Archive for youth

.::Discovery as Faith Journey

Posted in adolescence, church, Life, Ministry, Teaching, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2012 by Walter

“People are better persuaded by the reasons they themselves discover than by those which have come into the mind of others.”

–Blaise Pascal

I came across this quote during a class on mediation I am taking this semester.  The goal of mediation it to help two parties who are in conflict come to a decision or solution on their own terms as opposed to having a third party make the decision for them.  In other words, a mediator is there to help them discover information rather the tell them what they need to know.  This got me thinking about how youth ministers and parents can become more of trail guides for teens and less of indoctrinators?

Again, this is an integral part of the adolescent process where students need to know that their choices matter.  Discovery for a teen gives them and their lives meaning.  You have heard the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water . . . but you can’t make them drink.”  As we work with teens we do need to give them tools and opportunities to discover for themselves.  Truth be told, I much prefer to tell teens what I think they need to hear rather than give them the freedom to discover truth for themselves . . . after all aren’t I the expert?(sarcasm)

I think this concept has several applications in the way we might do ministry:

  • Let students have substantive opportunities to learn Truth for themselves:  ALL of the best research out there* that is asking why young adults leave church or what keeps teens in the faith point to the fact of whether or not they had a safe environment to express doubt.  Do our ministries provide sanctuary where teens are allowed to express doubt and differing opinions on faith, God’s existence, sex, social justice, poverty, homosexuality, and other dangerous topics?  Another way of asking this question is to answer, “What are the topics that are ‘off limits’ in our church?”–Let’s talk about those. . . not to be controversial, but to give voice to those issues that are probably on the hearts and minds of our young people.
  • Do students leave our teaching with more Answers or more Questions?  I believe a good education gives you the tools to ask more and better questions rather than simply delivering the answer.  “The Bible says is, I believe it, That settles it.”  Is an attitude we may need to depart from in order to give our students the space and ability to ask difficult questions of faith, religion, the Biblical text, and more.  What kinds of tools are we giving our students that allow them to investigate and journey in their faith that will guide them to answers as opposed to spoon-feeding them with answers?
  • Can we say “I don’t know”?  Is our own faith as leaders big enough to have the confidence to appropriately express our own doubts and still allow God to reign?  Do we have to have an answer for everyquestion that comes up or can we simply say, “I don’t know.”  I am not professing allegiance to a blind, uninformed faith.  Rather, I think being able to say, “I don’t have every answer, but I am still searching” is far more authentic and communicates Truth better than a weakly formed, proof-texted apologetic.  Look at Paul’s own struggles with doubt in Romans 7.  Surely, if Paul is wrestling with these issues at the end of his ministry, surely we have the freedom (or necessity) to have our own doubts?

Those are just a few ideas…any others?  I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section…

*For more see Sticky Faith by Kara Powell, Soul Searching by Christian Smith, You Lost Me by Dave Kinnaman.

.:Dirt Community

Posted in adolescence, church, Ministry, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , , , on November 7, 2011 by Walter

Community is the fertile soil in which we can experience grace.

Confession time: I have far too often in my ministry leant too far on the side of truth. What I mean is that I have really wanted to get to the depth of ministry, faith, study and worship and felt little inclination to focus too much on the community side. I have a fear that I have far too little time with students that I want to cram all the important things in in the few hours I get with them a week. I think that if we spent 15 minutes just, “hanging out” that we are wasting time. But that isn’t true.

Community is the fertile soil in which we can experience grace.

If there is no community, then our students don’t feel that safe haven. . . That refuge. . .That sanctuary. . . Where they can be themselves. A place where they feel like they don’t have to put on a façade to impress or fit in with others. Without this culture of community and safety, then the message of the gospel falls on deaf ears. Belonging precedes grace.

Look at Jesus. Jesus offered belonging far before he expected them to behave in certain ways. I believe this is to fertilize the soil of community and belonging so that those He encounters can truly experience the grace and love and mercy He offers.

We have to remember that one of the main tasks of adolescence is to find a place of belonging. To know where they fit in. This is one of the markers of adulthood. In other words, as an adult I know I don’t have to act a certain way in order for people to get to like me.

So I look to the ten to fifteen minutes we spend before youth group “hanging out” and “wasting time” as an integral part of our programming.

But there is a warning we have to heed, for the opposite is also true. Bad community is toxic soil that that can kill a student’s opportunity to experience grace.

