youth ministry

Lie to me, baby

Maybe we are just a little too authentic in youth group?

Last night, our high school ministry night met. We were down a couple of adults and up a few students. Actually, the night felt right at that balance between “out-of-control” and “in control” that is some of the secret sauce of youth ministry.

As I struggled to push my table group through a Bible study they clearly weren’t interested in I was feeling a little heart tug in a couple of directions:

  • I need to push these students through this study on Psalm 19, this is God’s Word… and David was describing some really cool stuff they need to know.
  • I need to pull the plug and call an audible. There’s something serious going on that’s more important than Psalm 19 right now.

Instead, I decided to just let it ride. We half-pushed our way through and half-let them stay easily distracted and unsatisfied. I resisted the urge to either side.

I’ll never know if I did the right thing or the wrong thing. But I do know I came home deflated and frustrated. Again.

Another time, another place

I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose of Tuesday nights in our group’s life. On the one hand, we want to “keep it real” and be authentically who we are. But my problems aren’t their problems. And my students already deal with more crap than they can work through in a lifetime. So I’m not sure “being authentic” about a lot of stuff is very helpful.

Nearly all of my students have spent some time in foster care. Nearly all of my students have at least one member of family member who struggles with drug addiction. Only 1-2 students have a dad in their lives. More than half have experienced some level of physical or sexual abuse. Most scrape by academically.

At 15 years old most of them have lived a lifetime of grief.

At the same time they deal with all of the normal pressures, temptations, realities, and burdens of being a high school student.

They don’t want to keep it more real. They want to keep it less real.

Maybe instead of dealing with the realities of life… Tuesday night should be an escape from all of that?

When you desperately need a new life “being authentic” just feels like you get dragged back into the quick sand you’ve just escaped.

A little less authenticity replaced with a glimpse of Fantasia?

Maybe Tuesday night would be better if it were kind of an other world experience? A healthy escapism? A place that intentionally disoriented students from their own reality and allowed them to escape to another reality for a night? A place in which at some point, on the way home, they questioned… was that even real?

Maybe youth group should be more of an escape? Sure, one on one or in small groups or in other high trust situations… we can go there and deal with that stuff. But when we gather as a large group I’m questioning the value of creating an authentic experience when a fantasy one is so much more desirable.

For discussion: I’ve used my own group as an example. But the reality is, youth ministry-wide, the pendulum has swung back and forth about youth group nights as a whole, about the youth worker being more authentic with their struggles, about sharing in small groups about life stuff vs. Bible study groups, etc. What do you think? Is it more useful for students to have a place of deep authenticity? Or is it more useful for students to have a place of escape to play, worship, and laugh?

hmm... thoughts

Americans Love to Hate Winners


We have a fascination with the little guy. Foundational to American storytelling is the little guy overcoming adversity to make it big. Americans love happy endings. The movie credits roll when Rocky raises his fists to the sky. Or when the young lawyer wins the big case against the mean corporation. Or when the nerdy sales guy finally marries the hot receptionist.

A storyline of a champion successfully defending his place in the world would never make it on TV. You’d never see a TV drama about a big law firm protecting their big clients assetts in a positive light. It would be offensive to our American storyline to celebrate the big guy keeping the little guy down. Our culture isn’t wired to believe that is a valid storyline.

We, collectively, hate the perennial winner. When the Chicago Bulls finally won the NBA Finals we celebrated with Michael Jordan. But when they won 3 in a row that seemed a bit much and everyone was fine with MJ going to play baseball for a few years. We were sick of his winning ways. The good guy needed to go wear a black baseball hat for a while… so we could welcome him back as he overcame being down to come to the top one more time.

We love the process of becoming a winner. But actual winners become the enemy in about two seconds.

This plays out painfully in politics. Collectively, we loved Bill Clinton as president. Then we hated him. We loathed his sleazy ways and couldn’t wait for him to leave office. People loved George W. Bush. It’s almost embarrassing to say that publicly– but the people loved Bush! Then they hated him. As time wore on everyone looked forward to him leaving office. Not even Republican nominees for his office wanted him at their events in the last year of his presidency. And now the tides are turning against Barack Obama. Just 12 months ago more than 60% of Americans chanted “Yes We Can” as they cast their ballot. Many cried along with the thousands at Grant Park when Obama won. Many lined up for days to proclaim his innaguration as the greatest day in our lifetime. But now he’s not the little guy, is he? The little guy has become the man and there is something in our collective DNA that must learn to loathe him.

