Archive for the Theology Category

.::Same Sex Marriage & Youth Ministry

Posted in adolescence, church, Ministry, Theology, youth ministry on June 30, 2015 by Walter

There have been terabytes of comments presenting both sides of this divisive debate. I have some of my own opinions on this, but I thought I would write this post from the possible perspective of a 15 year-old in our youth groups. What might they be noticing? What might they be hearing? What message are adults sending through this debate?

Here are just a few observations from my imaginary friend Chad who is a 15 year-old rising Junior in your youth group:

4teens_thumbnailLOVE>HATE? When I am at church I hear the preacher and the youth minister talk about how we are to live our life by a compass of love, but I don’t see much of that in the Christian responses I have been reading on Facebook and Twitter, even people at my church. Ought not our response be, “How can we do a better job of loving everyone regardless of their attraction?” I know this is a difficult issue, but can’t we err on the side of love? Hate is far to powerful of an emotion that easily takes refuge in our hearts.

DIVORCE vs. SAME SEX MARRIAGE: When you talk about the Bible and homosexuality, I am able to read similar language in the text about God’s attitude toward divorce. This confuses me a lot! Why aren’t you adults as outraged with it comes to divorce in our churches? It seems to me as though you rank different sin above others and this sends me a confusing message. I mean, I know of so many people in our church who have gone through a divorce, and we let them stay. I read in the Bible that God HATES divorce. I get that. You have no idea what kind of damage those divorces have had on my friends in youth group. I have one friend who spends half a week at one house and the other half at another. They hate it. It is brutal. You should hear them talk about how awful holidays are being split back and forth. I am NOT asking we kick out divorced people. I appreciate how we readily (and appropriately) offer love and support to those going through divorce. We need to keep doing this. But why can we not offer the same love and support with those with same sex attraction?

BEWARE! WE ARE ALREADY HERE: In case you don’t already know, a few of my friends in youth group have same sex attraction (Yes, CHURCH Youth group!). They haven’t told anyone over 18 years of age in our church because they think you will freak out and abandon them. This breaks my heart because in our late night discussions at camp (yes Bible Camp), we talk about these things when no adults are around. I hear their pain and loneliness. I know how much they NEED your support and your love but they don’t think they can get that because of what they are hearing in the hallways of church as you talk (and read what you post) about these topics.

IT IS JUST A MATTER OF TIME…BEFORE THEY ARE GONE: As soon as their moms and dads stop making them come to church they are gone. They have told me this firsthand. They are going to bail as fast as possible to other communities that will love and accept them for who they have chosen to be. I have a few friends that will stick around in church, but as soon as they lose the support they get from others in youth group or campus ministries, I know they are out of here. There is only so much rejection a person can take. I don’t blame them.

THE REAL ISSUE: LOVE : I don’t know, or really care about this issue. We also get the idea of Truth, God’s truth. We need that too. But please hear that what my friends and I do care about is if you all really care about ALL people…every single person. Do you care about PEOPLE more than ISSUES? We know that everyone in our church has their own sin they deal with. Some deal with gossiping, some are greedy, some look at porn, some are living together and aren’t married, I could go on, but I won’t. You get the point. We all have our junk. We see how you love and care for others with those other sins. We are looking CLOSELY at how you treat others different from you, because we see story after story after story of Jesus treating tax collectors, women caught in adultery, Samaritan women, and more lovingly, kindly, and compassionately. If you want us teenagers to be loving, we need to learn how to do that from YOU! If you want us to be divisive, sectarian, and hateful, we are going to have to learn how to do that from you as well. WE. ARE. WATCHING. YOU. CLOSELY!

BIG GOSPEL: The more and more I read the Bible. The more and more I experience powerful love in this youth group and church. The more and more I see God and Jesus through our worship times, the more I really believe this whole God thing. I know it to be true. I want it to be true. I have experienced it to be true. I KNOW The GOSPEL of CHRIST is big enough for us to deal with this lovingly and compassionately.