I imagine a junior high girl trying to find a peer to just give her the time of day before a youth group class. Ten minutes of getting ignored feels like an hour to her. By the time her class starts, she will spend the remainder of class doubting herself, wondering what is wrong with her, questioning her worth instead of experiencing God’s grace that is being proclaimed. Furthermore, she may also actually DOUBT that God’s grace with worth ANYTHING if she hasn’t experienced community in those ten minutes before class.  Therefore, we must have a corps of volunteers who are vigilant to look out and make sure EVERY student is being draw into community.  If we simply rely on her peers, chance are, they will fail her.  Therefore we MUST have an army of other adults who have the sensitivity to reach out as well as be available to students.  These adults must be drawn from a variety of backgrounds, age groups, genders, socio-economic demographics, skin colors, etc. in order for every student to have a few options to go to.  In other words, lets not just draw from the twenty something hipsters in our churches.  We need spiritual moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents as well as big brothers and big sisters who will till the soil of community and create a fertile garden for grace to grow.

.::Identity Pt. II: A Theology of Identity and Adolescence

Posted in disciplines, Ministry, spiritual disciplines, Teaching, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2010 by Walter

Yesterday we talked about how one of the main tasks of adolescence it to answer the question of Identity.  Unfortunately, many students try to answer that with meaningless or shallow externals like relationships, clothing brands, extracurricular activities or certain behaviors.  Today we want to talk about a theology of identity as it directly relates to the adolescent.  In other words, what is a biblical interpretation of a proper orientation of identity that an adolescent (and their supporting adults) can work from?

No theology of Identity is complete without looking at the Creation accounts of Genesis.  Genesis 1 describes the creation of humanity in a very interesting and important manner:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created humanity in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Gen 1:26-27

What are some basic principles that adolescent can take from this passage?  First and foremost, we must remember and affirm that:

Adolescents are created in the imago dei, Image of God. If there is one thing that adolescents struggle with the most as they try to answer “Who am I?” is that they don’t feel as if they possess any value, that they aren’t unique or that they aren’t special.  The pressures that adolescents get to perform, achieve, stand out, etc. are immeasurable when one takes into account the increasing pressure to get into an elite university, to preform on an outstanding team, to earn a perfect GPA, to become the next musical prodigy, to star in the next Broadway show or to become the next American Idol.

What is interesting is that these pressures come from these organizations that were originally constructed to protect the child and to help them learn and love the disciplines of academics, sports, music and the arts.* However, our culture has twisted these innocuous activities into systems that simply consume the adolescent for what they can provide for the organization.  Sadly, the way the question of “Who am I?” gets answered for the teen is something like, “You are only as good as you can achieve.” or “There is no room for second place.”

Instead these organizations ought to be more about how we can help the students best investigate their God-given giftedness. We should be asking, “How can my son or daughter delight in the Lord as they play soccer, act in the next school play, or get whatever grade on the next geometry exam?”  Let us help them know that no matter how they perform, as long as they are investigating their giftedness as they participate in sports, the arts, academics, whatever, that they are infinitely valuable ONLY because they are made in the Image of God.  So as they act–they do so in the imago dei.  When they score a goal (or don’t) they do so in the imago dei.  When they get an A, B, or D on the geometry exam, they do so in the imago dei.

This is going to mean that their delight in the action is secondary to their performance.  This is a HUGE paradigm shift we adults ought to take.  We want our students to identify with finding their giftedness BEFORE and ABOVE their ability. This means that second or third or last place is MORE important than winning as long as my son or daughter is happy as they participate.  The moment we put winning above enjoyment is the moment we begin to consume that teen for our own agendas.  Our job as the elders in a culture is to PROTECT our student’s souls at all costs.

There is an excellent character in ABC’s sitcom, The Middle, her name is Sue Heck.  The daughter is one of those students who is not good at anything.  She fails miserably at everything she tries, but she does it with such JOY. Her parents are great in this as well.  While they know that she is going to fail, they continue to support and protect her.  They never say to her face that she is not created to model, swim, play chess, etc. They allow her to find that out for herself.  In doing so, she does experience disappointment, but it is never the kind of disappointment that crushes her soul.  No, for Sue, it would be damaging to her soul to never have tried out for swim team, a modeling career or cheer leading. Since her parents gave her the space to investigate such desires of her heart, to be able to see that these activities do not fit into the Image God gave her gives her satisfaction.

