Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Youth Ministry: Emotional manipulation v. geniue conversion

I work primarily in youth or student ministry, and at times I often find myself facing a crisis about my work. I love what I do, I love the people I work with, but sometimes I find myself terrified at that possibility that I am simply manipulating teenager’s emotions to respond to a teaching, and they are not actually responding to the person of God.

Adolescence is just an awkward phase. What teen does not feel depressed from time to time? What teen doesn’t feel alone, imperfect, or even un-cool? My fear is that youth ministry manipulates these very natural feelings, and promises teens a simple solution in Christ. When really the solution is one of growing up…developing into an adult. Christ is the solution for the sin and shame we all experience. Christ is the one bringing redemption to the world, but is Christ the solution to teen angst? Maybe they are all wrapped together?

I also realize teen angst can be quite destrucitve, so we do not simply want to abandon them to their emotions and figure they will work it out in a few years. But I fear we communicate that sometimes what they are feeling is abnormal and wrong, or even sinful, when really they are just growing up. Who wouldn't feel anxiety growing up in this world?

If you know me, you probably know that I actually error to far from emotional manipulation. Good theology and good living tells us that are emotions are wrapped up in who we are and how we relate to God. So, what should youth ministry focus on?

My real passion in youth ministry surrounds itself around faith development, and helping students connect with the person of Christ and his church. I could care less if they say a prayer, but hope and pray they discover the love of God and begin to live in the story of redemption we that is the Bible.

What helped you as a youth connect to God and develop your own faith? What are the real needs of teenagers and how do we appropriately minister to them?

Friday, January 05, 2007

What Can we hope for?

I got trapped in an interesting conversation this morning in the locker room. It was a much older man then I, who has been retired from the MPD for over 30 years. It is unusual to hearing complaining at that time in the morning because the early birds are typically optimistic people. This man however felt the need to lament to me about the ills of society. He complained about everything from hippie activists trying to save the trees and the butterflies, to uncontrolled violence in the city and gun control. The conversation ended on a sour note, “we’ve had our best times, nothing we can do about it.”

It might just be the ranting of an elderly man coming to grips with the end of his life. However, his pattern of thinking seems to be prevalent in all of us. In conversations with people I often hear a lament of what once was, and I have to ask, where is the hope?

Hope seems to me to be one of the core characteristics of what it means to be a Christian. I so badly want to shake people when they lament about what once was, and remind them of what will be. The past is not as bright as we might want to think it was. The past is full of as much violence and hatred as the present. The past has its fair share of injustice and downright evil. Do we not worship a God who has promised to make all things new?

Maybe we need to remember that Jesus and his mission are not just about saving individuals for heaven. Ephesians tells us that our personal salvation is really just step one in God’s great dream for recreating all of creation. For all things in heaven and earth have been brought together under one head, that is Christ (Eph 1:10). We can be assured that once again all things, all things, are under the rule of Christ, and will be brought into alignment with the character of Christ, or be destroyed. And this is a reason for hope, because there will come a day when injustices are brought to justice, when tears will cease, when peace will conquer war, when love and mercy win.

If we believe this, let us begin to live like it. Let us seek to be the agents of redemption of hope this world that is so hungry for. Let us not just accept the way of the world and say there is nothing that can be done, because something was done at the cross of Calvary. Hope has come and we should live as people of hope.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind me and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14).

What do you think? How can we proclaim hope? How should hope affect our day to day activities?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year (or my writing Hiatus has ended)

Happy New Year Everyone (I am ending my writing hiatus)

I apologize for the writing hiatus. The year of 2006 ended with a lot of commotion and craziness.

After returning home from China I began working as Associate Pastor at Southbrook Church in Franklin. While it has been odd adjusting to the role of “Pastor” (I still feel weird when people call me ‘Pastor’ instead of ‘Joe’ as if it's my name), I have quickly fallen in love with the church. It is a great staff to work with both volunteers and paid church workers.

Michelle returned home from Asia with the two of us rendezvousing in Boston for the wedding of our dear friend Aaron to his bride Ariel. The trip was fun and exciting, but tiring at the same time. Way to go Aaron and Ariel!

Having accumulated a ridiculous amount of airline and hotel points, we felt it necessary for the two of us to take a ‘free’ vacation. We set our sights on Florida, but found a frequent flyer ticket to Hawaii used much less points, so Aloha state we went.

Highlights from Hawaii:

1. The convertible upgrade the car rental agent scored us. There is really no better way to travel around Hawaii.

2. Scuba diving with 7 Manta Rays. These babies have 14 foot wide wingspans, and came right up next to us

3. Explore national volcano park. We hiked in volcano craters that were still steaming, and saw a live lava flow as it ran into the ocean

4. Riding our wave runner with a pod of 40 wild dolphins. The played with us for at least ½ hour.
5. Amazing time of connecting as we explored the wild world that is Big Island and took in the beautiful weather.

Our holidays were full of chaos, but lots of joy as well.

2006 was quite a year; new jobs, new countries, new experiences, new friends. All of these things have really stretched me as a person and I would say have brought lots of growth in my character and in my marriage.

2007 is already shaping up to be quite a year. Some highlights I am looking forward to

1. Lots of exciting growth in the family ministries at Southbrook Church
2. Graduating from Trinity with a Masters in Divinity
3. Competing in first Triathlon July 14th in the Twin Cities
4. Basement renovation (I love my house projects)

Just a few of the events to look forward to.

This officially ends my writing hiatus, and many fun entries are sure to follow.