Category Archives: Ministry

Atheism 2.0

I found this TED Talk on “Atheism 2.0” fascinating. Alain de Botton makes an argument for atheists to borrow some of what he considers the best aspects of religion so atheists aren’t cut off from community, morality, culture, etc. He even brings up the positive aspects of institutionalized religion (which is especially interesting in contrast to the viral spoken word YouTube video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus“).

Worth checking it out. And then I’d love to hear what you think.

Symposium Ticket Winners! (And one more chance to enter)

Thanks to everyone who commented and helped get the word out about the Extended Adolescence Symposium on Twitter and Facebook. Three things:

1. Winners!
I just drew names from those who posted comments, and congratulations to Jim and Gavin Richardson. I’ll see you in Atlanta!

2. One more chance
If you didn’t win, don’t despair. There one more ticket up for grabs on the sparkhouse blog.

3. Breakfast
It’s always more fun to know a few folks before the conference gets started, so I’m thinking about putting together a little meet-up for breakfast before the Symposium starts. Anyone else interested? Or have recommendations near the Atlanta Marriott Marquis? (Thanks, Andy Cornett, for the inspiration!)

Free Stuff! Extended Adolescence Symposium Tickets (giveaway)

Extended Adolescence Symposium Banner

As a young adult who works with you and develops educational resources, I’ve been intrigued by the changing nature of adolescence. All I have to do is walk into the youth room on Wednesday nights to see first-hand that puberty is starting earlier for many kids than it did just 15-20 years ago. On the other end of the spectrum, I know a number of college graduates who have moved back into their parents’ homes and don’t exhibit many of the traditional signs of being an adult.

The path to adulthood looks much different than it did a few decades ago. And this shift has serious implications for youth ministry and how we navigate the realities of adolescent culture and the call of discipleship.

That’s why I’m excited to go to the one-day Extended Adolescence Symposium, featuring a dialogue (and probably some debate!) between Dr. Robert Epstein and Dr. Jeffrey Arnett. Dr. Epstein and Dr. Arnett come from distinctly different perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of this shift in adolescence, and facilitator Dr. Kara Powell will help us consider what it means for people in ministry. The event is being put on by The Youth Cartel, and it all goes down Monday, November 21, in Atlanta (after the National Youth Workers Convention). 

Do you want to join me?

Since I work for sparkhouse and we’re one of the event sponsors, I have two (2) tickets to give away (worth $100 each). Two ways to enter:

  1. Leave me a comment explaining why you want to go to the Symposium.
  2. Mention this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter, and then leave a comment to let me know you did.

(Comments must be posted by 11:59 pm CDT on Thursday, November 3. I’ll randomly draw two (2) winners and post them on Friday, November 4. Please note: This giveaway is for the tickets only—you are responsible for your own transportation and lodging.)

Want to know more? Check out the video on the Symposium Kickstarter project.

Miss Representation (in Youth Ministry)

Miss Representation 3 minute Trailer 8/24 from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

I just saw the trailer for Miss Representation, a documentary that premiered at Sundance Film Festival this spring. The film looks at the media portrayals of what it means to be a woman, and how these messages hold women back from becoming strong leaders in American society. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I think it would be really interesting to watch, especially in context of youth ministry.

I know a lot of women who are pastors and youth ministers. But just flipping through the program book for a youth ministry conference I recently attended, I discovered men outnumbered women at least 3-to-1 in the speaking/presenting line-up.

Yes, many people across the church (including the leadership staff for that conference I attended) are working to lift up underrepresented voices. But we have a long way to go, especially since our actions send messages to young people in our congregations about the place and value of women in the body of Christ.

Which is why Miss Representation intrigues me. They’re asking what we can do to make sure girls don’t think youth, beauty, and sexuality are all they have to offer the world. Seems like that’s a question the church and youth ministries should be asking too.

Has anyone else watched this film? What do you think?

(Want to see more? Check out the extended trailer.)
(Video HT Cathy Zielske)

Gadgets & Apps

A friend of mine recently posted a link to a NY Times article about which gadgets to ditch now that so many of our machines have multiple functions. The author suggested keeping books with one exception:

But there is one area where printed matter is going to give way to digital content: cookbooks. Martha Stewart Makes Cookies a $5 app for the iPad, is the wave of the future. Every recipe has a photo of the dish (something far too expensive for many printed cookbooks).

Complicated procedures can be explained by an embedded video. When something needs to be timed, there’s a digital timer built right into the recipe. You can e-mail yourself the ingredients list to take to the grocery store. The app does what cookbooks cannot, providing a better version of everything that came before it.

I checked out the app store, and it looks pretty cool. This new “cookbook” look beautiful, and it takes advantage of the iPad’s features to create an experience that improves upon what’s available in a printed book.

So as someone who lives in both ministry and publishing worlds, I’ve been thinking about what this means for the church. Sure, there are Bibles apps and the like, but often they seems to be just digitized versions of printed materials. What would it look like to take advantage of the features available on these integrated devices?

Your thoughts?

Tools for Schools (and Churches)

I loved this Fast Company article about Tools for Schools, a program that integrates design-based problem solving into the daily curriculum.

Students were challenged to design the classroom of the future. In their classes, they researched and tinkered with desk, chair, and locker designs. They prototyped with pipe cleaners and cardstock, explored material costs, and put together concept pitches.

I especially love two aspects about this program.

