Foot Washing as Youth Ministry: Trading Success and Self-Image for Selfless Community

In my final paper for Theological Foundations of Youth Ministry with Kenda Creasy Dean (attached below as a PDF file), I explore a theology of foot washing, arising from the John 13 Passover text, and its implications for youth ministry.  I begin by briefly sketching the current landscape of youth ministry before I introduce the concept of foot washing as my theological foundation for youth ministry, its history in my church tradition, and the ways in which a theology of foot washing addresses the cultural and developmental needs of adolescents without sacrificing the counter-cultural nature of the gospel and a God who kneels to serve. Although limited by length constraints, I conclude with practical implications for creating a youth ministry environment rooted in a theology of foot washing.

Thanks to Kenda for an incredible semester of soaking up her wisdom and experience, my mom and JP for their constant help in revising and editing, and my dear friend Samantha Slaubaugh, whose heart for service continually inspires me to live out this ideal.

Foot Washing as Youth Ministry

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17 Creative Ways to Give on a Budget

As I mentioned in my last couple of posts, this summer the Sunset youth group worked through the book I Like Giving by Brad Formsma.  Each week I had the teens write down creative ways to give, and I was constantly amazed by the ideas they came up with.

There were several ideas that overlapped, and I found that the majority of them had to do with listening, encouraging, and spending time with lonely people. Maybe that reflects what our teenagers — and the rest of us, for that matter — need the most.

Here are some of my favorite ideas from the past few weeks — and most of them you can try for less than $5!

1. Take the time every once in a while to write a note to someone, just to show that you appreciate them or are thinking of them.

2. Pack ziplock bags full of snacks and goodies for the homeless and pass them out at stop lights.

3. Give your time to someone.  Just spend some time talking one-on-one with someone about anything and everything.  Listening to what someone has to say is a gift in itself.

4. Make someone a goodie bag filled with all their favorite candy and give it to them when you think they most need it.

5. Burn a CD of some of your favorite songs that you think a friend would enjoy, and give it to them.  Let them know they were on your mind.

6. Buy used copies of your favorite books to give to a friend who is going on vacation, or even to a random stranger.

7. Bake something for someone you know, but who wouldn’t expect you to think of them.

8. Pay attention to your facebook/instagram/twitter to see if your friends post about wanting or needing something, and then surprise them with it. Basically, really listen to people and their needs and you will find ways to help them out.

9. Buy coffee/lunch/pay the toll for the person behind you.

10. If you see someone who seems lonely or sad, invite them over and cook a meal with them. Then try encouraging them as you eat together.

11. Give flowers to an old lady and thanks [sic] them for everything.

12. Sit and listen to what your friend or another person has to say. Sometimes there are no perfect words, just perfect silences.

13. Donate a variety of school supplies for underprivileged kids.

14. Prepare an unexpected meal for someone who is very caring. For example: a parent.

15. Hold the door open for someone.

16. If a friend needs more than you can give, use social media to ask others to help. Sometimes people want to help but don’t know how.

17. Pay favors forward, and ask the next person to do the same.

Published in: on August 15, 2014 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sex is Not About Sex

holiday“Sex makes everything complicated,” said Cameron Diaz to Jude Law in a 2006 romantic comedy called The Holiday. “Even if you don’t have it, the not having it makes things complicated.”

She’s right. Sex is complicated. This may be because sex is one of the most misinterpreted and misrepresented things in our culture…and I include church culture in that statement. As such, this post is going to look at sex not from a typical evangelical Christian standpoint, but from a Jesus standpoint.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Throughout His ministry, in every word He preached and every parable He told, Jesus was concerned with matters of the heart. This has never been as abundantly clear to me as it has been these past few weeks as I’ve studied the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus seeks to reframe a legalistic understanding of the law by showing us that we tend to focus more on the action than on the intent. As the Pharisees demonstrated, it is often easier to regulate and micromanage our actions than it is to undergo a radical change of heart. The former requires control; the latter, surrender. It is more difficult to navigate the ambiguity of the heart than it is to impose fixed outward regulations.

The church’s teaching on sex has become a vicious cycle. Most teenagers growing up in Christian homes are admonished to save sex for marriage. However, for some, this has created a stigma that makes it impossible to have guilt-free sex even within the context of marriage. How can something that has been bad, bad, bad, suddenly become okay? This deeply rooted mindset cannot be overcome in a 15-minute exchange of vows when our minds have been shaped our whole lives by a warped understanding of sex.

And so as it became more acceptable to talk openly about sex, churches began talking about it. A lot. To combat the shame associated with sex, Christians began teaching their children how great sex is, explaining that it’s a special gift from God that we don’t want to “open too early.” Obviously this approach is hardly better, as it dangles sex like a carrot that they can’t have for another 8 years or so. The pendulum has swung too far — now we focus on sex more than we probably should.

