Sunday, May 31, 2009

My trip to Australia

I will be headed to Australia with my wife Heather for a few weeks. While over there I will be keep you up to date through this blog and the blog that Heather and I have together. Check back often for updates. I am taking Hurt with me so I can continue to ponder the writing of Chap Clark. That will be good for the long flight we have ahead of us.

Keep up in your prayers as we travel,



Saturday, May 30, 2009

A good change coming?

I have entered the second part of Chap Clark's book "Hurt" and it is continuing to give me lots to think about. First, imagine how much more interesting your text books would have been if you would have had real life experience with what they were talking about. It's amazing how much I love this book. But I think it's because I have a point of reference.

Second, Clark suggests that in today's teenage culture small groups or "clusters" are created in every high school across the United States. Clusters are not cliques. Clusters are "a group of adolescents who identify themselves as a defined relational unit." as defined by Clark. They are not something that is in the vocabulary of today's youth but is something unspoken and almost automatic when entering high school. They are groups of, on average, 8 to 13, but could be less but rarely more. These clusters are so obvious to me now that Clark has defined them that I can't believe I missed it.

The primary formation time for clusters are at the beginning of 9th grade, or their first year of high school. This is where we experience the most drop off of youth in the church today. We hardly have a retention rate to speak of because these clusters are being formed and because church is something very low on the priority list then it no longer is a priority of the cluster as a whole.

Once again a light bulb went off. Why do youth always ask who's going to be at an event? It's because they want to know if anyone from their cluster is going to be there. The problem that Clark noticed is that the clusters tend to work as a unit. In other words the the whole group isn't keen to the idea, then no one is. Plus, you have to take into consideration what other clusters are going to be at a church event, because if the event isn't huge then the clusters may just have to interact and that may or may not be a good thing. Can we say drama!?

So, what does this mean for Word of Peace? This is a very reassuring bit of information from my point of view. If we can get the 9th grade clusters to be formed or at least have a common interest be church then we may have a fighting chance to keep the youth around longer. By pushing back confirmation and encouraging if not requiring 9th grade small groups we will intentionally infuse Jesus into the cluster forming process.

Youth are looking for a safe place right? Clusters provide that. Church is also a safe place. So what could be safer than a cluster based around the love of Christ? Not much if you ask me. Hopefully we can make it so this fall.



Friday, May 29, 2009

More on "Hurt" by Chap Clark

I haven't decided yet if a good way to start the day is by reading "Hurt" by Chap Clark. Some of my best reading and comprehension time is in the morning because I'm not awake enough to be distracted. (Does that even make sense?) It has become a little harder reading this book because of the compassion and love I have for the age range, high school, he is talking about. The distressing facts he discovered, the poetry the students gave him, and the idea there are dark recesses in each and every life I work with makes me want to put the book down and let the sense of hopelessness wash over me.

I do understand, however, that this is the way books are written. The problem is posed. The weight of the situation pointed out again and again until I reach the last third of the book where small glimpses of hope are brought into focus. Since I am only just beginning part 2 I have yet to see any trace of this hope, but nonetheless I am still hopeful.

Here are a few things I read in the past chapter that stood out to me:

Clark is explaining about the multiple "selves" that midadolescence have in order to survive daily life.

"The necessity for multiple selves, a far more complex developmental requirement that for any previous generation, causes midadolescents to seem almost schizophrenic to an adult who can see life only through a lens of a single (or dominant) self who plays many different roles....I became convinced that the defining development characteristic of midadolescence, then, is the ability to draw on abstract and complex processes of thinking and logic within each layer. Interestingly enough, however, midadolescents are not yet able to integrate such thinking across the many layers in which they live."

To me, this is very interesting, especially when I deal with parents. I can't tell you how many times I have heard about or seen a student act one way in a certain situation and then turn right around and act or say something completely opposite. Parents are always telling me this. "They are wonderful at home but when they go off with their friends they are someone completely different."
This has huge implications in youth ministry. If students only come to church and put on their "church self" then leave only to take that "self" off and put it aside until they walk through the doors of the church again...that bothers me...a lot! Isn't it my job to get youth to apply Godly principles in their daily lives? Aren't I supposed to help students make good choices by giving them the ultimate reference point on which to make said decisions? Logic and complex thinking are capable, as Clark said, but getting them to apply that thinking to another area of their life....that is the challenge. And what a challenge it is.

Something just made sense to me. I try, as the extrovert that I am, to get out of the church as much as I can in order to "be seen" in the lives of youth at their sporting events, concerts, and general daily life. Every time, without fail, I get the question "what are you doing here?" And in that moment I see a clashing of worlds happen. I realize what I am seeing is the confusion and decision process of "who am I going to be now that Dain is here?" happening right in front of me. It is a strange sight and one I love to see because it is throwing church, God and Jesus into a mix when they were most likely not even there in the first place.

Imagine if that happened all the time and division of midadolescent worlds became foggy and uncertain. Imagine if students were forced to walk in more than one, even three of four of their identities at one time! It would blow their minds, but it would also let them know it is possible. I have no doubt that the dominant persona will win out and that will most likely not be the church person, but what if it was? It is possible.

