Here and Again? On Rally Day and Brokenness

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. (John 1:35-37)

I was at a low spot in my ministry – lacking self-confidence, burned out, and on the verge of hopelessness. These verses from John’s gospel were read as the text during a lectio divina exercise at the retreat I was attending. I, of course, was hoping for some inspiration that would put the wind back in my sails as a new programming year was starting. The only word I could hear in this text was “again”. Again?!

But this word made my ears tingle. I didn’t want to do all of this . . . again.
Rally day . . . again?
Recruiting volunteers . . . again?
Convincing the congregation to invest in their youth . . . again?
Convincing youth and families to invest in the congregation . . . again?
I didn’t want to do any of it ever again!

I can almost hear an exhausted and frustrated John saying it cynically, “Look, it’s the Lamb of God, as if any of you really give a rip anyway!”

Isenheim Altarpiece – Matthias Grünewald

But the Jesus John points to is the broken Jesus. The painting above is the Isenheim altarpiece painted by Matthias Grünewald in the early 1500’s for the St. Anthony Monastery in Isenheim, Germany, which served many people dying from the plague. Jesus’ broken body is covered with open sores and wounds, much like the bodies of those who fell victim to the plagues. John the Baptist is on Jesus’ right, pointing to this mangled Christ. This image changes the way we hear John’s words above, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

Here is the Lamb of God, in the midst of your burnout and hopelessness. Here is the Lamb of God, right in the middle of your failed Rally Day plans. Here is the Lamb of God, alongside your broken programs and your broken people and your broken self. Right here. Here is the Lamb of God. Again!

So let’s do this thing again. Let’s recruit and train those volunteers again. Let’s write newsletter articles, texts and tweets about the importance of Christian community again. Let’s argue with our pastors and our church councils over funding once again. Our young people are worth it!

Ministry is beautiful and horrifying, frustrating and soothing, life-giving and death-dealing. But we enter into this broken work once again because here is the Lamb of God.

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youth ministry is experiential

The father of experiential education, John Dewey, presented the world with his most concise and compelling vision of what experiential education could be in his classic, Experience and Education in 1938. It has some valuable lessons for those of us who work in the area of children, youth and family ministry.

Dewey was writing to critique both the traditional and the progressive approaches to education. The traditional approach was primarily content-driven and didactic. The instructor was the source of knowledge and the student was an empty vessel waiting to be filled with all the knowledge the instructor could impart. The progressive approach was primarily student-centered and unstructured. The assumption was students would only learn through freedom and a hands-off approach. This was a naïve understanding of both freedom and learning. Learning will not happen unless there is some structure and intended outcome working in partnership with freedom. In his critique, Dewey claimed that not all experiences are educative. These are words to heed for those of us working in youth ministry. Continue reading

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rebranding youth ministry

In the six years I’ve taught Youth and Family Ministry at Augsburg College, I’ve noticed a decrease in the number of students in our program. However, I’ve also seen an increase in the number of students across the college who are interested in and involved with youth ministry in some form. These students want to work with youth in the context of a faith community, but have no interested in earning a degree in youth ministry. In fact, many of them don’t see themselves serving professionally in youth ministry in the traditional sense.

This is both troubling and inspiring. The problem is not a lack of interest in ministry with youth. The problem, I think, is linked to the branding of our profession. Continue reading

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ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravganza Workshops & Webinars

This past weekend I had the honor to gather once again with many, many, many youth ministers from across the ELCA. These folks are volunteers, part-timers, full-timers, rostered lay-leaders and ordained clergy. They are young and they are old. They are liberal, moderate and conservative and it is beautiful!

Best of all, these folks really, really love the kids they are called to serve. There is no doubt about that. Continue reading

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youth ministry is vocational

Emmanuel! God is with us, in the vocations of our youth!

Vocation is the most critical issues youth ministry faces today. If we cannot help young people listen for and discern God’s call in their lives, then they will find little reason to stay engaged in the community of faith. When we claim that God is at work in the life of a young person, we claim that biology and culture are not the only factors in human development. From a theological perspective, Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Bio-Ecological Systems Theory is incomplete. We would also want to add one more system, the kairos system.

Kairos is God’s time. God shows up and God does God’s work in God’s time. Culture and biology shape our physical, cognitive and social development but God also works on us in kairos moments. Continue reading

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Youth Ministry is Holistic

22% of children in the USA under the age of 18 are living in poverty. Yet, when I hear the Church talking about young people I don’t hear us talking about poverty rates. I only hear us talking about post-confirmation retention rates. Isn’t this a little short-sighted? Where are the boundaries or limits to our call? Are those of us in children, youth and family ministry only charged with the faith formation of young people? Continue reading

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Youth Ministry is Relational

Mission without relationship is colonialism. Ministry without relationship is patronizing.

I’ve been guilty of both many times. I was new to ministry and had developed a complex chart depicting the leadership structure that my ministry would take including youth committee members, small group leaders, peer ministers, drivers, etc. I shared this with my father, a pastor. His responded by saying, “That sure is a nice drawing. Where are the people?” I had a snazzy organizational chart for my ministry but no people to plug into it because I had not established any relationships. Mission without relationship.

Also, there were two times when I tried to assert myself as an authority figure or mentor into the life of a young person who I thought was “needy” only to be shot down by the teens both times because I had not done the hard work of actually getting to know them. Ministry without relationship.

In previous posts I’ve claimed that everything we do in our ministry with youth can be thought of as interpretation, discernment or proclamation. My claim here is that our work of interpretation, discernment and proclamation should always be done relationally. Continue reading

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