With this new understanding came another misconstrued notion about sex, which claims either explicitly or implicitly that if you save sex for marriage, your sex life will be far more gratifying than it would otherwise be. Youth pastors become statistical machines teaching us that monogamous couples have more sex, pure couples have better sex, and it’s all about sex, sex, SEX.

But I’m going to be so bold as to say that Jesus, and the Bible as a whole, teaches that sex is not really about sex at all. And searching “sex” in your concordance to figure out what God thinks about it won’t get you very far, because a well-developed theology of sex is found in:

1) A true understanding of creation. “In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Our humanity is uniquely defined by its status of being “in the image of God.” When we truly understand this, not just with our minds but with our hearts, it changes the way we see the rest of humanity. Each person is incredibly valuable regardless of gender, age, race, or social class, and we must treat with reverence whatever God’s holy hands have touched.

We must also understand that God’s creation is what it is; it is neither more, nor less. Pornography is damaging to relationships because it presents an unrealistic expectation of women and of sexuality. It not only causes men to see women as sex objects, but as inferior to the porn stars that feed their addiction. This is a horribly distorted view of creation — a woman’s body is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Her beauty should be loved and appreciated for what it is, and should not forced to compete with unrealistic fantasies. God created each woman, and each woman is a good creation. Respect her, because she is the image of God and the work of His hands.

And to the women — we tend to be pretty hard on the men because they struggle more with the physical side of this, and sex is a physical act. But if Jesus is right, and lust is a matter of the heart, where does that leave us concerning emotional affairs? When we dreamily indulge in steamy romantic movies and fantasies of Prince Charming, this is also a distortion of reality that the good, honest men in our lives can never live up to. Don’t spend your time wishing that the perfect man exists, because there is no such thing. God created each man, and each man is a good creation. Respect him, because he is the image of God and the work of his hands.

2) A true understanding of surrender. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1st Corinthians 6:20).

A theme that I see running through each teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is this unspoken phrase, “It doesn’t belong to you.” You don’t have a right to be angry (Matthew 5:21-24); you can’t just dismiss your wife because she isn’t your property to dismiss (Matthew 5:31-32); don’t resist the one who takes your tunic, because it’s not really yours in the first place (Matthew 5:38-42). If even you are not your own and therefore must honor God with your body, then it must surely be true that because she is not yours, you must honor God by the way you treat her body. To use someone in any way (not just sexually), is to objectify them and demean their created status. Lust and pornography are so damaging because they declare that God’s creation exists solely to satisfy our appetites and is not worthy of our respect. We must understand that whatever we desire is not ours for the taking. The creation belongs to the Creator.

3) A true understanding of relationship. “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).

The Bible speaks of equality, of mutual submission, and of sincere love far more than it speaks about sex — but I think that every one of these relational qualities is inseparable from a true understanding of sex. Sex is only one of the many ways that we can choose to selfishly gratify ourselves at the expense of another, but it so easily reflects an imbalance of power and further contributes to chaos and brokenness within the creation. If we were to outdo one another in showing honor, women would not seduce and men would not solicit. There would be no “If you love me, you’ll show me.” Instead, valuing each other as equals, we would seek the highest good of the other.

Marriage doesn’t automatically make sex right. If it’s still a power play within the context of marriage, it’s just as wrong as adultery, because it devalues your partner in the exact same way. If your marriage fails because you’re “sexually incompatible,” you’ve missed the entire point of covenant faithfulness. If your demands cause your partner to feel inferior or ashamed, you have failed to honor him or her. This is what I mean by the phrase I used earlier, “the ambiguity of the heart.” Because there’s not one straightforward rule that divides appropriate sex from inappropriate sex, we have to critically examine the motives of our hearts. And sometimes that can be more difficult and painful than following a set of rules.

How does this change the way we teach about sex?

1) These foundational principles apply to far more than sex. 

If you reread the first two, you’ll find that a theology of environmentalism flows just as easily as a theology of sex. If you understand the second two, you’ll learn that leadership in any capacity is a matter of servanthood, not of coercive power.

If we teach our children these fundamental truths of Kingdom living as a framework for their lives, rather than rules about sex that have little or no context to support them, it will make far more sense in light of the big picture.

2) It shifts the focus from sex to purity.

Creating rules about sex is like treating the symptoms of an illness rather than the cause. When we constantly teach abstinence, the focus is still on sex, when sex is clearly not the main point of sex at all. When we teach relational (not just sexual) purity, questions like “How far is too far” become irrelevant. These principles shift the question from “How selfish can I be?” to “How unselfish can I be?” They don’t just tell us why sex outside of marriage is wrong; they teach us why purity outside of marriage is right.