Thanks Chap Clark for a good chapter.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

With my Brother

Amongst all the planning and details involved with taking a trip overseas I decided I needed some quality time with my brother. It's a good thing he agreed. Really why wouldn't he? Derek and I went out to Maple Groove to shoot some pictures for a gift he wanted to give his wife Michelle. We went over to the Great River Energy company and found some great little places. Check it out.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Further North

For the past couple of days I was up at Luther Dell Bible camp, one of my favorite places. I was helping out Youth Encounter by lending my guitar skills and then earned my keep at the camp by building a bridge over a marshy swampy area along one of the trails. It was a messy day of work, but was also rewarding as well.

I have also been reading one of the books I gained in my Understand class called "Hurt" by Chap Clark.

It has been a very interesting and somewhat depressing book to read knowing that the truth he writes about connects on so many levels: school, family, and church to name a few. Here are a few quotes I have come across.

"To survive, a young person must learn how to be a child, a student, an athlete, and a friend, while also continuing the ever lengthening process of determining who he or she is. In other words, we have allowed a new stage of life known as midadolescence to emerge, and this new stage carries with it new and at times very difficult challenges." pg 20

"Adolescents have been cut off for gar too long from the adults who have the power and experience to escort them into the greater society. Adolescents have been abandoned. They have, therefore, created their own world, a world that is designed to protect them from the destructive forces and wiles of the adult community." pg 21

"What is interesting is that many adults will highlight these (sports and dance) and other activities as proof as their commitment to the young. "I drive my kid to all of these activities. I sacrificed my own life, work, avocation, and enjoyment in order to take the kids to soccer games, concerts, and competitions."...We have evolved to the point where we believe that driving is support, being active in love, and providing and and ever opportunity is selfless nature. We are in a culture that has forgotten how to be together." pg 46

"The sharp and attractive and the rebellious and countercultural make up only 20 percent of the population, and yet they receive 80 percent of adults' attention" page 49

"The loss of meaningful relationships with adults has been the most devastating to developing adolescents" pg 50

These are only a few of the ones I have come across. But I shutter at the fact that parents, teachers and even youth workers have fallen into this perpetuation of adolescent abandonment. We believe deep down inside that we are doing them a service, but are we really? Are we providing what is best for their lives? Or are we putting our own selfish needs and wants first and making them happen through the youth of today?


Monday, May 18, 2009


During my sabbatical I am planning on doing two things I love, and do them at the same time: riding my bike and photography. Today was my first day I was able to ride and take pictures. Each time I am going to go off in a different direction and see what I see. Today I went north and this is a little of what I saw.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The end of Understanding

It's not that I am through with trying to understand the teenage mind, but that would be a logical conclusion after all the information I heard today, but it is only that the class is done and I am moving on to another.

The biggest thing that i took from this class is knowing that this is something kids and parents need to hear. And then trying to earn the right to give that information to them.

I have tried this before. It was called Parent Teen Connection. I had it once a month and I had two families show up. The amazing thing was I thought they went well and there was a lot taken from the class. Problem was, that was it, no one came after that. Is it because they don' think I can tell them anything they don't already know, or is it that I am young and have no kids so I can't possibly know what it is to parent.

I am not telling them how to parent....well maybe I am, but that is beside the point. I believe that as a person that is immersed in youth culture and is paid to know what is going on in the lives of teenagers today that I should have the respect of the parents. But maybe I am only viewed as the goofy youth director that has nothing wise or important to say. That's why I need to earn the right to talk to parents and go from there.

I am looking forward to the next class called "Manage," it should be equally as interesting.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Development of the brain

Back to front, left to right.

I always wondered why in such a crazy time of life we are trying to talk to kids and give them all kinds of knowledge when their brains are hardly ready for something that intense. We as "fully developed" adults try to rationalize and quantify Jesus in a way that makes sense to us, but literally goes in one ear and out the other of the audience we are in front of...the youth.

What does make sense to me is how Middle and High School students, and their brains, are looking for memories. This is what their brains are learning at this point in life. Abstract thought comes later. Right now they are looking for experiences to hold on to. A lot of people talk about how the world is event driven, that you and adults alike want something worth coming out for. They want to know who is going to be there, what is going to happen and what they are going to get out of it. They are looking for a memory making time in their life. Mission Trips, National Youth Gatherings...these are things that youth sign up for because they know they are going to have a wonderful time and they will never forget it. And that is not a bad thing. But what about the rest of the time. What about the weekly, mundane, relationship building times? Those are important too because in the end they too will be memories. It's hard to see it that way when you are in the midst of it.

So maybe we shouldn't always look at events as a bad thing. Pizza and movie nights, lock-ins, random nights throughout the year, those are memory making times. They are positive times in their life. Imagine if you had a bank full of positive memories that outweighed any bad memory you had. That would be something.

