more difficult question of how?

There are two things that make me paranoid as a youth minister: boundaries and favoritism. These can be manifested in similar ways, but they are ultimately unique by the damage they can do to both student and adult. If an adult minister favors certain kids, it can hurt the feelings of those that feel left out of the "cool church kid crowd" (no, it's not an oxymoron). However, if the minister exhibits bad boundaries in the topics they discuss, in the locations they meet, in the amount of time they get together, or in their physical interaction, it can damage both the psychological development of the student and the livelihood of the minister.

I am cognisant of boundaries and favoritism in how I approach relational ministry...but, at times, I wonder how I'm doing at walking the thin line of healthy, effective relational ministry. So I'd like to invite a little koinonia conversation about how church folks can do relational ministry the "right" way. Feel free to share your ideas, stories, and questions.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mea Culpa

There's a sermon in here somewhere...

Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga is one out away from the 21st perfect game in MLB history. He covered 1st base on a slow infield grounder. He catches the ball and tags the base before the runner arrived. Umpire Jim Joyce called him SAFE!

After the game, Joyce watched the video replay. Overcome with emotion, he did something almost unheard of in the macho world of professional sports...he admitted his mistake. "It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the sh*t out of it. I just cost that kid a perfect game."

The next day, with Public Enemy #1 taking the field in Detroit as home plate umpire, Galarraga gives the lineup card Joyce and exchange a handshake. Joyce is reduced to tears.