3) It reframes the whole biblical discussion of sex.

Why is the Song of Solomon in the Bible? It represents a loving, egalitarian sexual relationship.

Under the law of Moses, why would a man who raped a woman have to marry her? Because he had dishonored her, and now he was bound to care for her.

Why did Jesus say that divorce is tantamount to adultery? Because both treat your spouse as disposable, rather than caring for him or her as a precious creation of God.

When we seek to understand the Word of God, proof texting misses the mark. All of Scripture is bound up together in a beautiful mosaic of Kingdom values, and until we see the big picture, we won’t understand where each piece fits in. If Scriptures about sex aren’t about sex, they must be about far more.

So take a moment and examine your heart. Do you view your brothers and sisters in Christ with reverence, or with objectifying lust? Does your sexual relationship honor and validate your spouse, or does it just satisfy your desires? Is sex about sex for you? Or is it an expression of something far deeper?

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for one another, love one another deeply, from the heart. –1st Peter 1:22.

For further reading that has recently helped to shape and refine my understanding of sex and relationship, you can click on the following links:

The Porn Myth — Naomi Wolf

My Virginity Mistake — Jessica Henriquez

Christians Are Not Called to Have Amazing Sex — Rachel Pietka

Lessons Learned: Miami Edition

Here’s the alternate and longer title of this post: What a Nondenominational Gringa Learned at a Hispanic Church of Christ.

As many of my readers know, this summer I spent 10 weeks in Miami, FL, working with a youth group. And the church wasn’t entirely Hispanic, but I’d say over half of its members speak Spanish as a first language and tan much more easily than I.

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I was a misfit in a lot of ways. First, although I hate to admit it, I’m a gringa through and through: blonde, pale, and of European descent, born and raised in the southern part of the USA, with no knowledge of Spanish. Second, as could perhaps be gathered from my undergraduate institution and church affiliation, I tend to be a bit more theologically liberal than traditional churches of Christ.

How did this work out?

Well, it took some adjustment.

But this misfit gringa was welcomed, accepted, and loved in a way that makes me terribly homesick for what I now consider my Miami church family. This summer was a huge opportunity for growth and shaped me in so many ways. Here’s what I learned:

1. Spanish. I hardly knew anything when I first came to Miami, but a little more than halfway through the summer, I really started trying to learn. The love I had for these kids provided the motivation I never had in high school. I googled verb conjugations and studied them. I read beginner books in Spanish. I went to Spanish church services. And the last week of the summer, I went to Spanish camp. My vocabulary consists mostly of ministry words and sappy phrases – “I’ll miss you,” “Talk to you soon,” etc. I had some embarrassing blunders, such as when I was texting one of the college guys – I was trying to say that it was good to see Mark (my boss) again when he got back from North Carolina, but it was too mangled for him to make sense of it, so he asked me in English what I meant to say. Turns out I had said “it was good for look Mark another time.” I also had to learn that te amo is “For boyfriend! Not for me.”

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2. Terms like “black” and “white” are actually pretty meaningless. One of the youth group guys told me that I was white because I was born in the US. I was trying to explain that it’s a matter of heritage, not birthplace, and that if I were born to white parents in Honduras, I would not be Honduran but white. He clarified with a look of surprise, “I’m not talking about your skin color, I’m not racist!” Although I’m not sure if “white” as a cultural stereotype is much better. When I got home, someone asked me if Dominicans are black or Hispanic. I was like…”I have no idea. They’re Dominican.”

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3. Undocumented citizens, a.k.a illegal immigrants, are people. They’re not a group, or a statistic, to me anymore. They are names and faces. They are people I have hugged and kissed and shared meals with. And within the comfort of our middle class American bubble, it’s pretty easy to say what they should have done, or should do, or what should happen to them. But it’s not so easy when you know where they came from and why they came here. It’s not so easy when you look into their eyes and see them as unique individuals.

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4. After you have spent one-on-one time with a student, they are about 75% more likely to come to the next youth group event. If you want good turn-outs, invest more in the kids than the activities. Relationships are what really matter anyway.

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5. God’s love transcends racial differences, cultural backgrounds, and language barriers. Hugs and laughter mean the same thing everywhere. Love is a universal language. And there is nothing more beautiful than a dark hand holding a fair one. One of the most memorable moments of the summer was the last night I was in Miami, saying goodbye to the family of one of the youth group guys. His mom tried to tell me thank you in broken English, and I responded that I would miss them in hesitant (probably grammatically incorrect) Spanish. It was kind of a Spanglish struggle. We looked at each other, shrugged, smiled, and hugged each other. That was all we needed to say.

