Friday, February 25, 2011

Small Group Discussion Questions: in or out? opinions needed

At what point do small group discussion questions become more a hindrance than a help? I am in youth ministry culture shock. I have only been back in the youth group setting for 3 weeks and there are so many things that are strange to me. Small groups at Third Place have been operating with small group questions as long as I can remember. In fact, it has been so long that I am not sure what the original intent was for the questions themselves. I can remember using them under three youth pastors, and in various settings. In the state of youth minsitry cutlure shock, I am asking all sorts of why questions. Why have small group questions? This got me thinking: do small group leaders really need these questions? Most volunteers are capable of starting conversations with adolescents, and some have been facilitating small group discussions for a long time as well. Are the small group questions more a hindrance than a help? At what point(s) are they needed? or even beneficial? at what point do they become a crutch?

Ok.. that is the subject on the table. I want to hear what you think.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

i just wanna know what you think...

Ugh. Today I am frustrated with the deterioration of writing, and specifically, of grammar. What? Grammar? Yes, grammar. I correspond with teenagers for a living, and in the past two years I have noticed a marked decline in the use of proper grammar; and not just the intricacies of a semicolon. To be honest, that is the one I mess up the most frequently. I am referring to very basic things like complete sentences, end of sentence punctuation, and capitalization. Does anyone else out there wonder what is going to become a society that communicates by saying things like, "nice to c u"? Here is the thing that really gets me: this is all well and good in texting and on facebook. I am all for texting, and I am obviously all for facebook. But in emails? letters? official communique with college admissions personnel? So, let me enumerate a list of some of my grammatical pet peeves. There are many.  Because I want all of you to continue liking me after you read this post, I have decided to narrow it down to my top four.

But first, some disclaimers:
1. I fully acknowledge the hypocrisy in this post. Grammar is not my strong suit. I publish grammatical mistakes on this blog often.
2. These mistakes and errors are by no means the norm in the writing that I see. They are increasing, but they are not rampant yet.
3. I have been feeding my inner curmudgeon about this all day. As a result, there is a needlessly angry tone to the whole post.

"i" as in "i just wanna know what you think..." I don't know if people realize that this communicates not only extreme laziness, but it calls into question how the writer views herself. Do you not think of yourself as a warranting a proper noun? Do you want me to think of you as warranting a proper noun? Are you making a theological statement? Are you simply used to your word processor doing this for you? If so, is that really okay?

"..." an ellipses as in "i just wanna know what you think.." Do you? Are you sure that you want to know what I think? Is it a question? Is it a statement? The proper use of an ellipses is to note that you omitted something. For example, "For God so loved the world...have eternal life." When used at the end of a sentence it does not, in fact, communicate "melancholy." (thank you, wikipedia.. yet another reason not to use wikipedia as a formal source. But that is another rant for another entry) It communicates uncertainty and confusion and leaves your reader wondering if you meant to say what you said.

complete lack of punctuation as in "i am just wondering what you think because i am concerned you might be annoyed or think of reasons to be annoyed and i really care about you and i don't want to risk offending you i might have already done that and what do you think i really need to know what you think" I don't think that I need to say any more.

"too, not to" as in "i am going too let you know if i have plans on Friday." I don't think this mistake reflects the deterioration of writing in our society, it just plain drives me nuts. "Too" means "also" or "in excess." "To" is either a preposition or part of a verb. I am curious how people are going to react to the cynical nature of this post, maybe it will be too much for some.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Yes, teenagers are graduating from the church

For those who have been in suspense for several years: Yes, teenagers are graduating from high school, and at the same time, ceasing to be regularly involved in churches. Of course there are different definitions of what that looks like, and the research tracking this shift is recent enough that no one is sure if the drop in church attendance will last in the lives of this group of people. What is confirmed by the research is that there is an overall decline in church attendance beyond graduation from high school.

Here are some of the various tidbits of research shamelessly pulled from my capstone paper.
  • In Souls in Transition, Christian Smith tracks the religious shifts from ages 13-17 to 18-23 and this research shows an “overall decline in professed importance of religious faith.”[1] Of the students who were Mainline Protestant or Conservative Protestant in high school, Smith reports that these categories lost 13 percent of their baseline totals over the five year period.[2] This includes religious switching or changing of religious affiliation, defined as “stated membership, association, or identification with different major religious traditions and organizations.”[3] Fifty percent of the Mainline Protestant and 36 percent of the Conservative Protestants switched to another religious affiliation, including switching between these two affiliations
  • Smith also notes a 24.7 percent loss in those who attended religious service two to three times a month or more, yet there was only an 8.5 percent loss in those who said that faith is “extremely important” or “very important” in daily life.[4] In these categories, Mainline Protestants had the biggest decrease with a loss of 16 percent, while Conservative Protestants lost 13 percent.
  • As part of the College Transition Project, Fuller Youth Institute tracked 400 college students who attended youth groups in high through their first three years of college in order to “to better understand the characteristics of youth groups that are associated with a healthy transition to college life and help youth workers develop those qualities in their youth groups.”[5] Some of their findings to date state that “29 percent of the students we’ve surveyed moderately or strongly agree that ‘it’s been difficult to find a church where I feel welcome.’  Although we are not yet finished with our study, this data (along with findings in parallel studies) seem to suggest that about 30-50 percent of students in youth groups struggle in their faith after graduation.”[6]

The numbers by themselves can be daunting. Yes, there is a decline in church attendance after graduation from high school, but these numbers are fleshed out and balanced out by increasing in religious interest, stories of young people who are deeply commited to their faith, and by exploration of the reasons and causes behind the behavior. I found a lot of encouraging material in the midst of this information. But, the purpose of this blog entry is to answer a question from 3 years ago: Around 30 percent of high school students who regularly attended either youth group or a church cease doing so after graduation.