How big can this Good News be?
How far reaching can the Love of Christ really, reach?
Can God be as loving as I read about?
Can WE be love like we are called to be?
Do WE have enough faith to trust God on this one?

The World is watching US through this debate, can we please show them a vivid image of Jesus?

.::The Power Of The Subjunctive and Youth Ministry

Posted in adolescence, church, Ministry, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , on May 26, 2015 by Walter

There is both POWER and DANGER that is the subjunctive voice in grammar. The subjunctive is used to look into the past and talk about what COULD HAVE happened.  We use it in the future to talk about what MIGHT happen.  It is a time-space dream machine that can conjure alternate realities.

The PAST is regret and life lessons learned the hard way.

The FUTURE is HOPE and endless POSSIBILITY.

Rather than me tell you more about it, you might want to watch this amazing TED talk that describes it wonderfully (and interestingly)

I think about the use of the subjunctive in the arena of faith, I think about both the DANGER and HOPE that the subjunctive can provide for us.  Let’s look at both lenses:

THE PAST

The subjunctive in one’s faith is that stick we beat ourselves over the head with over and over and over.  Its the rear view mirror of life where we replay mistake after mistake.  It’s the: “I should have done such and such INSTEAD of so and so” <SUBEXT: I’m an idiot.  I’m a failure.>

It’s an, “If only I had…”

It’s regret…would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.

It’s crippling, debilitating.

It’s why Paul says, “I forget what lies behind…”

The only benefit of the past subjunctive is when we actually learn something helpful from the past.  The life lessons.  The wisdom we gain. The reminder to not enter those dark corners again.

Sadly, this is not what we usually do…we keep a detailed inventory of those mistakes and we do not let ourselves forget them. And we revisit them regularly, much to our demise.

This is also where in youth ministry we have tried to turn the screws of discipleship into the hearts of teens.  We revisit the problem of their adolescent mistakes and offer the handy solution of Christ.  It can be an easy transaction if we allow it to be.  If twisted hard enough, we can get dozens of altar call responses as well.

THE FUTURE

However, when the subjunctive is used for the future, it can fill us with a panoply of possibilities.  It is filled with HOPE.  This is the “What ifs?”

Its what is POSSIBLE.

It’s what MIGHT happen?

In our faith we can use the subjunctive to dream and to soar greater than we could imagine.  It is the business section of Barnes & Noble’s that contains book after book after book of how to succeed.  How to build the next big thing.

In youth ministry we can use the subjunctive to offer students endless possibilities of what their future can look like. We can help direct their gaze from the mistakes of their past to the redemption and reconciliation of the future.  If we are not careful though, we can present hoop after hoop that we call students to jump through if we do not contextualize it adequately.

BONUS LENS: THE PRESENT WITHOUT THE SUBJUNCTIVE 

However, the really interesting thing about this TED talk was that the speaker’s parents came from a culture whose language had NO subjunctive.  They were not weighed down with the question of “what if?” that the subjunctive presents.  They only knew the present and what IS.  As I contemplate that, I think about how potentially freeing that is.  To live in the present–fully.  You would not have to ever second guess yourself by asking, “What if?” You only lived in what IS?

Our students live in a culture where they have to jump through countless hoops on a daily basis in order to receive affirmation and acceptance from friends, teachers, coaches, youth ministers, and parents.  Over and over and over they are bombarded with subjunctive messages of you should be like this. What if you were like this? Over and over…its an endless array of message after message presenting a subjunctive future that isn’t filled with hope, but filled with expectation.  The hopeful “What if” easily gets distorted into a “Why aren’t you this?”

Perhaps youth ministry could learn something about doing away with some of our use of the subjunctive.  What if we allowed our students to simply experience the Risen Christ NOW?* Not how we think they should experience Jesus.

Could we simply share with students a message of “You. Are. Worthy.  Period.”?

No strings attached.

No hoops to jump through.