  1. Students were given a meaningful project that’s tangible and more relevant to their everyday lives than a standardized test.
  2. The teachers and partnering businesses took seriously the students’ work and discovered innovative ideas they may not have come up with on their own. Like this desk with a backpack hook and interchangeable inserts for different classes:

From the article:

“Clearly, the project showed that kids as young as 13 can grasp the rigorous process that designers undertake. It also reflected the fact that students are enthusiastic learners — of math, science, and writing — when those subjects are integrated into a project they care about.”

What would it look like to invite our faith communities to design the worship space of the future? What would it look like to rethink how we compartmentalize our ministries? What would it look like to empower and learn from the young people in our congregations?

Don’t miss the article and the photo gallery.
(image: Fast Company)

The Case for Naïveté

I just read a Fast Company article about how Proctor & Gamble and GE are looking to 18-22 year olds to design new products for Baby Boomers. These college students are less burdened with corporate politics and other realities that can often stifle innovation. Instead, they demonstrate an enthusiasm and creative energy that outweighs their limited experience. They’re perfectly suited for what Matt Doyle from P&G calls “naïve innovation.

After going to several youth ministry conferences the past couple years, though, I’m a little disheartened to see and hear the same speakers time after time–many of whom have been presenting at these events for years. I’m not saying the speakers aren’t encouraging or challenging or sharing prophetic words. But I also wonder, where are the younger, “naïve” voices to challenge us to think differently? To imagine? To hope? To inspire?

And it’s not just professional youth ministry conferences. I’ve been part of churches where suggestions to get youth involved in leadership roles or on councils or committees go unheard. Or where youth do hold visible leadership positions, their role is often limited to youth ministry rather than impacting the broader community.

Some of my best work has come out of a combination of ambition, naïveté, hard work, empathy, and a dose of stupid optimism. But with the support, mentorship, and gentle guidance of more experienced folks around me, I’ve been part of some pretty amazing projects.

So, church, what are we afraid of?

Lent Reflections Round-up

A quick post with some links to folks who are reflecting on Lent and some resources if you’re still looking for a practice to guide you through this season.

Blog posts (in no particular order):


These are just a few things I’ve been checking out, but I know there’s a ton more out there. If you’ve found something helpful, please add a link or reflection in the comments!

(Edited to add some more links.)

Why Do We Strip the Bible of Its Power?

First, a challenge: Open the nearest youth ministry, Sunday school, or Bible Study curriculum you can. What’s the session objective? Does it have something to do with the biblical narrative? How Christ is at work? God’s people? Truths about the Kingdom of God?

Or is it about life application and tying the Bible story up into a neat little package for learners to digest and parrot back if someone asks what they learned at church?

My guess is there’s much more of the latter than the former. It’s easy to boil Bible stories down into one-sentence statements that are easy to remember (and, in turn, to use as a tool to measure learning). I don’t think youth workers or Christian educators or curriculum developers don’t mean well, either. We may do it for the sake of good doctrine, or to equip volunteer leaders, or to be developmentally-appropriate, or for a number of other reasons. But I’m concerned that our interpretations are making the Bible stories about us–and in doing so, we strip the Bible of its power.

Contrast a typical lesson “big idea” statement with one of Jesus’ parables or miracles. For the sake of example, let’s look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I’ve participated in Bible studies on this text where the objective was basically, “Be the Good Samaritan.” There was even a service project to apply the story to my life today in an active, tangible way.

But I think there’s more to this text than “be the Good Samaritan.” Jesus is saying something about the most unlikely outcast showing mercy. About cultural norms and religious rules. About sacrifice. About grace.

This parable is beautiful to me precisely because it’s not that simple. Jesus’ story here is enduring, and each time I encounter it–whether alone or in community–the Spirit can speak to me in different ways that reveal more about God. This inversion means the text reads me and changes me in the process.

So I’m concerned. When we boil the complexity of a Bible narrative down to single point that teaches a life lesson, I think we dilute the Bible’s power and undermine (or at least underestimate) the work of the Spirit. We discourage the reader from thinking theologically. We limit the opportunity for wonder, struggle, discovery, and awe.

Instead, what would it look like to offer a foundation, but then trust kids, youth, and adults in our churches to engage Scripture–and see how God shows up and transforms us?

Full disclosure: I work in Christian curriculum publishing. That means I’ve been just as guilty of creating “the-point-of-this-story-is” statements as anyone else. However, I’m hopeful that we can move beyond using the Bible to teach life lessons and morality, and toward resources that equip Christians to wrestle with Scripture and meet God in the process.

Linkabout: February 19 Edition

Links to five things that have been inspiring me this week.

In no particular order:

  1. Innovation/LeadershipFast Company Design lifts up Apple and IKEA and offers an argument for why designers–not users–should drive innovation.
  2. reports that youth in a Naperville, Illinois, high school who participated in physical activity just before classes improved reading and math scores. What if we had fitness classes before
  3. EducationRSA Animate offers a video illustration of one of Sir Ken Robinson’s talks on how our education systems are killing creativity.
  4. Technology/Youth Ministry: danah boyd writes about teens, Twitter, and managing privacy in public. A favorite line from the article: “Access to content is not the same as access to interpretation.”
  5. Ministry: Rachel Held Evans reflects on the Epic Fail Pastors’ Conference and encourages pastors to tell the truth and be more transparent with their own struggles.