teens and media

last week in our weekly youth meeting (what we like to call, "Youth Group" - how catchy is that?!) we talked about every teens favorite topic, the crappy media they consume.  yeah!  Pastor Chad will tell us that we need to stop filling our lives with rubbish and we will listen!  well, that's sort of how it went down.

honestly, i've been down this road many times in youth ministry, so i was ready to try something different.  posted here are some pretty low quality pictures i took of the music, TV shows, movies, and websites our teens consume the most.  the something different happened after we collected this list of media.
what was this different approach?

i let them lead the talking.

"look at these lists," i said.  "are there themes or messages that stand out?"

now, i have to admit, my Junior Highers were the real "mature" group this week.  they got it.  they were honest. 

one student said, "all these things are about having fun.  the music, movies, and TV shows we like are about people having fun."


i made some air quotes because air quotes are totally hip and communicate tremendously with today's youth and said, "somebody define having fun as it is represented in this stuff you watch or listen to."

now things got tricky.  you see, they had to admit that most of the songs they listen to, shows they enjoy, and websites they frequent define "fun" using sexual images, references to drinking or doing drugs, or having lots of money and stuff.  this is what THEY said.  i kid you not.  i'm not making this stuff up.

so what does this mean?  how does the church compete with this?  how can we compete with the "Red Solo Cup" song or "Glee"?  what do we do when shows like "How I Met Your Mother" and "Grey's Anatomy" are regularly consumed by teens?  should we care?  does this matter?

we talked about two biblical concepts:
1) What's in you will come out:  Matthew 12:34-35, "For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him."2) Loving Jesus is about moving from darkness to light:  Luke 11:34-35, "Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness.  See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness."

i ask again, "Does this matter?"  Jesus says it does, so why don't we (including ME in that WE) do anything to change what we see with our eyes, hear with our ears - the media we consume?  because, as Jesus says, what we put in will come out, and that could get ugly.


Imagine the End

Check out this beautiful video offering a view of kids from different cultures growing up and training to be the “best” in the world.

It got me thinking:
There is determination and commitment needed to achieve Olympic status. 
There is determination and commitment needed to have lasting Christian faith.

What would this commercial look like if it were plugging youth ministry or ministry in general?  What if this was a video showing the pursuit of Christian faith across cultural/ethnic boundaries?  Would/Could such a video exist?

I’m sort of falling in love with the curriculum from Orange, particularly the DVD series featuring Chap Clark entitled, “Parenting A New Generation.”  It’s worth the cost.  We have been using it for a parenting Sunday school class, and they liked it so much that when it was finished they started it over!

One of my favorite lessons is called, “Imagine the End.”  In it, Chap Clark encourages parents to think about who they desire their children to “become,” rather than who they appear to be right now.  Imagine the end.  Who do I want my child to become?  What matters most?

In the busyness of parenting – in the chaos of parenting – how often do we really step back and think about what we want for our kids’ future?  Sure, we all want them to be “successful”, but how do we define “success”?  What matters most?  Is it the money they make, the spouse they choose, the college they attend?  And how do we encourage faith formation in the midst of all the busyness?

What matters most?  Who do we desire that our children become?

In order to answer these questions we must begin to “imagine the end.”  That’s what we do in so many other areas of life, why not with faith?  That is, if we truly consider faith to be not just important, but The Most Important thing our children can own.


Religion and Baseball

Any other baseball fans catch this New York Times piece on baseball and religion?  Apparently they teach a course on it at N.Y.U.!

There is one paragraph that seems to summarize my love for baseball and why I believe it needs to continue to be America’s Pastime.
“The real idea of the course,” he put it in an interview, “is to develop heightened sensitivity and a noticing capacity. So baseball’s not ‘the’ road to God. For most of us, it isn’t ‘a’ road to God. But it’s a way to notice, to cause us to live more slowly and to watch more keenly and thereby to discover the specialness of our life and our being, and, for some of us, something more than our being.”
Baseball’s grueling 162 game season, “slow pace,” and strange culture of rules, chatter, and superstitions, make it beautiful.  Yet, these are some of the very things today’s youth find “boring.”

What’s with these so called athletes who don’t ever have to run farther than 270 feet at the most?!  What’s with standing around waiting for a ball to possibly be hit knowing that it probably won’t be and even if it is there’s not a great chance it will actually come to me? 

I would argue, as Dr. Sexton has, that this is precisely why we need to teach baseball to our youth.  This slow, boring game is exactly what we need in a fast-paced, barely know what our neighbor looks like society.  There’s something about the slowness of the game that allows fans to have a conversation while maintaining focus on the game.  There’s something about the chatter and seemingly silly banter that happens on a baseball field.  What does “little bingo” mean anyway?  And how about “can of corn” or “frozen rope”?  This is the language of baseball.

Baseball, as Sexton points out, might not be a road to God, but it does teach us to be patient (both in the field and at the plate); it does teach us to take notice (what is the count on the batter, how many outs are there, what is the situation as a base runner); and it humbles us (the best hitters in Major League Baseball fail almost 70% of the time). 

This is the game I want my kids to learn to love.  This is the game that America needs.  We need to notice those around us and “discover the specialness of our life and being.”  In some ways this is the very essence of the Christian faith – love God and love our neighbor.  In loving God, we begin to discover the specialness of our life and being – we are created in God’s image, loved by the Creator, and deemed worthy of redemption.  In loving our neighbor, we begin to see those around us – we see that the other isn’t really all that different; in fact, we are more alike than we are different.

Baseball might not be the most exciting sport ever invented, but it has a lot to teach us – possibly even a lot to teach us about loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  


Poke the Box or Work the Angles?

