Facial Intertia

The month is almost over, which means semi-psychotic shoppers who had way too much turkey being incredibly stupid to beat the rest of the half-crazed commerce corps to that greatest deal ever on that one gadget that will be completely unappreciated and probably forgotten by the spring thaw. (No, I’m not cynical at all, what are you talking about?) In happier news, it will also mean a merry end to all the No Shave November hoo hah.

I know most of the rest of the civilized parts of our nation have already forgotten that this was a thing, but we’re more than a little trend-challenged here, so No Shave November hasn’t become last week’s news yet. Young guys are sporting shaggy chins with pride for another week or so, but I have to admit – I don’t get it.

Is manhood really something to celebrate by letting the inertia of life just take over your face? Do we really think it means something that we can grow hair on our faces? (And if so, what does it mean when we can grow hair on our backs?) Is there some kind of statement being made in all of this? I have a suspicion, that culturally, it has something to do with guys trying to assert their manhood without having anyone to help them do so in a meaningful way. If you’re a man and you know you’re a man, would you do something to help a younger guy figure out how he can be one, too? Would you see, in the scratchy young faces of No Shave November, an invitation to mentor boys (even boys who can shave) as they learn the essence of manhood?

Near the beginning of the month, I quipped that guys should put down their moms’ mascara and stop pretending if no one had noticed their participation in the no shave lack of activity yet. Conversely guys, if they still haven’t noticed, either a) you’re kidding yourself about that peach fuzz, or b) you already had the hobo look nailed before the month began. Either way, being a man doesn’t have jack to do with facial hair.

What does it mean to be a man? Comment below with how you’d fill in this blank: “Being a man means ________________.”

What Do I Teach In Youth Ministry?

Image via DcJohn on flickr

I recently posted some thoughts about Teaching In Youth Ministry. I talked about personally not having good results using pre-packaged curriculum and summed up by saying that I basically try to pass on to my students what God is teaching me. That post wasn’t meant as a knock on curriculum writers. I don’t want to be arrogant and think that all my lessons are better than all of theirs. In fact, for the most part, I think they are providing valuable resources for those who are trying to teach youth in the church today. My approach is not the one that every youth leader should take. To raise the level of transparency a bit, I’ll say that my own questioning of whether it is even the way I should be doing things is part of what precipitated that post.

So, having said that, I want to share a framework I’ve used to answer the question, “What should I be teaching in my youth ministry?” I don’t offer this as a definitive scaffolding for other youth leaders to build on, but as a glimpse into my own heart and mind when it comes to teaching.

First and foremost, I consistently reinforce that it is not me and my teaching that students need. It is God – so the primary task I have when it comes to teaching is to answer the question, “Who is God?” Our spiritual development process starts with “revealing God to students”. He is the one who makes the transformation in their lives and mine. I often use the metaphor of Wind & Water to capture this concept. Wind and Water both shape the landscape around us, sometimes subtly over the course of many years, sometimes drastically and suddenly. My teaching needs to depend on His Spirit to blow away the layers of sediment already building up in young lives and on His life-giving Son to cause growth.

With that aim clear (to reveal God), there are 5 characteristics that I want my students to carry into life that I teach toward:

1. A permanent attitude of worship. Worship is not what we do a couple times a week when we’re with all our church friends – it’s the life we live. I want to teach my students to offer every moment and act of living to their Creator. I want to teach them to make Him their ‘magnificent obsession’ for all of life.

2. A kingdom view of the church and the world. As globally connected as we are, we can have a pretty narrow view of what’s going on in the church. I want to teach my students to look beyond our own front doors and labels to see what God is doing in His church all over this planet.

3. A passion for revealing God to people who don’t see Him. Just as I am not the change agent for my students, they are not the change agent for their friends, either. Their responsibility in evangelism is to let their friends see what God is doing in their lives. I want to teach them to notice His work and be able to point it out to people who don’t notice.

4. A commitment to local service as the church. It’s been too long that youth group was some side-light ministry of ‘big church’. We’ve mirrored our culture that pushes kids aside as the adult world busies itself with its own stuff, then wonders why they’re not ready for ‘the real world’ when they hit 18. In the church, we wonder why kids leave when they hit college. Often, they never really were connected to the church in the first place – only to the youth group. I teach my kids that if they’re disciples of Jesus, they are the church. Now. Are they complete? Mature? Fully formed? No, not yet. But then again… am I? Are you? I want my kids to know that all of us who have allied ourselves to Jesus and are living our lives in service to His mission are the church, young and old. They need to know they have a job to do now, and they need guidance in figuring out just what that is. The local church is a great context for doing that.

