Category Archives: Ministry

Design, Ministry, Life, Learning

I recently graduated from the Austin Center for Design.

Just a month ago, I was siting at my desk, surrounded by boxes of design books and clothes and sparkhouse curriculum and office supplies as I packed up for my return to Minneapolis.

I’m back to working fulltime on sparkhouse projects again. Jesse Jack and I are continuing with Kites & Ladders, a company that came out of our work at AC4D that seeks to amplify the voices of people with autism. And I’ve got another project in my back pocket to bring together all this design stuff I’ve been living with all this theology stuff I’ve been doing for the last decade.

Because now when I talk theology, I can’t help but think about design theory and methods I’ve learned over the last year. (Externalize everything. Sketch ideas. Design with vs. design for. Develop empathy through ethnographic research. Iterate. Iterate. Did I mention iterate?)

And one place I’m excited to explore these ideas around theology and design is at The Summit, put on by The Youth Cartel in November. I’m one of the speakers, and I can’t wait to learn from everyone else who will be there.

Here’s a promo video they released with clips last year’s conference, and be sure to check out details for the rest of the event. (And the reduced Early Bird rate runs through mid-July.)

The Summit 2013 from The Youth Cartel on Vimeo.

Any chance I’ll see you there? 

What is “real beauty?” A response to the latest Dove campaign

As soon as I saw the latest video from Dove’s “Real Beauty” initiative earlier this week, I tweeted the link, saying I want to show it to every teen girl I know.

In the video, women sit in a curtained-off area and describe their appearance to an FBI-trained forensic sketch artist as he renders their portrait. But the video doesn’t stop here. Earlier in the day, these women had conversations with strangers (with no explanation why). These strangers then enter the room and go through a similar process—but instead of talking about themselves, they describe the women they conversed with that morning.

The result literally illustrates the women’s negative self-perceptions when the two different sketches are matched side by side.

This is part of a larger campaign Dove has been running to showcase “real beauty”—but not without controversy. And I agree—there’s plenty that’s not-quite-right with what Dove is doing.


I still want to show this to all the teen girls everyone I know. I want to watch it multiple times for myself.

Because it’s a chance for critical reflection. To talk about media and manipulation and motivations. To help young people become savvy about advertising. What is Dove selling here? How does it reinforce or conflict with other messages we hear around us?

Because body-bashing happens, and Dove’s campaign can spur conversation about about imago dei and what it means to be made in the image of God. The video isn’t perfect, and that’s why it shouldn’t stop us.

Because it’s a good reminder that our self-perceptions are skewed. And to reframe how we see ourselves in both theological and practical ways.

Because all of us are more beautiful than we think.

And we are more beautiful than Dove thinks…because we are more than beauty.

Teaching Wisdom

I just read a blog post written by Amy Jacober over on Theological Curves. She is a professor with a Ph.D. from Fuller Seminary and has written a book on practical youth ministry. In the post, she recounts an interview for a teaching position at an academic institution where the interviewer asked how she would teach in a way that would protect the faith of male students who don’t believe women should be in leadership roles in ministry.

I am grateful to be part of a faith tradition that has been ordaining women for decades and recognizing female leaders for even longer. But the question Amy reflects on has deeper implications and pops up in other variations across the church, so I wanted to share this paragraph that resonated deeply with me:

We do a disservice to young people when we refuse to pose controversial topics or present a variety of views as valid. We breed future ministers who fail in reflective practices for fear that their precious theological glass houses will shatter. We dishonor God when we treat young people as if they are pathetically fragile in the name of preservation of faith. Assuming these same young people are created in the image of God… That god too is fearful and unreflective.


I am not interested I dismantling faith. I am however interested in helping young people, men and women, to be in ministry for the long haul able to draw strength in the face of diversity and new ideas.


Read the rest here.

Becoming a Designer is Ruining Me

I’m at a national youth ministry conference this weekend. I love coming to this event because I get to meet passionate youth workers and reconnect with friends whom I see only once or twice a year. The schedule is a bit ridiculous because when youth ministers put together an event, the formal event activities run from before 8am to nearly midnight, with social time following the closing events. (These must be the same people who organize lock-ins.)