I recently read two books simultaneously and I’m not sure it was a good thing. Well, it probably was because it made my brain hurt, and usually when my brain hurts it’s because I had to actually think. Thinking is good. I enjoy thinking. So this brain pain was, in the end, a very good thing.

The books? Seth Godin’s, Poke the Box, and Eugene Peterson’s, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Two very different sources. Godin, a successful entrepreneur and speaker, and Peterson, the pastor’s pastor.
Godin is telling me to stir the pot, trouble the waters, ask questions, push the vision – poke the box. Eugene is saying listen for God, be slow to speak, stay faithful to your calling to preach, pray, and be with people – take a long view.
Pastoral ministry is interesting in that there is room for both of these mindsets. There are times where vision must be casted; times where the prophetic voice calling people to future hope is needed. Yet there are times where the pastor simply sits with people struggling and listens; times where the pastor reminds the people that God is present even though they don’t see Him. And there are times where no matter how much the “box” gets poked, there are few immediate results that can be quantified.
The convergence: Striving for Excellence. Yes. Striving for excellence.
Peterson says,
“Ascetical is an athlete’s word. It means training for excellence. It is the practice of the disciplines that fit us for performing our very best in an event.”
The pastor strives for excellence in being with people, in the quiet of prayer and while meditating on Scripture. The pastor strives for excellence in proclaiming that there is hope and helping people to get a glimpse of this hope – to expect things hoped for. This takes discipline and intentionality – razor like focus – to be attentive to both to God and people.
Godin says,
“Excellence isn’t about working extra hard to do what you’re told. It’s about taking the initiative to do work you decide is worth doing.”

Pastors must remind themselves that the work of reading Scripture, prayer, and directing people are “worth doing.” It is too easy to get caught up in the numbers game; to focus on attendance, giving, and program. Pastors (pastors like me, at least) need to be reminded that the work that doesn’t give quick results or quantifiable data is “worth doing.”
No one will tell me to read Scripture more. No one will monitor my hours at prayer. No one will keep a time card for my time spent directing people. I must take the initiative to do these things with excellence, for they are worth doing.
You see, there is a convergence here. We must not fear “poking the box” in our churches, and at the same time we must not fear slowing down, spending time in prayer, meditating on God’s Word, and being with God’s people. Too often churches gravitate toward either extreme. Some fear the unknown, so they refuse to poke the box. Others want to see change now – they want bigger churches, more energizing worship “experiences,” so they refuse to slow down a bit and consider the spiritual disciplines.
What about you? Where are you stuck? Do you find yourself gravitating toward a fear of poking the box? Or do you see a need to slow down and focus on prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction? As we work the angles of pastoral ministry, we must not be afraid to poke the box. Even if, in your context, poking the box means slowing down and spending more time in prayer and Scripture.


College and Faith

Books, articles, and research telling us that and why students are leaving faith after high school are all the rage these days. From Almost Christian to You Lost Me, the numbers being reported aren’t encouraging. Some are suggesting that 40-50% of our Christian students will leave the faith once they graduate.

This post isn’t a suggested remedy or alarmist reaction to these trends. Instead, I want to look at one of the suggested reasons as to why students are leaving the church. I believe it’s one we need to debunk. It goes something like this:

When our Christian students go to college they are bombarded with teaching that is largely secular, even anti-religious. When they come up against these teachings they tend to trust their professors and begin doubting the faith they grew up with. This doubting leads them to leave the faith.

While this may be partially true, I wonder whether this is as significant a factor as some make us want to believe.

In his book Souls in Transition, Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith says,

“For contemporary emerging adults, going to college does not increase the ‘risk’ of religious decline or apostasy as it did in the not-too-distant past. Some evidence now even suggests that it may actually decrease that risk, compared to not attending college.” (251)

Going to college, according to this study, may actually increase the likelihood of students having a faith that lasts, and isn’t that our goal?

Likewise, I came across an article entitled, “Religion and Class: From Harvard to the Quick Stop.” Again, written by a sociologist from Missouri State University looking into the effects of college attendance on religious faith. Schmalzbauer writes,

Recent studies of religion and higher education have found that college-educated Americans are less likely to drop out of church. In a 2007 article for Social Forces, Patheos Blogger Mark Regnerus and his colleagues reported that “emerging adults that avoid college exhibit the most extensive patterns of religious decline, undermining conventional wisdom about the secularizing effect of higher education.”

There are other fascinating statistics that suggest colleges are a place where religious affiliation is rising that you can read in the full article.

So college may actually be good for maintaining faith? If this article is correct, what does this mean for students and families who cannot afford college or for whom college is not a viable option? There are surely other options for helping our graduates “keep the faith,” but I think these studies are on to something.

I’ve been thinking recently about the students who take a year or two off before school to work and earn money for college. I’ve also been more aware of our students who are attending the local community college while living at home. It has been very hard to connect these students to any ministries in the life of the church. They aren’t “youth group” age anymore though a part of me grieves the distinction we’ve made in youth ministry between an 18 year old high school senior and a college freshmen, yet another part of me believes it is simply a stage in growing up, maturing, and moving on in one’s faith journey.

So what do we do with these “souls in transition,” particularly the ones who do not immediately attend college or those who are not traditional students living in the dorms in some far away city? I realize that the problem isn’t something that happens upon graduation. Instead, the problem with kids walking away from faith has everything to do with faith development during their childhood and early adolescence. That being said, this is OUR problem to address. Parents, students, youth pastors, churches – these are OUR kids, and we need to prepare them better for what is next. Whether that is traditional four-year university or continuing to live at home to earn money or begin a technical career, it is our job to raise children to know and love the Lord. Not just for the time that they are in our homes or stuck in our youth programs, but for their lifetime!