Just you.

Right here.

Right now.

 

No if’s

 

 

 

*(I understand the irony of using the subjunctive here to dream of a new possibility)

.:: A Prayer from Solitude for My Students

Posted in adolescence, disciplines, Prayer, spiritual disciplines, Theology with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2014 by Walter

One of the courses I teach is Spiritual Disciplines and a significant portion of that class is actually practicing the disciplines when it is feasible in class.  Today I got to share in practicing solitude with them as we dispersed across the green on campus and spent a hour in solitude on an amazing fall day.  Here is a prayer that I wrote for my students during this time:

My prayer for them is that they could be FULLY PRESENT with you God as we commune together in Solitude.

May the peace of Christ dwell in their hearts as they declutter their lives from the noise of the start of a busy week.

May they be taken to the dark parts of their souls and do the difficult work of self-reflection.

May they see you God in the delicate beauty of Autumn that is breaking through.

May their souls be still.

May they be taken from loneliness to intimacy as they experience Your Presence.

May the warmth of the Autumn sun be a gift and reminder of Your Grace.

Father, they are so busy-they had tremendous amounts of stress bearing down upon them–please come near to them in this time.

Give HOPE to those struggling with classes, grades, homework.

Give PEACE to those with problems with family, friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, roommates.

Give HEALING to those with health issues and medical problems.

Give RELEASE to those with financial struggles, job schedule issues, and those who need just another hour in their day.

As they encounter Your Presence in solitude whisper into their souls that You are Fully Present with them.

Theo and YM Audio Files

Posted in adolescence, church, Ministry, spiritual disciplines, Teaching, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , , , on August 19, 2014 by Walter

There are many who have requested the MP3s of the general session and break out sessions from Lipscomb University’s Youth Ministry Conference, “Theology & Youth Ministry.”(Links below)  It was a great day where over 130 youth workers, students, and church leaders gathered to wrestle with the large idea of “Why?” Theology demands that we ask “WHY?” of all we do in our ministry.  Please set aside March 3, 2015 for our next conference—We will give more details soon on this.

It was great getting to hear from the following speakers:


Andrew Root, PhD.
@RootAndrew

Andrew-Root-BIOPhoto-1Andrew Root, PhD (Princeton Theological Seminary) is the Olson Baalson Associate Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary. He is the author of The Relational Pastor (IVP, 2013) as well as a four book series with Zondervan called A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry (titles include Taking Theology to Youth Ministry, Taking the Cross to Youth Ministry, Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry, and Unlocking Mission and Eschatology in Youth Ministry).  He is also the author of the 2012 Christianity Today Book of Merit award for The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry (with Kenda Creasy Dean, IVP, 2011).   Andy has worked in congregations, parachurch ministries, and social service programs. He lives in St. Paul with his wife Kara, two children, Owen and Maisy, and their two dogs. When not reading, writing, or teaching, Andy spends far too much time watching TV and movies.


Lauren Smelser White

LaurenLauren holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English from Harding and Abilene Christian Universities (respectively); she also has a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Vanderbilt University, where she is currently a third-year doctoral student in Theological Studies and a Fellow in Theology and Practice. Her work focuses on the intersections of systematic theology and literary theory so as to think critically about the overlap of scriptural interpretation, spiritual formation, and revelation. Practically speaking, she is interested in resourcing the Christian tradition and imagination to aid conservative Christians in developing renewed yet scripturally-faithful understandings of religious pluralism, gender roles, and relations with secular culture. Lauren and her husband Jason are excitedly anticipating the birth of their first child, a girl, in early May.

BREAKOUT SPEAKERS

Chris Gonzalez, PhD @FajitaBoy  

ChrisChris Gonzalez is the husband of one wife, the father of two teens and is a believer in all youth. His career has taken a winding path through teaching 7th grade English in public schools, youth ministry in a local church, and marriage and family therapy in a small non-profit – with the common thread being engagement with youth. He did his doctoral studies in Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota studying Positive Youth Development. His current research project is to study Positive Youth Development with former child slaves in Ghana. His current position is director of the Marriage and Family Therapy masters program at Lipscomb University.