The one down side I’m experiencing during this event has happened because I’m in design school right now. We’re studying service design and also learning practices to develop empathy for participants in a service or system and ways to prototype and test ideas to make sure the outcome addresses the users’ needs. As part of this, Jon Kolko has challenged us to start noticing the designed elements in our everyday lives: The materials in a pen that affect the way we use it. The buttons on software applications that indicate whether you’ve activated a button or switch. The details we take for granted when they work well and that aggravate us to no end when they don’t fit our mental models.

Now I’m thinking about design in new ways, and I can’t turn off this way of seeing the world around me. Frankly, it’s a little irritating because I see problems and broken stuff everywhere. Some experiences in the last day:

  • I can never successfully swap calls when I’m leaving a voicemail and the person calls me back mid-message. (I’m pretty sure the voicemail usually ends 10 awkward seconds of silence or “Hello? Are you there?” before I realize I’ve hung up the real call and am still recording.)
  • I had to ask four people directions to the hotel registration area because I parked in the adjoining conference center and could not figure out where the bridgeway was or which escalators to use.
  • The light switch in my hotel room is so aggravating! For some reason, this double switch plate controls the room’s lights–AND the bathroom light. I’m used to switching on a light when I enter a room, so every time I walk in the bathroom and shut the door, I get have to walk out and flip on the light. (And if I were staying here with high school youth, I can just imagine how many kids would end up showering in the dark when a roommate flipped the switch on them–accidentally or intentionally.)
Why is my hotel bathroom light switch OUTSIDE the bathroom door?

Yes, I know the inconvenience of a poorly-placed light switch isn’t a wicked problem. However, it’s been a little reminder to my budding designer that the decisions we make–intentionally or unintentionally–impact the interactions people have with their environments and one another. Our designs have consequences.

* Gah! In the middle of writing this post, I went to refill my water class and ONCE AGAIN groped the textured wallpaper before remembering there wasn’t a plastic plate nearby.

What Do You Desire?

In Lauren’s class a week ago, we were talking about why research methods matter for the design process. One important reason comes down to mental models–or how a person imagines something works.

Just the other day, I experienced the challenge of mental models firsthand. I was working on a project in Photoshop after spending a significant amount of time working in Illustrator the previous week. The two applications look really similar, but when I started trying to manipulate shapes and use some of the tools I’d come to rely on in Illustrator, I kept getting error dialogue boxes.

I’m sure I hit the enter key harder than necessary in my effort to get rid of the error message. And I had a few choice thoughts for Adobe.

My experience and frustration happened because they way I thought something should work differed from the way it actually functioned.

This reminds me of a concept called the desire path. I’m sure most people have seen a desire path before–and have probably even contributed to making one. This kind of trail happens when people deviate from the intended path, usually for the sake of a shortcut. Like this.

Desire paths are a physical examples of workarounds. They visibly reveal what happens when the way something is designed and made manifest differs from what people expect or want.

And that’s part of the value of design research. Through observing people’s actions, we start to see behavioral trends. We notice patterns of how people naturally function, what they expect, where they get stuck, and where they carve out other routes.

So I’m starting to pay more attention to desire paths around me. It happens when I’m out for a run and see a shortcut tamped down by people before me, as well as at a coffee shop watching the barista move from the register to the espresso machine. It happens when I see people walking out the doors after a worship service.

And it’s also got me wondering… What desire paths have you seen in the church?

(A variation posted on the AC4D blog, image: Kake Pugh)

I’m (Re)Imagining Christianity

Adam Walker Cleaveland, pastor/blogger/thinker, is currently running a series on (Re)Imagining Christianity. He posed two questions and asked a number of people to write guests posts with their responses:

  1. What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that must die so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?
  2. What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that we must hold onto and live out more fully so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?

I feel honored to share my thoughts alongside folks like Landon Whitsitt, Tony Jones, Carol Howard Merritt, Clint Schnekloth, Lars Rood, Sarah Bessey, and Troy Bronsink, among others. Here’s an excerpt from my post on nostalgia in response to the first prompt:

I think we face a similar case of nostalgia in the church. The state of the typical American church is a little unsatisfying, so we long for “the good days.” When denominations were growing and thriving. When people were biblically literate. When youth ministry and worship didn’t need to compete with sports practices. When families worshipped together, and kids dressed up and sat quietly in the pews during worship. When… When… When…

It makes me wonder, When? When did church actually look like that?