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6. For a long time, my identity was wrapped up in my outspokenness, my opinions, and my beliefs. But I’ve learned that I can have deep and meaningful relationships with people without vomiting every doctrinal thought I’ve ever had about eschatology and substitutionary atonement. I don’t always have to be right…I just have to be me. And I know now that those are not the same thing.

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7. Just because there are things that frustrate you about a church, doesn’t mean you give up. No church is perfect, but for every reason to leave, there are a million ones to stay. And I say this as an exhortation to you as well: Relationships are worth working through differences, giving up preferences, and getting over pride. If I had given up and gone home the first time I felt like it, I would have forfeited so many incredible experiences and relationships that now I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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Intergenerational Ministry: a Snapshot

Much of my undergraduate ministry training under Dr. Walter Surdacki has focused on the concept of intergenerational ministry, and integrating the youth of the church back into fellowship with adults.  One thing that I love about Dr. Surdacki — and something that kind of drives me crazy, too — is that he doesn’t always give us practical solutions.  He just makes us wrestle with a difficult concept.  I always have to work through it asking, “This is great, but how in the world can it practically work?”  Because I’m passionate and impulsive, I want everything to be fixed right now, but this can’t always be the case.  I’ve had to learn to slow down, translate the technical jargon into life application, and implement it little by little.  Volunteering with the youth group at Grace during my time in college has been such a valuable experience for multiple reasons, but also because it provides me with a way to put into practice what I’m learning.  These concepts aren’t packed away in a dusty notebook as intangible theology or ‘someday’ ideas.  I get to use them now, and while the ideas are still fresh in my mind, they become a part of my ministry that I build on as I go.

So I want to share with you one practical way I recently put the concept of intergenerational ministry into practice.  For a while now, I’ve been wanting to do something with my girls outside of church to spend some time bonding in a more chill atmosphere.  So I started planning my first subversive intergenerational attack: a movie night for the moms and girls.  The girls may have been a tiny bit less than thrilled when I told them their moms were invited, but it actually turned out great.

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It was hosted by one of our moms, Joanne Kraft (also a gifted writer — check out her facebook page here), and we ended up having 10 girls and 5 moms.  Joanne had thoughtfully provided quite the smorgasbord of cookies and popcorn and all sorts of snacks, so we had a very pleasant time hanging out and grazing.  We watched the movie Leap Year, a predictable but cute romantic comedy that of course ends with the girl leaving her personality-less fiance for the sarcastic and oh-so-cute Irishman.

After the movie, we had some open discussion about it:  What did you not like about her fiance?  What did you like/not like about the other guy?  She was kind of a diva — if you were a guy, would you have married her?  What do we learn from that about what kind of women we want to be?  I read from Proverbs 31 and its male counterpart, Job 31, and we talked about what a relationship would look like between two people who are totally focused on God.  Then I asked the moms to share some of their stories, which was powerful.  Here’s a very brief summary of the 5 in their diversity:

1) Married out of high school and divorced young before she met the Lord, but then married a godly man, and has a beautiful family.

2) Saved her first kiss for marriage!!

3) Knew that her husband was The One long before he did.

4) Just recently came to know God in the last couple of years and, while dealing with the pain of a broken family, wants her daughter to make better choices than she did.

5) Met her future husband on a mission trip and prayed that God would find him a good wife, unknowingly praying for herself!

yeah, I don't really have an explanation for this -- crazy youth minister stereotype

yeah, I don’t really have an explanation for this — crazy youth minister stereotype

From there we just had some random discussion, from crazy proposal stories, to girls asking questions, to moms giving advice and sharing their wisdom.  It was so fantastic.  And even greater — I hardly saw a single cell phone out.  They were all totally engaged in the discussion — because when a woman obviously in love starts telling the story of her romance, she’s cool even if she is a mom.  Instead of distinguishing between “girls” and “women,” it was more an atmosphere of “We’re all women in different stages of life with different things to share, walking the same journey together.”

It was a great opportunity for the girls to see their moms in a different way, to spend time in community in a more relaxed atmosphere than church, and for the moms to get to know each other and encourage one another on this journey of parenting middle school girls.  And it was a huge blessing to this girl’s heart to see how God is working in the lives of my group of beautiful and precious young women.

Ironically enough, I didn’t manage to get a picture with the girls and moms together, so this totally contradicts the point of this post, but here’s a picture of me and my girls:

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The Spoon-Fed Gospel

I spent this past week babysitting an adorable little boy who is two months shy of turning three.  I’ll admit right off that perhaps I don’t handle children in the “best” or “safest” way.  For one thing, I often use sarcasm. “Oh, you want to hide under the table and cry?  That’s so cool and super dramatic…let me know when you want to act like an adult and come out.”  For another, I’m hardly what you would consider overprotective.  I suffered plenty of bumps and bruises as a child, but I lived to tell the tale, and I learned important lessons from each one.  For instance, one of the scars on my right knee taught me that it’s not the greatest idea to ride a bike off a 3-foot drop hoping you’ll land smoothly (I never did it again).  I believe in letting children make mistakes and figure things out for themselves.