5. A desire for depth in their relationship with God. I don’t want my students’ relationship with God to depend on them getting a fresh dose of Scripture and some good worship music out of me once or twice a week. I want them to develop a hunger for His Word that’s only filled when they dig into it themselves. (I’ve found some of my most significant teaching moments have come as a direct result of my students poring over their Bibles, then coming together with questions that come up from what they’re reading.) I don’t just want to tell them to read their Bibles, but I need to help them understand what they’re reading, and even how to read it for the highest impact.

I know these 5 characteristics are a better representation of the intended outcomes of what I’m teaching than the actual content that I teach. But that’s kind of the point. When I find a passage or resource that can effectively move my students toward adopting one or more of these characteristics, that’s the content I’ll use.
As a youth pastor, I’d think this would be self-evident, but I’m not new at this… I know someone will question it, so let me just say that throughout my teaching toward all of these characteristics, the primary source of teaching material is the Bible (just as it is for any good Bible curriculum writer).

Question: What are you teaching toward? How do you decide what to teach?

Thoughts on Klout & Influence

Several months ago, I was invited into a beta of something called Klout. That may sound kind of cool and trendy, but I think it just means I write a blog and have a twitter account and Klout found my e-mail address somewhere. Regardless, it’s a site that aims to measure the amount of influence a person has online. By analyzing “pieces of content and connections” (2.7 billion of them each day), Klout formulates a person’s online influence.

I hesitantly decided to splash around in the Klout waters a little bit. I jumped in because I’m generally curious, plus I’m a sucker for something new and techno-social; but I was hesitant because it just seems weird to be trumpeting how much influence I have or don’t have. Self promotion has never felt right, even when the darker parts of me crave the adulation it brings from time to time. And self humiliation is something I’m already pretty good at and with which I don’t really need the help of another web site. Besides, if you have to tell everyone you’re influential to get them to listen to you, are you really that influential?

One of the interesting aspects of the Klout site is that they’ll designate certain topics in which you are most influential. There are a lot of different topics. A couple days ago, I received notice that my influence was being recognized in a new topic. Thinking of all the things that are important to me and that I blog or comment about, a list of possibilities flitting through my mind. But when the site loaded and I saw what the topic actually was, it was nowhere near my list of possibilities: Mascara. Yes, friends, it seems I am influential in the realm of mascara. It dawned on me that I’d made a flippant comment on twitter about boys trying too hard to make something of no-shave November that was re-tweeted by a couple guys (Thanks Drew & Robert). Because they repeated what I said, that must mean I’m influential, right? Ok, maybe not!

So anyway, I’m currently sporting a Klout score of 26, with a ‘conversational’ style, influencing 53 people (one of whom apparently clubs baby seals with sticks of kittens). But what the heck does that really mean? What does it really mean that I have 168 ‘followers’ on twitter? (It was 170 before I re-tweeted Rick Warren this afternoon, but that’s a whole other issue.)  What does it really mean that there are 531 people who ‘friended’ me on facebook?

What this really has me thinking about is the relationship between online connections and real life influence. There are people whom I know I heavily influence in some areas who will never show up on some websites radar. There are others who, according to the data, appear to be being influenced, but are they really?

What do you do with influence when it’s granted to you?

How do you handle influence?

What are the benefits and drawbacks of measuring influence?

Teaching In Youth Ministry

Image via DcJohn on flickr

I have a confession to make: Despite teaching students for 20 to 30 minutes every Wed. night and 45 minutes or so every Sunday morning, I haven’t used a youth ministry specific curriculum in a really long time. For that matter, outside of a 1 week curriculum that was provided at a conference (CIY Move) I haven’t used a pre-produced teaching curriculum of any kind for quite a while. It’s not that I’m a curriculum hater, or that there aren’t any good options (and there are TONS of options), but there are several ‘hangups’ I usually have (some of the problems are my own, some are not):

  1. The publishers and writers do not know my students. In writing lessons for an unknown audience, lesson writers are forced to keep things fairly vague and general. Sometimes so general that there just doesn’t seem to be much substance.
  2. I have a personal aversion to short-cuts. I can be guilty of re-inventing the wheel when it comes to teaching time, but I would rather wrestle with a tough passage and how to interpret it for my students than just parrot someone else’s thoughts. I don’t think I can really help my students effectively apply a lesson to their lives unless I’ve already applied it to my own – and often, a canned lesson offers a mechanism for trying to do just that.
  3. Often, there are better alternatives. One of the things that’s kind of prickly for me in the youth ministry world is the ‘youth edition’ of whatever the new thing is. Someone writes a great book, so let’s have someone else put together a replica that uses smaller words and video game illustrations and call it a youth ministry edition… Why not challenge our kids to struggle with the original if it’s something through which they’d grow? Are we really doing them any favors by ‘dumbing down’ what we really want them to know?