We are in the business of sharing Jesus and the Gospel with youth, but we are also all about being a good influence for the kids. If all kids that leave Word of Peace know when they leave after High School is they are loved and that the adult leaders cared for them and Jesus is a part of some great memories then maybe we did a pretty good job of helping that brain grow in a very formational time of life.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Sophistication vs Maturity

One of the biggest smacks on the head today was the idea that sophistication and maturity are different things. I guess I may have already realized this, but never thought that it was relevant to youth ministry. Let me explain.

Bruce Wayne, he is a very sophisticated person right. He was at least until Christian Bale got his hands on the character. The sophistication was still there because of the money and the knowledge in his head, but what he did with that knowledge and power was not the most mature. Anytime you would see Bruce in public, at a restaurant or driving a car he was always reckless and maybe even drunk. Granted this was an alter ego, but the point is that most youth with the abilities they have to become knowledgeable about anything via the internet and other people's lives may be sophisticated but are still immature. 20 years ago when parents of today were teenagers it took a lot of work and maturity to be sophisticated, now the ruse of teenage life is to convince parents that they are more mature than they really are. Kids will be kids.

Parenting needs to happen no matter how sophisticated youth may seem. Youth need to realize that it is their responsibility to see their parents as parents not an older version of a teenager.

Adolescence is expanding and is twice the size it was in the 50's. This means that youth begin seeming more mature earlier and continue the ruse later in life.

This is all to say that as adult leaders, especially in ministry, do not assume that your kids can think and comprehend on the same level as you. That you are able to give them some amazing philosophical quandary that will blow their mind only to realize it confused the heck out of them and maybe even turned them off of church.

Kids are kids and that is a good thing, be kids. Don't grow up before you have to and when it is time take responsibility for who you are and your actions, truly make them yours an don't blame them on your parents. Don't try to be something you are not. You are loved for who you are and not for who your parents think you are. You belong to the kingdom of God from the day you were baptized. This is a great thing.

Love this time of life, love each other and love your family.


Sabbatical - Day 1

Youth Leadership - Understand with Tiger Mcluen.

It has been a few hours of my first class in an effort to Understand youth and Youth Ministry better. So far I am affirmed in my lack of understanding and also the recognition of the transition period that youth are going through in their lives.

The big questions:

Middle School: Do you like me?
High School: Do I like you?

8th and 9th Grade: Do I like that you like me?

Just as I read in Youth Ministry 3.0, adolescence is expanding and has been for years. But the "church should be the same as it was in the 70's" mentality from our current leaders is sending us down the crapper because of the shift that is constantly happening. We need to take a page from the book of India, Africa, China....that youth / adolescence is not just high school it is truly a process that is one fourth of our life.

More to come...


Friday, May 1, 2009

Nothing like a good cry

Last night I was in the mood for a great movie. It was a long day, a long week, I was taxed and done for. I couldn't help but think about doing anything more than allowing myself to be transported into a good drama. One that would challenge me to stay awake and be a movie I hadn't seen in some time. That movie was Dead Poet's Society. A favorite of mine.

I tried my best to stay awake, but to no avail. I was fast asleep a third of the way into the movie. No matter. I was up in the morning and after some time with my wife I picked up right where I left off. As I watched I remembered how much I love this movie and wondered why I had to unwrap it from plastic when I wanted to watch it this time. This was a movie that reached deep into my soul touching and strumming some elusive chord I had forgotten was there. My life of action packed fast paced movies, music and work buried my love and respect for this type of emotion and commitment to a movie. But even more than that it spoke to my place in life. Teaching and trying to inspire passion and commitment to something others even peers may seem odd and uncool. The teaching of poetry and literature in this movie in a way different and in an experiential way grabbed hold of me. Rather than relating to the youth, the young boys of this movie I found myself in the shoes of Robin Williams, the teacher wanting to teach and feed the Word of God to the students I encounter every day. I cried. I was a blubbering mess on the couch under my blanked as the credits rolled. How could you just take that opportunity away from them? Why are the pillars of the school more important that getting to what's underneath the words on the page? Can't you give him another chance....?

I feel this way in my life all the time. I sing praise songs, I read the Bible, I sing choir anthems... the words, they sit on the page and stare back at me. Why aren't they jumping out at me? Why don't I spend time "sucking the marrow" from the poetry that is in front of me day after day? Why don't I encourage it more from the youth I teach?

In the end it wasn't the poetry, the words on the page that mattered. They had gone beyond just words and become life. They were something more. They were deep inside and wanting to come out so badly the one holding them could burst. I had forgotten that deep inside of me those words had once taken hold. I was once ready to burst. But my busy life and constant gaze toward the future and next event has not allowed myself to enjoy these words. But in the same emotion I was comforted knowing that the words, although hidden deep inside of me, had never let go. They were there welling up inside of me during this very moment. I was connected to something long ago and present at the same time. I was happy, sad, excited, scared, and anxious in the same tear. What a wonderful feeling this was. More I want more of it I want to be moved to the point of emotion bursting out of me because of what I have seen or read or experienced.

I pray I take the time to enjoy the words God has given us through poets, song writers, scholars, and even myself during my sabbatical. I pray that we all may take time to dwell in the house of the Lord more often chewing and ingesting all of the goodness our Lord has set out before us.

The feast is before us....let us partake of it.