When God created humanity in his own image, he created us to fail, to be different, and to be unique. In doing so, God also created us to search, yearn, journey, and explore HOW he created us differently from that person sitting next to me.  It is when we set up certain, subjective standards and expect everyone to live up to those imaginary qualities.


  • Do I value the win over my student’s JOY in simply participating in (insert activity here)?
  • Can my son or daughter simply participate in (insert activity here) without me projecting my agenda on their participation/success?  In other words, can my student simply participate and receive the SAME amount of support from me as whether or not they succeed or fail?
  • How much do I value that Trophy? Grade? Letterman’s jacket? Starting Role? First Chair?
  • Do I  give my student value or take away value based on their achievements?
  • Do I SEE and AFFIRM the imago dei in my student?


  • More Theology of Identity and the Adolescent
  • Becoming a Guardian of the Adolescent Soul
  • What is a Parent to do? Practical Suggestions of Affirming the Identity of the teens in my life.

*For more on this see, Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teens by Chap Clark.


Posted in church, Ministry, rant, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , on June 9, 2010 by Walter

I came across the following quote on a blog from one of the best scholars of youth ministry to come along in the past 5-10 years, Andrew Root:

“. . .youth ministry can easily slide into the wing of the church that ushers kids into conventionality. In other words, youth ministry is doing a good job when kids act and look conventional (happily religious). It could be argued . . . that motivated parents to financially support a youth worker in their local congregation . . .they wanted someone with the expertise to make their kids conventionally religious kids (that showed this by being “good”). . . conventionality does NOT equal spiritual maturity, depth, or discipleship—that conventionality can itself be acidic. . . religious conventionality may be as much an enemy to young people encountering the act of God in Jesus Christ as R-rated movies and Jersey Shore.

It may then be that the challenge for youth ministry and the church as a whole is to pop the bubble of conventionality; this may be the best way to engage young people (and yes this is risky, but the problem with the church and youth ministry is that it lacks the risk of encountering our raw humanity).”

Andrew Root,

As I read this, there is a lot of Truth here.  As I survey the landscape of the local church and our theology, we have played it safe, far too safe.  Lock-Ins, trips to Six Flags, Pizza Parties and the such have our youth ministries looking more like the local YMCA instead of the Force of God in our local communities.  I believe that our ministries much be more Dangerous, Fearful, Awe-some, Mysterious and Holy (more on that in some future posts).

Maybe our ministries could be more committed to:

  • less Abercrombie and more Goodwill
  • less Pizza & Starbucks and more Fasting & Simplicity
  • less gossip and more proclamation
  • less hanging out with peers and more koinonia with the Body
  • less retreats and more missional living

Don’t hear me saying to do away with such things as hanging out, retreats, etc., but I think the church ought to be far less conventional. We have been doing far too good of a job of blending in than we have of standing out.  Our distinctive lifestyle has faded to a dull and boring beige that is unpalatable to those around us.

I recognize that this is easier for me as I have always been one who is somewhat “unconventional” for as long as I can remember.  Perhaps that is why I have always been an Apple fan;  however, it seems that Apple is soon becoming the establishment which means I might have to switch to Linux, but I digress.  But as I read about the Story of God, Yahweh has ALWAYS been unconventional in the way He did things.  For example:

  • speaking everything into being
  • building the wonderful creation of woman from a rib
  • saving humanity with a boat
  • picking the youngest of seven to be a king
  • using fishermen to fulfill his mission
  • calling a nudist prophet
  • coming as a baby
  • using a virgin girl as a revolutionary
  • saving humanity again with a Roman execution

This is but a few, but you get the idea.  Conventionality is boring.  When Jesus talks of abundant life, I don’t think it is a conventional lifestyle that he is calling us to.  It is a life of wonder, fear, danger, excitement, joy, heartbreak, anger, frustration and more.

What a great story to be a part of!

Now youth ministry has generally been on the cutting edge of UNconventionality, but recently it seems like we have found ourselves in the center of conventionality.

How then might we be less conventional in the way we do youth ministry?