The child I’m babysitting (we’ll call him Thomas) is sadly underexposed to the world for his age.  He still sleeps in his parents’ bed, is not fully potty trained, and, as I discovered the first day, is still spoon-fed.

It was snack time, and Thomas and I took a break from playing to eat a banana and some pretzel sticks.  I peeled the banana part-way down and started to hand it to him without a second thought.  He wouldn’t take it. “No, you hold it!”  I was a little surprised by this and replied, “How about you hold your own banana, punk.”  His dad interjected, sounding almost embarrassed, “Actually, he doesn’t feed himself…you’ll need to hold the banana.”  I thought to myself, “This is not happening.”

When lunchtime rolled around, I made Thomas a sandwich and cut it into pieces for him.  As I buckled him into his high chair, I informed him, “Today it’s time to be a little man.  You’re going to do something super cool called eating your own food and being independent.  I’m going to go make my own lunch now, but I’ll be back in 5 minutes.  Have a blast with this new-found skill.”  When I returned, he had eaten a couple of pieces of the sandwich but was looking at one piece, a little confused. “This piece is too big.”  The solution was simple. “Pick it up and bite it in half. You’re welcome.”  And Thomas ate his own lunch.

Much to the glee of my Facebook friends, I posted these adventures on my timeline, receiving more “likes” than any other status in the past couple of months.  Someone commented, “It’s scary that this 3-year-old doesn’t feed himself and hilarious that you didn’t let him get away with it.”

But how scary would it be if he didn’t have my sarcasm to spur him on to greatness, and he was spoon-fed until he was 4? 6? Even 10? If, when he graduated high school and left home, he starved to death because he never learned to feed himself?  The idea sounds ridiculous, but what if I told you that it actually happens?  We paralyze our children by spoon-feeding them the gospel; and as more and more young people leave the church, we have to recognize and take responsibility for what’s happening.  We design elaborate children’s and youth ministry programs to ensure that kids have fun and that our church looks cooler than the one down the street.  But when, Sunday after Sunday, we put on a concert for the kids and call it worship, and then give them a gospel lecture that they tune out to play with their iPhones, we may be doing more harm than good.  We run our programs a certain way because we think we know best.  We think it’s our job to impart to kids all the information we have, forgetting that it took us a lifetime of mistakes to acquire it.  When you have all the answers, the hardest lesson to learn is how to shut up.

When Thomas was one year old, he began to want to feed himself.  He would whine and cry when he was spoon-fed.  But his mom hated for him to get his clothes dirty, so she ignored his tearful pleas for independence and continued to spoon-feed him because she had skills of dexterity which he still lacked.  She wouldn’t let him learn, because she could do it better.  But if we want to equip children, often we must sacrifice efficiency for the sake of teaching.  Sometimes we sigh and tap our foot impatiently while they clumsily put the puzzle pieces together wrong, because the solution is obvious to us.  But instead, we should be actively encouraging them to learn, helping them work through their mistakes, and teaching them to clean up after themselves.  Instead of doing things for them, maybe we need to do things with them.

If youth have been given doses of the spoon-fed gospel their whole lives, when they leave youth group, they’re anything but prepared. If we do everything for them rather than teaching them to do it for themselves, we’re turning out helpless babies whose faith starves to death when there’s no longer anyone to give them the answers.  They may have heard a million other people pray, but do they know how to pray?  Have they ever cried out to God in a crisis?  Do they know where to go in the Bible to find comfort?  Or have we done it for them all along without teaching them how to feed themselves?  Do they have a personal relationship with Christ, or have they borrowed their faith from their parents or pastor?  These are uncomfortable questions to ask, but we’ve got to start asking them.  And trust me, as an aspiring youth minister, these are questions that I have to wrestle with too.  Have you trained, equipped, and taught your students?  Or have you just put on a show for them?

I think the solution can be found in authentic intergenerational community and deep relationships in which we teach and challenge one another.  A community in which no voices are silenced and no questions are dismissed, in which children are free to make mistakes and encouraged to speak out, and to do, and to live the Christian life.  My vision for ministry is not a program, but rather a resource.  We need youth pastors willing and eager to work themselves out of a job.  We need to replace leaders with equippers.

The old saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and you’ll have fed him for a lifetime.”  Let’s start teaching people how to fish.  Let’s teach them how to chase after Jesus for a lifetime.