George Goldman, PhD @goldmange

GEGeorge has taught in the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb since 1998 and currently serves as the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Bible. George has a Ph.D. in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, an M.Div. from Harding Graduate School and an M.A. and B.A. from Lipscomb. He is a part-time campus minister at Vanderbilt, and often teaches Bible classes at the Otter Creek Church of Christ. George is married to Wendy and they have two daughters, Shannon (16) and Lauren (14), and one son Nathan (5).

CLICK HERE FOR GENERAL SESSIONS: https://app.box.com/s/tz5frul9rwo86zo49bdr

CLICK HERE FOR BREAKOUTS SESSIONS: https://app.box.com/s/4gvwsx8gimmmzavvwrwi

First Day of School Prayer!

Posted in Teaching, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , on August 16, 2014 by Walter

IMG_0405.PNGToday is the first day of classes for Lipscomb.  The first day of a school year is always pregnant with hope. Hope that this will be a better year. Hope that students will stay on top of their homework and reading. Hope that things will be different…better.  Here is a prayer for my students:

Father as we enter a new academic year I invite You to be impossible to ignore in the classroom.  May students see Your Creativity in the wonder of discovery as students are introduced to new ideas and concepts.

I praise You for the minds that want to be pushed, prodded, filled and challenged.  May they see You in the new information, discoveries, knowledge and wisdom.

I praise You for the relationships that will be formed between student and teacher.  May they begin a journey  of learning together that lasts a lifetime.

For those students that will experience loss, grief, struggle, discouragement, and doubt, will you send an extra measure of comfort and peace into their souls?  Please send teachers and classmates around those who are hurting to offer compassion and support.

May we all recognize that the classroom is truly Holy Ground.  May we see something transcendant when teacher and student gather together to seek knowledge and understand the extraordinary and truly awesome privilege it is to study in an institution of higher learning such as Lipscomb.  May we not take for granted the blessing that literally billions of others on earth would like.  Give us the discipline and self-control to take in all that this academic year has to offer in our readings, classes, activities, discussions, seminars, labs, and more have to offer.  

May You illuminate us with the light of knowledge and may that Truth we discern and discover this year set us free to help those who are oppressed, needy, hungry, naked, and lost.

Give my students the wisdom to know the meaning and purpose of their lives and learning so their knowledge, skills and gifts be able to make Your Kingdom a better place for your greater glory.

Grant me patience for the students who need that little bit extra.  Give me the ability to be fully present for every class, lecture, conversation and office meeting so that I can serve those around me in the best way possible.

May I learn more from my students than I have ever before and grant me new perspectives to places that have become overly familiar.  

May we be able to look back at this year and be able to undeniably praise You for all the growth that we have experienced through this year.

Amen.

 

.::Faith-Forward Conference

Posted in adolescence, Parenting Teens, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , , on August 15, 2014 by Walter

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 4.21.22 PMA few years back I was on Twitter and started seeing all sorts of posts from a conference that was called, ““Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity.”  I was disappointed that I had missed any promotion of it.  Well CYANKC was rebranded Faith Forward.  I had the privilege to present a session at the conference this past May as it was held here in Nashville.  It was one of the highlights of my conference-going (and I have been to a lot of conferences!)  During the three day conference fresh ideas swirled around session after session, but there were several things that remained at the core of Faith Forward:

  • Children and Youth Ministers Gathered for Collaboration–So often we tend to operate in silos unaware of what the other is doing.  Collaboration is so vital for success.  The diversity of people Faith Forward has brought together was one of my favorite parts of this conference.  I got to meet and network with people from countless backgrounds with amazing ideas that helped sharpen me.
  • A Refocusing on Family Connection to Ministry–Student ministries have left out mom and dad and other generations for far too long.  It is refreshing to see intergenerational, family ministry discussion come into the main stream conversation.  Faith forward has brought people like Brian Mclaren, Tony  Campolo and Phyllis Tickle to speak on this vital issue for the church.
  • A BIG emphasis on Theology…bringing the question of “Why?” to our ministries–Youth Ministry needs to be able to answer the question of “Why?” in order to take our families to the depths that are available to us in Christ.  Faith Forward is bringing some great theologians together to share their work.