This is a very real phenomena.
I think that we have an equally real challenge to do something about it.

[4] Ibid, 133.

[1] Smith, Souls in Transition, 113.
[2] Ibid, 105.
[3] Ibid, 103

Saturday, February 12, 2011

getting back in the groove of ministry- eating well.

The thing about ministry is that it is easy to "do." It's easy to email, plan, hold meetings, and communicate with people. It is easy to schedule things and to create spreadsheets with contact information and updates and diagrams of how I want small groups to pan out. All these things have been very challenging for me in the last week or two. These are things that I do all the time for my job, and I am quite good at them. I get paid to communicate with students and parents in whatever form works best for them. So, I am suprisied that I am finding it so challenging to do the exact same things with youth ministry. I am having a hard time picking up the phone to call volunteers, to chat with people at church, and to send emails. This is confusing, as these are things that I would LOVE to do on any given day without "being in ministry." There is something about a position and list of responsibilities that makes this harder for me. But that does not really make any sense. I am not different, so why do these tasks feel different to me? Is it that so much more of me is on the line? Is is that I am risking so much more?

I am really not sure why it has been so difficult for me the past few weeks. So today I gave myself the space to "do" nothing - to pray. I am leaning into the awkwardness and bringing that before God and just sitting there. Just being with the God who knows, and who is Center. And that breathing in of Aslan's breath is enough. It is food: vegetables, meat and potatoes for the soul. I don't know that it will make it easier to talk to anyone at church tomorrow, I don't know that it will mean that the meeting tomorrow evening will be any different. But I do know that I need a good meal.

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
        Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
        I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
        "Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
        "My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
        So I did sit and eat.

 -George Herbert

Thursday, February 3, 2011

the future of youth ministry

Okay, I can barely contain myself... There is an amazing discussion going on about the future of youth ministry here. I highly recommend reading all five parts, and I ressonate most with parts 3-5. In fact, if you only have 20 minutes, stop reading my blog and read Marko's. (seriously, do it) Marko asked a simple question to people "smarter than him" who are either studying or practicing youth minsitry or both. "The future of youth ministry.." The link above contains their answers and the discussion that follows.

I think that the future of youth ministry is about connecting students with adults who are vulnerably modeling and sharing their faith, and about providing spaces for teenagers to process, think through, and own the deeper questions about Christianity. I am not saying anything new, or anything that was not already said in the discussion in these blogs or in the flurry of articles, websites, books and research projects pouring out about just this subject. I am more or less expounding on several of the directions mentioned: intergenerational ministry, parents, and discipleship, and, of course, anything said by Kenda Creasy Dean.

These values have often been part of youth minsitry, but youth ministry the way it is structured now does not provide a place for these sorts of relationships and discussions. One of the comments on Marko's blog called it an age-based grotto. This is exactly why I am excited to be part of revamping the way we are doing youth ministry at Trinity Community Church. Are we sure that what we are doing and how we are doing it is the right way? no. We are sure that youth minsitry needs to shift in order to accomodate shifting needs. Needs that have shifted. So, we are moving our small groups into homes, geopgraphically based communities, and we are placing young men and women with adult leaders in those groups. In so doing we are intentionally getting students in the homes of Christian adults from our church, and connecting them with adults who are living out their faith, and creating an atmosphere where adolescents can connect with other Christians their age. I think that these are great steps toward connecting students with adults who are vulnerably modeling and sharing their faith and about providing spaces for teenagers to process, think through and own the deeper questions about Christianity.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

snowed in: wrestling with my calling

Lately I have been feeling nervous about this new phase of youth ministry. I have a group of questions circling like vultures in my head, waiting for me to fail or to succeed. Either provides fodder for their violence. "Who are you to lead anyone else in youth ministry? especially when they are older and wiser than you?" "Why should anyone listen to what you have to say about how to lead a small group? about facilitating discussion? about mentoring teenagers?" "Can I really do this?" In short, I am questioning my voice, my confidnece, my giftedness. I am expecting myself to have amazing, earth-shattering answers. I feel embarassed about this. I know consciously that it is not a realistic expectation and that it comes from sin that lives in me, but I can't seem to avoid the expectations in my head. I am wrestling with the weight of leadership.
Until today I have been doing a great job of covering up my insecurities by planning, praying, doing. Today I am stuck in my house with my questions. When Nathan asked me to be involed in this, I came to the conlcusion that I can't not do it. In his words, I need to be faithful to the calling that God has placed in front of me to use my gifts, passions, education and talents in the task that I have been called to do. And this is it. I know in my gut and my soul that this is where I need to be right now. I can't not. I can't not use the information in my head from my capstone about how youth minsitry needs are shifting and, and I can't not use my gifts of listening, encouraging, and equipping those who are also laboring in youth ministry. I can't not act on my own change of heart.
Through my capstone project, I have become convinced that I have made fundamental mistakes in my approach to youth ministry. Most particularly, I bought into an idea that it is unwise to share the ugly, messy, wrestling, angsty truth of my own spirutual life. I can be honest, but honesty and vulnerability are two very different things. I can and have informed others of my current and past struggles, but vulnerability means that I show up behind that information. It means that if I tell you that I am afraid, insecure egotistical, and slightly neurotic about what I am cable of in ministry, that you might not want to listen to what I have to say. Vulnerability in ministry means that you might walk away after reading this post. And I think that it is the best place to be. Because if I am here, vulnerable with you about my weakness, then I am in desperate need of grace. I was always in desperate need of grace, but being vulnerable with you means that I have to come face to face with my own need. I need Jesus in these areas. I can go through the tasks of ministry without Him, but it means nothing. I want to move forward from here- a point of exposure.