The Girl in the Mirror

26790_379253246924_2837817_nSometimes I look at the picture of this little girl and think about her future.  Don’t her eyes just melt your heart?  What wouldn’t you do for that little shy smile?  I watched her grow up, so I know her story.  She’s had a good life, and she’s done well for herself, but it hasn’t always been easy for her.  You know how it is:  She grows up and realizes the world isn’t quite what she thought it was.  And looking at her picture sometimes, I want to keep her in her safe little world of innocence, keep her from the pain of disillusionment.

Because I feel helpless knowing that she will one day feel the pain of a broken heart.  That she will make wrong choices that will lead down questionable paths and end in disappointment.  I cringe knowing that one day, like so many other girls, she will take a knife to that soft, perfect skin just to watch the blood trickle down.  Looking into those warm and trusting eyes, it tears me apart knowing that they will lose their sparkle one day — that they will have seen too much of the world to shine with naive expectation.

One day she will begin to question everything she ever believed in:  Santa Claus.  Prince Charming.  God.  Herself.

This little girl doesn’t know what it’s like to feel alone.  But one day, she will.  I look in her wide-eyed, innocent face and see her future, and I desperately want to shield her, to protect her, to tell her that there is an easier way.

But as I reach out my hand, I see that I am simply grasping at a mirror.  And as I look deeply into the eyes of the woman I have become, I see that there wasn’t a better way.  I took exactly the road I had to take to end up where I am, right now, standing here gazing at my reflection and looking back on the life I’ve lived.

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I had to make stupid choices to gain wisdom.  I had to be influenced and controlled before I could discover who I really was, and I had to hate myself before I knew what it meant to love myself.  I had to doubt before I could believe, I had to be broken so that I could be made whole, and I had to experience the imprisonment of shame before I could truly raise my hands to God in freedom and victory.  I had to live the life I’ve lived, every step of the way.  I always did what I felt I had to do to get by, so I really couldn’t have made any other choices.

And realizing this, I realize that, as much as I may want it to be, my job is not to keep other girls from the same struggles I went through.  I see the same look of excitement and wonder in their eyes, and I want to.  Oh God, I want to.

Others, I see the dullness and numbness beginning to replace the sparkle as they learn how broken the world really is and how ugly life can be, and I want to heal them.  Oh God, I want to.

But I can’t — it’s not my life to live.  And I’m learning that as desperately as I want to keep them from experiencing pain, I have to love them enough to let them figure it out on their own.

I know that some of them will starve themselves to find acceptance.  Some of them will cut themselves to feel again.   Some will compromise themselves for affirmation.  Some will experience loss and abandonment and depression.  And the thought of it breaks my heart.

But…

The best I can do is to equip them to live faithfully, to make the most of their lives, to find their own healing.  The best I can do is walk alongside them on their journey and share the little I know about life.  To let them make mistakes and to cry with them when they’re broken.  To pray them through as they sort out who they are and why they’re here.  To teach them enough of the Story so that they can faithfully improvise no matter what stage they’re on or what costume they’re wearing.  And to be a faithful audience to the story they write.

This is my ministry.

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why I do what I do

“Babe! I am so thankful that I had you as a counselor this week. You really taught us how to trust each other and work as a team. I loved how you pushed us past our limits this week and you didn’t let our fears get the better of us. You always had faith in us, so thank you for that.”

“Dear Babe, thank you so much for everything this week. I have grown so much because of you. The trust in our cabin was absolutely unreal. I didn’t even honestly know that a group of girls and a counselor could be so close after a week! I just have to thank God for that and everything else He did for me this week. Now I can leave camp changed and ready to live out my faith more than I ever have. I am so thankful for your example and how you trust us with secrets and everything. Telling us to trust each other is just not the same thing as showing us how to trust, and that is what you did. You are an amazing person and I see Jesus in you without a doubt.”

“Dear Babe, having you as my counselor has been such a blessing. I’ve never had someone believe in me as much as you have this past week. Having all that support from you and all the other girls boosted my self-confidence so much.”

“Babe, thank you so much for helping me grow in my faith this week. Everything you said this week led up to my one big moment. I want to thank you for helping me get to that moment because I couldn’t have done it alone.”

“Dear Babe, I am so wonderfully blessed to have had you as my group leader this week. I know that God made sure He put me with someone who understands what I’ve been through and what I’m going through. Your love and support have meant the world to me. I am now fully placing all my problems with the Lord and I trust that He has the answers and will lead me through the minefield of life. ”

“Babe, I cannot even begin to thank you enough for such a memorable week. I have truly made relationships that I will never forget. I can see the love of God in your eyes, and that’s incredible. Your stories of how God has influenced your life has me excited to see what He does with me and all your other Navy Babies.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

When I tell people that I’m going into youth ministry to work with jr. and sr. high, I often get a response of, “Wow, you’re brave.” And they shake their heads as if they feel sorry for me. When people found out I would be working at Deer Run this summer, it was the same reaction. “Ten weeks? Working with kids in the summer heat? How much are you making?” I would answer, “Not much.” But the truth is, although the dollar sign is minimal, I’ve “made” far more than they. I’ve made friends. I’ve made memories. I’ve made myself a stronger person. And, most amazing of all, I’ve made disciples.