“So how do you know what to teach?” Without having a weekly topic decided for me, how do I decide what to teach? Thanks for asking…

As a rule of thumb, I teach what God is teaching me. At times, this may look a little haphazard, and it’s certainly a messy and difficult way of doing things. Every lesson is always “in process” and not quite finished – because I’m not quite finished. I’m ok with that because I don’t want my students to think I’ve got it all together and everything will someday be wrapped up in a nice little package for them like it seems to be for me (which is the impression sometimes left with pre-packed lesson plans). I want them to be engaging in a life-long pursuit of knowing God more fully.

There are some difficulties with doing things this way, though.

It’s too easy to wing it. If we’re working through a curriculum book and I’m not well prepared, it’s obvious. But after 12 years of ministry, I can stand in front of a room of students and buffalo my way through a lot of stuff if I have to. This is a dangerous place to be, because it lets me fake it if I don’t really have anything to say. Instead of winging it, I want to spend significant time in prayer begging God well ahead of time for something to deliver.

What if I’m not really learning anything or if what I’m learning isn’t really applicable to younger lives? This gets back to the last point a little bit; if I’m humbly asking God to use me, His grace is sufficient. He knows my students and knows my heart better than I do and wants them to know Him even more than I want them to know Him. I have to spend time seeking His heart for my life and my teaching. He’ll deliver. But if I’m not doing that, I won’t really have anything to say worth hearing.

I have to be vigilant to not get stuck on a few issues. All of us have pet issues that we like to pull out and pass on. Often, they are things that we are very passionate about and can be more easily taught that some other issues. These are ok, and we should teach about these things, but not exclusively. This is why, for the Sunday morning class that I teach, we have been walking through books of the Bible. The last 2 we’ve done have been Revelation and Acts. We go through verse by verse, week after week, talking about whatever those passages bring to light. Often, these issues are not things I would have naturally brought up myself, but are exactly what the class needs to hear. This approach also opens the door to talking about issues that are tough to bring up without seeming like I’m calling out specific individuals. Our rule is that if it’s in the text, we’ll talk about it.

There are some specific touch points that I seems to gravitate toward regularly in my teaching. These are foundational to everything else, and we can dig into that in another post. But for now, what are you teaching? More importantly, how do you decide what to teach?

Traditions & Alternatives

When I was growing up, “church tradition” was a term in my mind that had more to do with old habits from the 50’s and 60’s than anything from previous centuries. Singing verses 1, 3, & 4 in the old green hymnals (Did anyone else secretly feel bad for verse 2?)… Vacation Bible School and camp in the summer… Mercifully shipping off the kids to children’s church right before the sermon (that must’ve been so long and boring as to warrant our exodus)…

Most of what I thought of as traditional, I decided I didn’t like. I still have this propensity to dislike stuff that’s done just because ‘that’s what we do’, but I’m realizing that my problem isn’t really with tradition; it’s with pointless tradition. If you want to observe something traditional, that’s fine, but if you want me to participate with you I have to know why. I just cannot bring myself to get into something just because a bunch of other people like it – and have liked it for the last 30 years. Tell me “Why?”

But I’m also thinking today about another side of tradition. It’s a side where the point is not missed – a side where the reason still matters, and still shapes action. And here is where I’m finding myself a little dis-advantaged. In the big picture, is a practice that’s 30 or 40 or even 50 years old really worthy of the label ‘tradition’? The church has been around about 2000 years, so what we’re calling tradition is probably BRAND NEW! And in the eddies of independence in which most of my church family swims, our traditions often extend about as far as the nozzle on our self inflated floaties.

Yesterday and today are a great case in point. It’s become traditional in many church circles to have some kind of alternative to Halloween. So instead of staying home and connecting with our neighbors, we can all get together in a safe environment to have some safe Jesus fun together. It might be called a Fall Festival, or a Harvest Party, or even Jesusween (I didn’t make that up, it’s actually being used), but I wonder if this new tradition could be reshaped to be more than a means to duck & cover from the biggest pagan bomb in our culture? Could a deeper look at history offer us anything?

Enter November 1st. It’s just November 1 to most of the people I know, but for hundreds of years, this has been a huge day for the church: All Saints’ Day. A day to celebrate the church through the ages – to realize our connection with the ‘saints of old’ who are collected with us into that ‘great cloud of witnesses’. But, at least in the church circles I’ve lived in, All Saints Day was a tradition that had long ago lost it’s purpose, fell out of practice, and which is now collectively forgotten. (Check out this interesting article for more on All Saints’ Day then come back and let me know what you think.)

If we could recapture the purpose of Nov. 1, could Oct. 31 become more than something from which we think we have to hide? Could there be more to anticipate than a boat load of candy and sugar tainted dreams at the end of the night? I don’t really offer an answer here, because this is something I’m still wrestling with. And I don’t mean any disrespect to those who want an alternative to Halloween as it is. I just wonder if there’s a more meaningful alternative to the alternative we’ve come up with…