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Archive for January, 2015

Built for youth ministry

Photo on 2015-01-09 at 10.17 PM

10 years ago I was enrolled in a course called “Christianity and Postmodernity.” I spent the entire term feeling incredibly lost – I’m not sure what bothered me more: that I was in a course with REALLY smart people or that I didn’t have a clue what we were talking about.

I had this brilliant idea that I would write a paper on youth ministry in a postmodern context. I had never done youth ministry. I didn’t really know anything about youth. My youth was anything but “normal”. I had one friend my age in high school. I was homeschooled. I taught my siblings. I volunteered wherever I could. When I was 17, I started working full time at the University of Toronto. What did I know about being a youth – or youth ministry?

That course – and words of that professor – remain with me today. It was more profound than I ever could have imagined. It paved the way for me wanting to be involve din youth ministry – long before I realized that I like working with youth or even that that would be a good thing for me to try. The paper was completely theoretical – and I can’t say that I knew much about youth ministry when I wrote that paper.

10 years later, I’ve directed four leadership development and summer camp programs across the city. One of them was written up in an Anglican paper and people still talk about it and say I’m gifted with youth. I often joke though that I still don’t know anything about youth ministry.

But I definitely have a passion for youth – especially youth who are struggling in someway. That I understand. I understand wrestling with an abusive father and struggling to understand who I was. I know what it’s like to hold huge secrets and to feel that no one loves the real me. The more I hear the hearts of youth, the more I am thankful for the experiences I have had – even the rough ones – because I not only can really get their pain – but I also have the capacity to hold their stories in a way that many can’t. Yes, my heart breaks for youth – there are days I come home and cry or fret because of youth’s decisions or decisions made for them or the violence they face. And each youth ministry endeavour has at least one youth that breaks the boundaries of what I know and I lose sleep over trying to figure out how to meet them where they are at with love and patience and health. I usually have to consult a more experienced youth worker or counsellor. I’ve had to call children’s aid each year.

But there is nothing that I love more than being invited into a youth’s story – to hear the real person that they are with all their beauty and warts and struggles. Nothing makes me more excited than to see them take a few steps towards wholeness. I love the breakthroughs – when a youth really realizes I care. I recently talked with one youth who broke my heart with how low of an opinion he had of himself. I saw pride and confidence as I asked for his help. I don’t care if he really comes to help with a project – I’m just excited to see him sit up straight and look me in the eye.

And so, I am on a new adventure. In the fall, I had a vision that started as a school project, then a conversation, then a possibility and now it’s happening. I am starting a youth drop-in in an area where there are about 3500 youth with nowhere to hang out in the neighbourhood. I’ve spent the past few weeks praying and talking with various people who will begin meeting as a leadership team. We will be studying a book together and learning to play board games. Some of my readers were praying about some things including that we would get enough games donated to make this happen – I’m very excited and thankful to say that we have about 150 games collected. Contacts are being made in the neighbourhood and we move slowly, prayerfully and excitedly. Well, I can get a little too enthusiastic at times and forget the slow part but I’m learning.

The next task on my to do list is to get the room ready to invite youth into it. I have some ideas around painting and all. I need comfy furniture. Right now we have rather uncomfy and dingy looking chairs – hardly appealing. I have some DIY projects that could work and I’m looking for furniture. Having always lived with hand-me-downs, I really had no idea how expensive furniture is!

Ten years ago, I never envisioned that this would be my life.

A few months ago, this drop in centre started with a comment “if I could do anything, I would run a drop in centre for youth.” Sometimes I wonder where the heck that came from. And then I took the picture above. I’ve spent tonight gluing pieces together of a “photo booth” kit I bought on clearance just for fun. I can’t help but smile at the picture.

I am very much a youth worker/coach/counselor/pastor (we have yet to figure out the right word to call me!). There really isn’t any doubt in my mind.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A shift in youth culture?

I recently began to collect board games for a youth drop-in for a parish I serve.

One of these games is called LIFE. You may recall this game: You travel around a game board with many life decisions to make starting with whether you will go to college or launch into a career. You spin a plastic wheel that seemed to have more difficulty staying attached than offering you luck in your life. As you travel, you have bills to pay, a wedding to plan, a house to buy, children to name, and family vacations to take. Eventually, after you paid for your children’s expensive tuition and a few other later-in-life big expenses, you get to make the ultimate decision for your retirement. You may choose to play it safe and buy a very lovely, but not top-of-the-market mansion that allowed you to know exactly how much you would have in your bank. Or, you could choose the more risky option of leaving your stocks open and perhaps loosing everything for the chance to retire as a millionaire.

The LIFE game though that I put on the shelf was an updated version that is significant as it follows a cultural trend we are seeing in our youth. Instead of family and wealth, you pursue fame and glamour. Your expenses are hiring agents and paying exorbitant amounts to keep your hair and make up ready for the camera at any given moment. You earn money – but only as you increase in fame.

I read an article (which unfortunately I can’t find at the moment) notes that we are seeing a cultural shift with the awakening of shows like Glee and American Idol that not only teaches that fame is what we strive for – but that we can attain this goal in our lifetime. Previously, television shows upheld values surrounding home and work life. Often wealth was the valued prize, but that typically came through hard work. American Idol now holds a well-viewed episode in which some of the worst auditions are compiled. While some of these auditions are genuine, there is an increasing number of youth who will perform poorly in order to have their ten seconds of fame. The music industry has found a number of ‘youtube phenomenons’ who are then offered an opportunity to produce a record.

Vines are the latest venture in social media. As one younger youth said to me, “Facebook is so yesterday!” Vines are 6-8 second videos of you doing something  – and often something rather embarrassing. One such vine that went viral is of a teenage boy falling down the stairs. The youth group I mentored explained that it was far better to be famous for falling down the stairs than to not be known today.

This shift is both significant and concerning.

And as people tasked with shepherding children and youth in our churches, we need to pay attention to this shift. While I take pride in people noticing a job well done, fame doesn’t even fall on my list of things I wish to achieve in my lifetime. Moreover, the one we follow never sought fame but humbled himself even to death on a cross (Phil 2). How do we make disciples of this Saviour – who sought not human glory but to do His Father’s will?