Yes, I’ve been exhausted and completely spent both physically and emotionally. Yes, there have been struggles and those kids that drive you crazy. Yes, it’s difficult. But the payoff is far greater than the investment.

I do what I do because of the pride on a kid’s face when they conquer their fear on the Leap of Faith. Because of the laughter and the inside jokes. Because of the way it feels when they trustingly slip their hand into mine. Because of the look in their eyes when something clicks. Because of the hands raised in worship. Because of the confidence they build. I do what I do because of those deep late-night conversations that end with a teen deciding to give her life to Christ. I do what I do because there is no greater feeling than laughing and crying and watching one of my girls be baptized. I do what I do because of what my girls wrote in those notes.

And mostly…I do what I do because Christ loved me first. How can I not share the incredible joy I’ve found in Him?!

Published in: on August 5, 2012 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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The New Restoration?

Maybe just because I’m a Bible major (now legit with a pair of Chacos which I just purchased today and which were undoubtedly an automatic ticket upgrade for heaven), I am fascinated with the study of how religion changes.

Every few decades, a new generation seeks to establish its own stake in the ground, to seek the truth for itself, to begin a new movement of faith. You see, while the Church is a perfect concept, it is made up of imperfect people. Every new movement, every new denomination, is begun with sincere intentions, but as with everything else in this broken world, decay is inevitable. Motives are forgotten, and we cling to traditions instead. Culture changes. People change. The movement, once so aligned with the truth, begins to shift from the original pattern….

Until up springs a generation of bold young leaders who realize that a change has to be made. It’s time to overturn the corrupted ideal and return to the beginning, throwing out traditions and trying again to find the pure, uncluttered truth. The previous generation sees what’s happening and attributes it to youth’s impulsiveness and self-centered desire for something new and exciting. But I, having grown up in the traditional church of Christ and now on the edge of what I believe is a new restoration, see both sides and understand what the younger leaders are trying to do. We really do want to return to what we see in the Bible. At least, I know I do.

The Christian Chronicle recently published a fascinating article about this paradigm shift, which you can read here. The Restoration of the 1800’s was a movement to return to simple New Testament Christianity which resulted in the churches of Christ. Now, large numbers of young adults are moving away from the title church of Christ and gravitating towards a nondenominational church community. While many church of Christ adherents are alarmed, thinking that they are losing followers, others have a different view of what’s happening. The article quotes Alan Henderson, chairman of the Bible dept. at Greater Atlanta Christian School (affiliated with the churches of Christ): “Churches of Christ should be at the forefront of welcoming this trend toward non-denominational following of Jesus. After all, isn’t that what we have worked for — and prayed for — for generations?”

There’s your basic introduction to what’s going on. Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that “nondenominational” has practically become a label and denomination of its own, and a few generations from now I’m sure there will be another movement to fix what’s become broken yet again. But I see a lot of cool things happening within this new restoration that I think today’s young adults are getting right.

When my parents were growing up, they heard a lot of “hell fire and damnation” sermons with an emphasis on works and the narrow path. Then there was a shift toward grace and love — “You can’t do anything bad enough to keep you out of heaven!” But now, this new generation seems to be trying to strike a balance. This generation isn’t separating the OT God and the NT God. They’re realizing that God is love and justice. He is grace and intolerance. He loves us the way we are…but He loves us too much to leave us the way we are.

This has created a slew of new Christian buzz-words and popular phrases that I’ve noticed. We’re not on the dreamy, romantic side of love anymore. Here’s an intense, passionate, tough love. A few years ago, one of the hottest songs was “How He Loves.” Now the one playing on the Christian radio stations is the Newsboys latest, “Let heaven roar and fire fall, come shake the ground with the sound of revival.” I’ve noticed at Sanctuary (an instrumental worship night actually held at a church of Christ) the language that the worship leader uses when he prays — words like “Crash.” “Invade.” “Destroy.”

Did I say “new” words? Actually, it reminds me of something John Donne wrote back in the 17th century. “That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.” What John Donne wrote was actually pretty shocking for his time as well. After all, there’s really nothing new under the sun, is there?

Bestselling books like Radical and Crazy Love point to another defining characteristic of this generation’s religion: we want to be different. We want to overturn society, we want to be loud, we want to change things. We’re not ashamed of our faith. We don’t want to stay in our church building. We’re passionate about social justice in the name of Jesus, and we’re desperate for revival, for revolution. We have a big faith, and we want to move the mountains. We’re not satisfied with traditions. We’re reaching for something more.

