Teens & Faith: Hard questions about youth ministry

It's not easy to work with youth in the church, but some are gifted for it. We all need to share our experience and work together for the success of the Church.

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Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States

Seeking to follow where God leads, and thankful that grace covers my multitude of errors.

Monday, May 15, 2006

We can't hide from visions

"And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions." - Joel 2:28

Tonight I believe the Lord has granted me a vision. It's one that is only possible in concert with others. Something that began forming in the fall of 2001 has taken a giant step forward.

How often do we get a vision or dream of something and blow it off? We say it's crazy or impossible or just a fantasy. "It would be great, but..." There's always a "but." Why? Perhaps it's because we aren't willing to go out on limbs. We don't like risk. We'd rather buy a lottery ticket. The problem is that God grants us dreams and visions for our ministries and we let them go fallow. They languish in our hearts, dragging us down and deadening our awareness of God's presence.

Last month I was struck by a daily reading in "The Rule of Benedict, Insights for the Ages" having to do with impossible tasks. I have been musing over that for the last month and it hasn't gone away. I have talked to several groups on that topic, and each time it seemed to cement itself further in my brain rather than being released. I didn't understand why.

As I drove home from a meeting I was given the impulse to visit with a fellow youth director and share a vision of shared ministry to the teens of our city. I hadn't been to this person's house before, but I managed to find it from a previous description. I talked about this recurring idea of youth across town coming together to worship regularly and how it had cropped up again tonight, causing my visit. My comrade in ministry smiled and listened well, and then proceeded to share a vision of cooperative youth ministry across congregations that would involve worship, fellowship and service to the local community. We discovered that each of us was being moved in similar and very compatible directions.

It's only the very beginning of discussion, let alone action. It's a start. My co-worker in Christ and I will continue the discussion and seek out other like minded youth workers to share the vision. I know now that my vision isn't a pipe dream. I hope the other director knows the same thing. God is inspiring us to do something new to serve our community's vast needs and help our students grow in their understanding of the power and love of God.

Do you have people you can trust to talk with about the dreams and visions of ministry that the Holy Spirit is granting you? You need to find them if you haven't already. It takes community to make things happen. We must learn to rely on each other and our gifts and not be paralyzed by fear of ridicule and rejection. Find someone. Share what God shows you. Hold each other accountable and aid one another in ministry. It's what the body of Christ is built to do.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

MySpace is a mixed bag to me.

I have just finally caught on to the popularity of MySpace.com in the last couple of months. Last week I went looking for as many of the students in my ministry as I could find. Over half of my students are using it as it turns out. And many of them are of questionable age to be on there. Heck, it turns out that I have several 100 year old mid-high students! They are really spry for being centenarians.

When I told one of my parents about my expedition into MySpace-land, I was told that effectively it is an evil thing that teens shouldn't be messing with. Honestly, I have a hard time disagreeing with the person. I find more danger than benefit in it.

First, no one is protecting you (or even warning you) from putting vital information out there that a predator (Let's not kid ourselves, they're out there.), a stalker or a identity thief could readily use for bad purposes. Some of my students try to be careful to avoid using their names at all and they make their pages private for friends only. Others have everything from full name to address to physical description available for all to see publically.

Second, it seems to encourage students (like many places on the WWW) to be something that they're not. There are kids in my ministry that have pages that do not reflect the person I know at church. There is a real lack of authenticity that is being fostered in such an environment. You can pretend to be almost anything you like. As Christ-followers aren't we called to live lives that are the same wherever we go? Paul may have been all things to all people, but I believe that Paul was still Paul wherever he went. When "Fawn" is a leader of the youth group at church and a regular Bible study participant and a good student in person but a moody, angry, "emo" hater on-line, it tells me that "Fawn" is struggling with her own reality. MySpace isn't a good place to work that out. No one is holding anyone accountable out there, that I can see.

Third, some students are keeping this stuff from their parents and/or supportive adults. They are hiding their activity. They are living a sort of lie of omission. That's not healthy for their relationships.

There is real, healthy self-expression going on with some students. I have one student who writes from his heart, and it is full of pain. It's where he really is. Real communication is not entirely absent from such a place, although it is not often seen. Some substantive bulletins or messages are sent; real things are said and meant. Others are no more substantive than rice cakes; light and fluffy and filling for about 5 minutes. We need to be able to express ourselves in more than Hallmark comments.

I know that despite my mixed feelings and findings, it is where they are. So I have a presence out there. But I will continue to promote face-to-face conversation, and real expression and authentic living for those I am with in ministry.

It's a mixed bag. I think it is neutral at best. I am trying to present the reality of it as I see it to my students.

What are you doing with it?