If you are looking for a conference that is fresh and full of new ideas to give you vision and substance, then I would recommend that you consider attending Faith Forward in 2015 in Chicago.

.::Liturgy:Ritual as Adolescent Faith Formation

Posted in adolescence, church, Liturgy, Ministry, rant, spiritual disciplines, Teaching, Theology, youth ministry on May 14, 2012 by Walter

I grew up Catholic and the ritual of liturgy sometimes bored me, but many times it fascinated me, it educated me and it comforted me. I remember being bored many times by the repetitive nature of liturgy . . . saying the same thing week after week. This is only natural for a middle school kid who was fidgeting in an uncomfortable pew and a more uncomfortable polyester three piece light blue suit struggle just to stay awake, much less pay attention.

However, there were times when I caught a glimpse of the Divine. Those moments when the liturgy pointed to the Mystery of Faith. It was during those seasons where I understood at a rudimentary level that there was something Holy happening. . . that this was not just another week where we were repeating the same thing over and over. It was as if someone had poked me in my side between the 5th and 6th ribs and whispered intently in my ear, “Pay attention, this is important.” And I listened like I had never listened before. I may not have fully comprehended it. I may not have understood all the language. But I undoubtedly knew God was there.

It is through ritual and liturgy that we encounter the Divine in the ordinary.

Many years later, one Christmas Eve, I was watching Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s on television when my wife noticed that I was reciting the liturgy alongside Pope John Paul II. Somewhere in my adolescence, the words of the Mass had somehow become part of me. I took extreme comfort in this. In that moment I recognized another dynamic of my participation in The Church.

What does this have to do with Youth Ministry?

I spend a great deal of time in our introductory ministry courses exposing our students to the wonder and mystery and need for liturgy in the life of our churches. I let them peek over the wall to the other side of the Christian Tradition in order to get a glimpse of formal liturgy. We discuss how we all have liturgy, some more formal than others. We have three songs and a prayer, others have The Book of Common Prayer. We have potlucks & friend days, others have Ash Wednesday & Advent. We sometimes speak in plain language that is accessible, humble and approachable. Others speak in carefully worded language borrowed from generations past and deeply rooted in scripture that is deep, holy and divine.

BOTH ARE NEEDED.

BOTH ARE IMPORTANT.

Ivy Beckwith defines ritual as, “something we do over and over again as a way to remember or reinforce the values the ritual represents.”1 In modern youth ministry, we have segmented our young people off from the larger church body to such a degree that I think they might be missing out on the rich heritage that exists in the ritual of our faith communities. We have worked so hard to be so innovative with our young people we have tossed aside the story of who we are with our teens and they have missed a significant part of the spiritual formation–their identity.

Might we have been so innovative, so fragmented, so segregated, that they have missed out on the metanarrative of who are are? Might this be one of the reasons that they wander off from the church when they graduate youth group? Maybe our students do not possess and understanding of WHO they are in the midst of the larger, broader Christian community because they have missed out on the ritual and liturgy that lives out the story of our identity.

What are the things our youth ministries and churches are doing over and over and over again?

What values are those reinforcing?

What Identities are they forming?

What stories are they telling?

We need to have our students participate in and with the larger church’s liturgy. We need to be available to answer their questions of, “What does this mean? What is going on here?” They need to hear and experience the stories that the liturgy lives out in the midst of community.

1 Beckwith, Ivy. Formational Children’s Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story, Ritual, and Relationship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010. 21