This desire to go beyond tradition, however, leads to the controversial slogan, “No religion, just a relationship”, and Jeff Bethke’s viral video “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus.” If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it below:

This video caused a lot of controversy over the definition of religion. Technically, religion is something one “believes in and devotedly follows.” From context, though, it’s pretty easy to figure out that religion means something different to this generation. Being in youth ministry and following the latest Christian trends, I’m pretty on top of the context. Religion has become a negative term describing something like legalistic hypocrisy or Pharisaical self-righteousness. This generation hates, hates, hates hypocrisy, and more than anything else, we want to be authentic. Even in Jeff’s description of his video he says, “[This is] a poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion…at its core Jesus’ gospel…is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification.”

I don’t agree with the terminology just because it has created so much tension in the transition, but just know that this generation doesn’t hate the Church. They hate the decay that our imperfection has caused. And that’s why we’re moving back to what we see in the Bible, to the original pattern that we seem to have lost sight of. We just maybe haven’t come up with the best slogans. 🙂 We’re not perfect either, but we’re searching, and I’m excited to see what God is going to do with the passion of this generation.

Anyways, this is just my nerdy Bible major take on what’s going on, so I just wanted to share it with you all and try to bridge the gap a little so you can get an insider’s perspective.

The Role of Biblical Lament in Adolescent Ministry: A Summary

The following is a summary I wrote for my Technical Writing course. So, definitely more academic than anything else I’ve posted on here, but I thought the article was really interesting, and to spare you the 20+ pages of research, here’s a nice condensed version for you.

In his article “The Role of Biblical Lament in Adolescent Ministry,” Bob Yoder explores the purpose of Scriptural lament and the importance of teaching youth in the church an appropriate way to express their grief through lament, an element that is sadly lacking in most churches and youth groups today.

Yoder begins by helping readers to understand the nature of biblical lament, which is defined as “expressions of complaint, anger, grief, despair, and protest to God.” Laments are cries to God against injustice and pleas that he right the wrong which the writer is experiencing. The two main examples of lament in the Bible are the books of Psalms and Lamentations.  While Psalms encompasses several different kinds of prayers, the majority of these are laments, showing the importance of expressing grief to God.   Lamentations is a raw, honest look at crisis, showing us how those who experienced it processed their emotions, and even how the objective writer himself became immersed in their lament.

Yoder brings youth ministry into the equation by discussing the lifestyles and struggles of today’s adolescents: due to our ever-changing, fast-paced society where children have to deal with parental divorce and peer pressure, they are forced to grow up sooner than children of previous generations. These rapid changes do not allow them time to slow down and process their feelings. In addition, the adults who should be helping to shape them spiritually have backed out of responsibility, leaving today’s teenagers to manage on their own the troubles they experience and the pain they feel.

Lament, he explains, gives adolescents a chance to articulate the feelings they aren’t quite sure how to place and helps them connect even the difficult parts of their lives with God’s overarching plan, helping them understand that God really is involved in the midst of their pain.  It also provides an opportunity to slow down and practice introspection in the midst of a busy world.

There are two basic kinds of crises that adolescents experience: 1) major crises, such as divorce, violence, alcoholism, et cetera, and 2) developmental crises, which are those parts of the maturation process that can cause confusion, like dating relationships and struggling to find a sense of self. While major crises are more of an unexpected blow, developmental crises should be attended to as well, as ignoring them leads to a later buildup of confusion and grief. Lament is a way to help adolescents deal with these crises in constructive, rather than destructive, ways.

Yoder then discusses the effectiveness of lament at each stage of adolescence, as proven by research. Early adolescents, he explains, may have difficulty with the concept of being angry at God and may need adult guidance to keep the structure of lament age-appropriate. Middle adolescents, while still struggling with that theological tension, are more comfortable expressing themselves as they are learning independence. Late adolescents deal with more abstract crises such as life goals and worldview.

The research consisted of pastoral leaders experimenting with having the youth in their churches write their own laments consisting of three parts: 1) venting their anger and frustration, 2) recalling a time in their lives when they felt God was there for them, and 3) a transition into thanksgiving and praise to God. After this exercise, they had the students fill out questionnaires, from which Yoder found his results.

There are a few other factors to be considered, such as the fact that some people need more time to deal with each step adequately before they can move on to thanksgiving. Also, although writing the laments seemed effective for the most part, some students did not enjoy writing. Yoder suggests that these adolescents use their own developed skills in the practice of lament through music or art or other such means.

Overall, Yoder concludes, practicing Biblical lament seems to be a healthy way for adolescents to express their emotions and may keep them from unhealthy alternatives like violence, drug abuse, or self-destructive behaviors.

Published in: on March 11, 2012 at 11:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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