I have a suspicion that those days never really existed. Or if they did exist, they weren’t as perfect as people imagine.

Read the rest here.

The series will have a number of posts through late-April, so be sure to keep checking Pomomusings for the latest reflections and to share your comments.

Now Showing (in the Twin Cities…for one day!): Blue Like Jazz

A few years ago, I read Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz and really enjoyed it. (In particular, I was struck by the “confessional booth” Miller and several Christian friends set up on a very secular college campus. But instead of asking people to confess their sins, the group confessed and asked forgiveness for the ways Christians have misrepresented Jesus.)

Then two years ago, I read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which came out of Miller’s experience trying to turn Blue Like Jazz into a movie. I really appreciated how A Million Miles challenged me to think about the story I tell with my life–and how to live a more compelling narrative. (Which explains how I gave away a couple copies of the book before I even finished reading it myself!)

So back to Blue Like Jazz… As they were making the Blue Like Jazz movie, funding ran out. And then a Kickstarter project saved the film, which has been screening at ministry events and college campuses across the country before it hits theaters April 13.

And now it’s coming to the Twin Cities. (Well, technically, St. Paul.)

So if you’re looking for something to do on Friday, March 16, head over to one of the two screenings at Macalester College. Donald Miller and Steve Taylor (the film’s director) will roll in on the Blue Like Jazz bus an hour ahead of the screenings to hang out with people before the movie begins. The events are free but do require an RSVP, which you can do here:

Want to see more? Check out the website and the trailer:

This Post is Not About Davy Jones

Facebook and Twitter streams reflected people responses and sadness over the death of Davy Jones on Wednesday. While I recognize that a 66-year-old music icon’s passing reminds us (especially children of the ’60s) of our mortality, I struggle with the amount of attention it’s getting.

Because when I woke up this morning, I heard this report from Syria on NPR:

After pummeling the Baba Amr neighborhood with tanks and rockets for nearly a month, the Syrian government pledged yesterday to, quote, “cleanse the area.” And that’s what appeared to be happening today. Activists say soldiers are going house to house, arresting all males over the age of 14. This morning, activists say soldiers lined up 10 men and shot them, execution style.

14-year-olds are reportedly being rounded up in an effort to quell the rebellion. Those boys would be high school freshman in the United States.

Soldiers are executing people. Despite repeated efforts, the the Red Cross has been turned away, and many Syrians are without food, water, electricity, and medical care.

The crisis in Syria is overwhelming, the politics are complicated, and I don’t claim to understand what’s happening. I don’t know what I can do to help the people of Syria.

But I’m paying attention. And I’m thinking about how life is fragile. And I’m praying for resolution in Syria.

Even if it would be easier to change the topic to Davy Jones’ legacy.

Creativity (and a Crowdsourced Bibliography)

Princeton Youth Forum banner

Right now, I’m at the Princeton Youth Forum in Santa Barbara, which features some really smart people who are leading thinkers in youth ministry and beyond. Last night, I gave a presentation on how design and design thinking methods can help youth ministers address the challenges (big and small) we face in our ministries. It’s drawn from the practices we use to create sparkhouse resources, as well as my experiences in ministry.

I’m posting a growing bibliography from my talk at Some other forum attendees will also be posted highlights and sources from the lectures and electives they go to, so we’ll crowdsource a more complete bibliography from the event. And if you have other references you’d like to add, just let me know!

I speak again on Wednesday afternoon, or if you want to catch it some other time, I’ll be leading a couple workshops at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza and co-presenting with Tony Jones at the Princeton Forum in April.

Immerse Journal Interview

Hey, that's me!

I’ve been honored to write for Immerse, a youth ministry journal that offers a great mix of theologically deep, thought-provoking, and practical articles by some great thinkers and leaders in the youth ministry world today.

When I was at the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta back in November, I sat down with Aaron Mitchum for an interview about my article, “Imagination, Tinkering and Theology: Youth as Theologians” (Jul/Aug 2011). The interview was just posted to their site last week, and you can hear it here.

And then check out the Jan/Feb 2012 issue to see my next article, “Encountering the Messy Midrash.” And then subscribe–or give a subscription to your favorite pastor or youth minister. Because it’s a great publication. 🙂