It’s a little surreal when you look at it like that, isn’t it? Maybe its just hip to hate the President?

Sports? Same thing.

Celebrity? Same thing.

Business? Same thing.

Churches? Same thing.

Pretty much anyone or any thing which rises from obscurity to some notoriety is immediately loathed once they make it to the top. People hate Microsoft. They hate Dell. They hate AT&T. They hate the Yankees. They hate CNN. They hate Rick Warren. They hate Miley Cyrus.

I don’t know about you. But I’m ready for a new storyline in our culture. I’m sick of the hatred. I’m bored with making celebrities awesome in order to just tear them down. The plot is disgusting to me.

How about we start celebrating the everyday champions? The ones who never gain notoriety for coaching a freshmen basketball team. Is it possible for our culture to celebrate the Jack & Diane’s of the world? How about celebrating longevity? How about focusing on long term success instead of a parabola of success?

Of course not. We love creating superstars for the sole purpose of destroying them far too much.

family Funny Stuff

Thoughts on Disney on Ice Princess Classics

Last night, our family went to go see the Disney on Ice show. It was great family fun. I remember when I was a kid wanting to go, the kid across the street always getting to go, but being disappointed that I never got to go. So I was a little surprised when Paul said he wanted to go because he is definitely not into princesses. In fact, we had a nice chat earlier about what kinds of wild animals it would be fun to release onto the ice to chase and eat the princesses.

With all of that pessimism in me– it’s worth noting that we had a good time. No, really. It was fun.

Some random thoughts.
1. I’m glad we told the kids in advance we weren’t buying anything. It’s not that we’re cheap, it’s that we don’t want to blow money on $15 light up Disney princess spinning toys. And we ate dinner before going so no one needed a $12 Disney funnel cake. Overall, we got out of there with just paying for parking. I feel like somehow I earned $100 in bonus money.
2. It has two acts. One was plenty. Seriously, we thought the thing was over. The kids were cheering. All of the dead princesses had been kissed by their princes and were back to life skating around in their costumed glory. It was over when they announced, “we’ll be back after this intermission for the second half of our show.” The second half ranked up there as the longest hour of my life.
3. Now I know what happens to Olympic skaters after they reach puberty. They get jobs with Disney on Ice. I always said that skating didn’t prepare you for actual life skills, I was wrong.
4. “Are those real men daddy?” Paul, sitting at the edge of his seat asked me this question when a troop of men in tights skated to the center of the ice rink. “It’s complicated son. Complicated.
5. Dress your kid like a princess, you spend $300 at Disney on Ice. Seriously, 75% of the little girls in the audience wore Disney dress-up clothes to the show. You could hear the vacuums from parents wallets as kids begged for matching kitsch.
6. Big kids, too. Looking around, there were lots of kids who weren’t into in nearly as much as their parents. That’s the awesome part of Disney’s business model. Don’t introduce too many new characters– think about generations of kids who want to be Snow White, Belle, and Ariel when they grow up. There was a lot of sing-along from the parents. Reminds me of the McDonald’s business model. Hook ’em while they’re young!
7. Megan was very satisfied. Like a lot of 8 year olds, Megan loves fantasy. She’s very interested in reading and stories. So this was right up her alley. She told me last night, “I just hope I can remember the order of all of these princesses for my journal.
8. Did you know you can watch streaming video from on your iPhone? I learned that last night during the second half of the show. I watched some puppy cams, kitten cams, and some strange show about people who want to pay to travel to space. No, they aren’t going to allow you to travel to space on your credit card. Pay cash up front. Makes sense.
9. I have fun going places with my kids no matter what. Hey, I drag them to football games so putting up with 2 hours is no big deal, right? It was way easier than 2 hours of a princess birthday party.
10. I love being a dad. There’s no other way to say that. It’s full of life lessons as I try my best to teach life lessons.


Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian Images

Prince Caspian Ben BarnesI know a lot of people are excited about the May 16th release of Prince Caspian. As the pre-release buzz begins Grace Media, the PR firm that is trying to get church leaders excited about Prince Caspian. They recently hooked me up with this link to some early images. There is some good stuff there. Rather than reposting all of their images, just follow the link and check it out for yourself.
They’ve even bundled them all into a nice zip file for your convenience. Enjoy.

Below is the cast information and movie synopsis.