Posted in church, Ministry, Teaching, youth ministry with tags , , , , on August 27, 2009 by Walter

Okay, I have to start with something that sounds really, really terrible, but I feel I have to blog about it. Now with that disclaimer out of the way, I remember dating a girl in college who after about a week or two into the relationship I realized she had a really “small” life. What I mean is that she had little ambition, no desire to travel, no real career goals, didn’t care for school, wanted to stay in College Station, and the list continued.
Granted, I didn’t have in mind what I really wanted to do with my life, but I did have Goals that I wanted to accomplish, I had Dreams that I wanted to see come to fruition and if I continued with this relationship, I felt that I would have been held back by this girl.
Now I do need to say, she was a really nice girl, it just wasn’t a good match for how I was wired.
But here is the deal, as I start another semester training and equipping men and women for the vocation of youth ministry, one of my prayers is that THEY would have Dreams and Goals for their own lives that are BIG. Dreams that take them to places with God that are new, exciting, little traveled, and even unpopular.  Now I don’t mean literal places like New Jersey; but places like sacrifice, solitude, simplicity and celebration.  Places the dig DEEP into their souls as they in turn try to help others dig deep into their souls and quarry a depth of faith and character that is lasting and significant.

However, I also hope that they would have BIG dreams and Goals for the ministry that God calls them to.  I hope they don’t settle for the small lives that many of those who come to church or even lead our churches are satisfied with.

  • I hope they have BIG dreams that take their students to the inner city and develop an everlasting compassion for the poor and disenfranchised of their world.
  • May they NOT be ear ticklers in their classes and their lessons, but that they might be prophetic in their words calling the church to a higher level of commitment and passion.
  • May their passion for teaching, reaching, serving, caring, loving be always increasing as they are serving on the front lines of God’s kingdom.
  • May they not be satisfied with the small dreams and tiny program that are mediocre and instead, join long with God and be part of something GINORMOUS and TREMENDOUS.
  • I hope they have big dreams that inculcate a love for the lost in their young people that God would put into their lives that SHOW the love of Christ before they even begin to talk about the gospel of Jesus.
  • May they NOT be dragged down by the small or even nonexistent vision that exists in many churches, but keep their eyes fixed on Jesus.

I have been saying on Facebook the past few weeks that “Lipscomb is where it is at.”  I believe it.  God is doing something incredible here with the faculty and our student body.  I am so impressed with the dedication and devotion of our ministry majors here.  I feel such a kindred spirit with them as they in turn desire to serve God through ministry.  Here is to a new year of hopefully doing something BIG.


Posted in church, Life, Ministry, Teaching, youth ministry with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2009 by Walter



Picture 2


An event for Youth Ministers, Youth Workers, Volunteers, Elders, and Church Leaders

Tuesday, October 13th 10:00am-3:30pm

Lipscomb University • Ezell Building • Swang Chapel

It has been said the only thing in life that is constant is change. This is especially true in an economic turndown. Whether you’re managing costs or leading a church, change pushes us beyond what’s comfortable

All change, at root, requires people to behave differently: members of your church need to reach out more enthusiastically to visitors, a shy child needs to become more outgoing, an employee on a production line needs to start looking for ways to save costs. Yet changing behavior is hard, as evidenced by anyone who’s ever tried to start an exercise program or train a teenager. This session will present a framework for changing how people act, even in the toughest circumstances.

We’ll see case studies that include a man who helped solve the malnutrition problem in the poorest of poor Vietnamese villages (without a budget for food), an entrepreneur running a boring technical services business who turned his employees into customer service zealots, a short intervention that reversed the decline in math scores among junior high students at an academically underperforming middle school, and a simple method that dramatically increased food drive donations among a population that had been specially nominated as least likely to donate.

What you will get:

• Get ideas about how to solve problems you face in working with adolescents.
• An understanding of the basic pattern by which change happens in a person.
• Know how to overcome inertia or status quo bias to initiate change.
• Find out how to insulate people against inevitable setbacks.
• A copy of the best-selling book, “Made To Stick”
• Catered Lunch
• All Seminar Materials

headChip Heath has experience serving as a youth ministry volunteer at the Campbell Church of Christ where he is an active member. Chip is the coauthor of the forthcoming book, Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard and the best-selling book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. He currently serves as a Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Stanford Graduate School of Business. His research examines why certain ideas – ranging from urban legends to folk medical cures, from Chicken Soup for the Soul stories to business strategy myths — survive and prosper in the social marketplace of ideas.


You can register online using a credit card at: or you can pay with cash or check and mail those to:

Walter Surdacki
Dept of Bible & Ministry
Lipscomb University
One University Park Dr.
Nashville, TN 37204

For more information on the event you can go to: