tomlin

Chris Tomlin’s new album — who wants a copy?

loveranredtoday i’m listening to chris tomlin’s new album, Love Ran Red. (i just accidentally typed ‘love ran rad.’ and i suppose that’s true also, but wouldn’t have been as strong of an album name; so i applaud chris for not going with that.) clearly, the dude has a gift for writing singable songs, which results in chris’s songs being sung everywhere, probably more than just about any other modern worship artist. chris’s albums are lovely; but as a church worker, i think his greatest impact isn’t in how many people listen to his songs, but how many people sing his songs.

there are two versions of the new albums: 12 tracks on the standard version of the album, and 16 songs on the deluxe version.

and i have 3 copies of the deluxe edition (why does deluxe have an ‘e’ on the end of it, i ask you!?) to give away. here’s how we’re doing it this time (yup, i’m gonna milk this!): friday is the regular registration deadline for The Summit — the coolest youth ministry event ever, taking place in nashville in a week and a half. after friday night, the reg rates go into “late registration” mode, which adds something like thirty bucks or thereabouts. so, the next three people to register for The Summit win a delux(e) edition of chris’s new CD, mailed directly to you! i’ll post the winners here, so you’ll know if you get one or not (and i’ll contact the winners directly). let’s just call this a little nudge for those of you who are planning on attending The Summit, but hadn’t registered yet.

oh, and all of you should check out Love Ran Red (not ‘love ran rad’) here.

young teen and bible.2

young teens and bible reading

some time ago, i did a blog interview with josh griffin on the download youth ministry blog about young teens and bible reading. thought i’d share it here:

Research shows that a large percentage of churched teens rarely read the Bible outside of church. Why do you think that’s so?
A secondary reason is the busyness of the lives of teenagers these days; but the primary reason is that the Bible feels inaccessible to teens. They would say–if they’re being honest–that it’s “boring.” But what they really mean, if they had the words, would be, “I don’t know how to read it.”

Why do young teens have a hard time reading and relating to the Bible?
Of course, there’s a language issue. But I think the main hurdle for young teens is that reading the Bible feels more academic. They try it once or twice, but feel like failures when they don’t connect with what they’re reading.

young teen and bible.1How have changes in youth culture affected the ability of Christian teens to understand, relate to, and engage with Scripture?
One of the primary shifts in youth culture over the past couple decades is a major shift in how teenager understand truth. Mostly gone are the days when rational arguments trumped. Today’s teenagers and young adults have grown up in a world where their experience informs their understanding of what’s true. This shouldn’t unnerve us as Christ-followers; instead, we trust that the God who wants to reveal himself will meet teenagers in the living Word of God.

What are some of the spiritual challenges a young teen faces in today’s culture?
While I could answer this question in dozens of ways, I’ll go with this: today’s teenagers have an extremely heightened need for belonging. A desire for belonging is a good thing, and part of our being made in the image of God. But the challenge for today’s teenagers is that they usually learn their identity through their places of belonging. And, clearly, this can be problematic when their places of belonging tell them lies about themselves.

You’ve been involved in youth ministry for a few decades now. Is nurturing the faith of young teens more difficult today?
In many ways, yes (though not in every way). Certainly, our pluralistic culture has mostly eliminated the “base line” of basic assumptions we used to be able to make about teenagers’ knowledge of the Bible and basic beliefs. In many ways, the biggest issue I see is the extreme isolation of teenagers in our culture today: they spend all their waking hours in homogeneous groupings, and rarely spend time with adults. That brings all sorts of challenges with it that are difficult for youth workers who want to help teenagers grow into adults with a vibrant faith.

What are some of the challenges faced by parents, youth workers, and pastors?
As a parent of teenagers myself, I am constantly encouraged by our culture to treat my teenagers as if they are little children. This has a counter-intuitive negative impact on teenagers, extending adolescence (now understood to be a 20 year life stage!), and damaging their growth, including their spiritual development.

What are some ways that parents can help their teens understand the Bible?
This isn’t rocket science. A parent who wants to help their teens understand the Bible has to first model a life of being formed by God’s Word. Then, we have to be intentional about regular and ongoing spiritual conversations. Research has shown us the importance of teenagers verbalizing what they believe. Parents can have an amazing ministry with their teens by providing safe and supportive opportunities for that verbalization.

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campference rules

each year at the Middle School Ministry Campference we frame a “how to make the most of the weekend” bit in the opening session with Camp Rules (it is a CAMPference, after all). we try to have some fun with these rules, since the tone of the event is extremely low key and laid back. i don’t think i can show them all here (there’s a bit of a “what happens in vegas stays in vegas” vibe to the campference). but here’s most of them (with some parenthetical explanations):

Rules.001

Rules.002
(this isn’t like other events. this is our tribe. this is hang-out time. this is a place to be known.)

Rules.003
(you have complete freedom to make this weekend whatever you need it to be.)

Rules.004

Rules.005
(leave your work at home. disconnect. be present.)

Rules.007
(exercise healthy skepticism.)

Rules.008
(people on the stage are not ‘more important’ than people in the audience. and we invite you to ‘break the plane’ and speak up from the audience.)

Rules.010
(we don’t care what your voice sounds like. engage full-throat mode during worship.)

Rules.011
(people who have been here before know: the program is good, but the best part of campference is the hanging out parts.)

Rules.014
(you’re loved and accepted here. lean into that. trust that.)

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my new working metaphor for young teens and doubt

for years, as i’ve talked about the spiritual development of young teens and their brain development, i’ve said something along these lines:

abstract thinking is a beautiful gift from god that comes with the onset of puberty. abstract thinking is, in a nutshell, thinking about thinking. there are tons of implications, but the primary biggies are speculation (asking ‘what if’ and ‘why’ questions), and third person perspective (seeing myself from someone else’s point of view, or seeing someone else from someone else’s point of view, or even considering an idea from someone else’s point of view). these two results of abstract thinking are revolutionary to the spiritual development of teenagers (as well as for their emotional development, relational growth, and identity formation). preteens are some of the most concluded people on the planet. they have a completely worked out (albeit naive) worldview and systematic theology — concrete, but functional. then puberty comes along like a tsunami and obliterates all that conclusiveness, creating a space for questions and doubts and a move toward either rejecting childhood faith or growing into a more robust, complex, adult faith.

i think i’d picked up that ‘tsunami’ metaphorical language years and years ago from one of my own junior high ministry mentors. it’s dramatic, and sounds nice.

but it’s not accurate.

and i’ve replaced that metaphor recently in how i talk about this shift.

the reason it’s not accurate is that young teens don’t suddenly acquire fully-functioning abstract thinking. they get the capacity; but it’s like an underdeveloped super-wimpy muscle that has to be exercised for a number of years in order to gain strength. so, yes, young teens (post-puberty) have the capacity for abstract thinking; and it DOES have huge implications for all those developmental realities (including spiritual). but it doesn’t happen overnight. it’s not a light switch. and the ‘elimination’ of concrete childhood beliefs does NOT take place like the arrival of tsunami.

picture a giant cliff at the edge of a sea. but this cliff is made of something soft and easy to erode — like dirt, or sandstone, or chalk (think: cliffs of dover). when the capacity for abstract thinking kicks in, nothing changes immediately. those concluded faith bits still stand like a proud sea cliff as long as the sea below is calm.

but then something happens that creates a gap or tension between experience and belief. like: a 12 year-old who has always had a beautiful and confident belief that god answers my prayers, that if i really pray and it’s not selfish, i can throw a mountain into a sea. and that kid’s favorite grandpa gets inoperable cancer. the kid is confident (full of faith) that prayer will heal his grandpa; but grandpa dies. now, suddenly, there are stormy seas below the cliff. waves crash against that edifice, and erosion happens. the concrete beliefs of the preteen years can’t stand against the barrage of powerful storm waves.

btw: at this point, a young teen almost always needs an adult who can come alongside and help them move all this erosion/storm waves/doubts stuff out of the murky world of subconscious if they hope to do anything other than reject that previous faith bit (if they hope to consider alternatives and new, more abstract, ways of thinking and believing).

so there you have it: doubt comes to young teen faith not like a tsunami of change, but like a storm wave crashing into a sea cliff made of easily-erodible stuff.

let’s get in there, storm chasers.

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The human brain

Why Should We Care About Adolescent Brain Development? (part 2)

with youthworker journal focusing an issue recently on adolescent brain development, tim baker (the editor) asked if i would write a feature article on the implications. he said he had a few articles focusing on theory and research, but wanted something of a “so what?” and i realized, in all my writing on this topic, i’d written very little in response to that pragmatic question. so i agreed, and this was the result. yesterday, in part 1, i laid out a summary and basis for pragmatic response. today, the list of how i’m responding:

Neuron, Shmeuron or,
Why Should We Care About Adolescent Brain Development?

How I’m Responding

ywj coverI hope you’ll join me in this handful of “living in the tension” implications (some completely unresolved):

• Read about teenage brains!
I wasn’t kidding when I said that my growing understanding of neurology shapes everything I do in youth ministry. What I teach and how I teach; how I interact with students; the sorts of questions I ask; what and how I communicate with parents; How I plan my youth ministry calendar; what’s most important and emphasized in our youth ministry.

What to read? Read The Primal Teen (Strauch), because it gives a great perspective on what we were learning about teen brains 10 years ago. You could read my little book, A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains. Please read the National Geographic article on teenage brains, as it’s a great glimpse at a turn toward a more positive look at teenage brains. On my stack right now are Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience (Satel and Lilienfeld), and Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain (Siegel).

• Ask speculative questions
I’m not a scientist or a researcher, but I’m sure passionate about my hypothesis that we can help teenagers grow in their ability to make good decisions. Speculative questions are “What if?” and “Why?” questions. Even if we can’t increase frontal lobe growth, I know we can help teenagers step into the use of the abstract thinking they’ve had since the onset of puberty. They have the capability, that is; but they haven’t used it much and tend to be lousy with it. So when we “take them to the shores of speculation,” we help them test out the waters they’ll return to on their own. And since SO MUCH of spiritual growth in the teen and young adult years requires speculation, I’m 100% convinced that helping teenagers develop the ability to speculate will help them build a sustainable faith.

• Become a competency facilitator
Epstein once suggested to me that good parenting (and, by extension, I’ve come to see this as a framing for great youth ministry) is about moving from control to facilitation, where facilitation means identifying and nurturing competencies. If you, like me, don’t buy into the increasingly popular notion that teenagers are incapable, and should therefore be protected and treated like children, then we need to every teenager’s competency champion.

• Allow for failure
Their frontal lobes are underdeveloped; and they do struggle with decision-making. Don’t respond, in the way our culture (and educational approaches and legal systems) is by removing decisions. Instead, create safe places for decision making, assuming a healthy percentage of failure and mistakes. Really, we all learn more from our bad decisions than from our good decisions, right?

• Make way for passion
If teenagers are a wonder to behold, than the kernel of awesomeness at the center of that wonder is their potential for passion. Maybe that’s why they’re not great at impulse control and measuring risk. Maybe they need to be limited (think: God’s creation intent) in those areas in order to learn about the world in ways that us risk-averse adults have long ceased learning. And what if teenagers’ passion could be invited as a great gift to your church? (While she doesn’t directly tie this to brain research, this is the core proposal of Kenda Creasy Dean’s excellent youth ministry book, Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church.)

• Act as a surrogate temporal lobe
The frontal lobes aren’t the only underdeveloped parts of the teenage brain: the temporal lobes are also. Those are responsible for emotional understanding and interpretation. Ben was sharing in my small group about how he was nervous about going home that evening, because his brother was returning from drug rehab. He was visibly emotional while explaining this. But Mitch piped in with “You should tell your brother than drugs are stupid!” Rather than shaming Mitch, who wasn’t being mean or rude and was merely missing the emotional clues that would have been so obvious to an adult, my role became that of simultaneously redirecting the focus back to Ben’s sharing while gently pointing out to Mitch the emotion that Ben was feeling. In that moment, I was helping Mitch see the emotion and learn to spot it in a way that he could help his friend.

• Be patient
Patience with teenagers is a pre-requisite for a good youth worker, and always has been. But with our growing understanding of teenage brain development, we have that much more reason to be patient. Great youth workers, those who will be used by God in the lives of real teenagers, will always be gracious and loving, ready to listen, full of encouragement, and abounding in patience.

• Be thoughtful about the use of young adults as youth ministry volunteers.
This is a sensitive one; and please don’t think I’m suggesting young adults are inferior youth workers. I love having young adults as equal members of the youth ministry team I’m a part of. Just like teenagers, they bring a level of passion that’s a wonder to behold. But…remember that their brains are still developing, and they will occasionally struggle with wisdom, prioritization, impulse control, and decision-making. Our ministry effectively (I’d like to think) addresses this by pairing young adult leaders with more mature leaders for small group leadership. Aaron, my 20 year-old small group co-leader, brings things to the group that I couldn’t bring; and hopefully, I bring things he couldn’t (or struggles to) bring.

All of these new discoveries about teenage brains are fascinating. I welcome anything that can help me know and understand better the teenagers I’m called to. But I’m committed to doing ministry in the tension of reality and skepticism. Living in that tension keeps me on my toes, reminds me to be dependent on God and drives me toward curiosity rather than blind assumption.

The human brain

Why Should We Care About Adolescent Brain Development? (part 1)

with youthworker journal focusing an issue recently on adolescent brain development, tim baker (the editor) asked if i would write a feature article on the implications. he said he had a few articles focusing on theory and research, but wanted something of a “so what?” and i realized, in all my writing on this topic, i’d written very little in response to that pragmatic question. so i agreed, and this was the result:

Neuron, Shmeuron or,
Why Should We Care About Adolescent Brain Development?

ywj coverWe are living in amazing times. The fact is, we’ve learned more about teenagers in the last 10 years than in the previous decades combined. We’ve been exposed to challenging and solid research about youth ministry and adolescent faith. Even if it hasn’t all been good news, this research is shaping our thinking and practice in long-overdue ways.

The knowledge we have about teenage brains is similar. There are new findings almost every month, it seems. It’s fascinating stuff that constantly reminds me of God’s creativity and intentionality. And—this is important—I find over and over again that my knowledge about what’s going on in teenage brains informs everything I do in youth ministry.

But there’s a problem that needs to be undressed: Most of what you’ve read or heard about teenage brain development is wrong. Or, at least, most of it has been skewed to infer conclusions that the research is just not saying.

Teenagers Are Not Broken

A decade ago, early research into teenage brains revealed the previously unknown reality that brains aren’t fully developed well into the 20s. Researchers identified areas of the brain that were significantly underdeveloped, specifically focusing on the frontal lobes. Those areas are often referred to as the brain’s CEO or Executive Office, since they’re the decision-making center (as well as the place for impulse control, prioritization, focus, wisdom, and a bunch of other higher-order thought processes).

Slowly, books like The Primal Teen, and dozens of magazine articles and news reports starting reporting news about teenage brains. But they usually did so with a spin that the actual researchers might not have been saying: that teenage brains are inferior. Or broken. Or incapable.

I’m preaching to the choir here: you know in your gut that this isn’t true. The focus of research has shifted, by the way, to a question of capabilities and strengths; but at a popular level, the idea that teenagers are broken (and that science says so) continues to be pervasive.

There’s also been a subtle inference, or assumption, that teenage brains have always been this way, and we’re just now discovering it. In other words, the widespread pop understanding of this stuff is that it’s a nature issue, not a nurture issue.

Do teenagers act the way they do because of the limitations of their brains? Or, are teenage brains the way they are because our culture does not expect (or allow) them to use their brains like adults? It’s a chicken-versus-egg question. And, it’s an age-old nature-versus-nurture question; and while research hasn’t or can’t answer it, popular reporting misleadingly assumes the position that paints teenagers in a brushstroke of incapability.

One author who pushed back, Dr. Robert Epstein, suggests that the nature assumption that teenage brains have always been this way results in the worst kind of profiling, deciding that a certain grouping of people are inferior based on their physiology, rather than their competence. He draws parallels to the once normal but now abhorrent assumptions about Jews, people of African descent and women.

In all three cases, the physiology of a group of people was presumed to make them inherently inferior (for example: the average smaller brain size of women was used as a basis for the presumption that women were inferior to men and less intelligent; but we now know this is simply not the case). He contends that we’re already seeing findings of teenage-brain development resulting in more isolation of teenagers from the adult world, more limitations on their freedoms and more infantilization (treating them like children).

My two cents: I’m interested in pushing back. While I have no interest in living with my head in the sand, I want to see teenagers live into their capabilities, and I want to see young adults move into adulthood.

And I’m embracing the idea embedded in a question that Dr. Dean Blevins asked during a panel he and I shared recently: Are teenagers a problem to be fixed, or a wonder to behold? I’m siding with the latter. And—hear me on this—the weight of most adolescent brain research has shifted in this direction also.

Living in the Tension without Ignoring the Implications

So where does all of this leave us, as youth workers who are trying to be responsive to the needs and lives of real teenagers?

A few years ago, I heard Andy Stanley give a talk on leadership in which he proposed that leaders need to know the difference between problems to be solved and tensions to be protected. I don’t know that the tension we’re addressing here needs to be nurtured, per se; but I do think we need to live in the tension. I want to be paradoxically committed both to being countercultural and to doing ministry in the real world that teenagers are living in.

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overheard at my 7th grade guys small group

ok, new group, new rules. after a couple years of occasional “overheard at my 6th grade guys small group” and “overheard at my 7th grade guys small group” posts, i was partway into a fantastic year of “overheard at my 8th grade guys small group” posts last year when the guys asked me to stop. but i ran it past my new 7th grade guys, and they (predictably) loved it.

IMG_5001it’s a smaller group, and a few of them are wonderfully quiet. so the quantity isn’t large. but: some great stuff…

7th grade guy: I’m a white girl; I need my phone!

me (it was the first week, so i was getting to know them): Do you have any pets?
7th grade guy: I own two parents.

me: Do you have any pets?
different 7th grade guy: We had a fish, but it got stolen.

me: I’m older than most of your dads.
7th grade guy: No, you’re like 40 or something.
me: No, I’m 51.
different 7th grade guy: Omigosh, you’re not quite older than my grandma!

(btw: in the small inset photo above, if you look closely, you’ll notice that i dorkily photobombed my own photo.)

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Youth Ministry Coaching Program options

ymcp.nashville

2014 has been a banner year for the Youth Ministry Coaching Program, with 6 full cohorts operating in Nashville, Orange County, CA (Women in YM), South Carolina (UMC), North Carolina (UMC), Pittsburgh (PCUSA), and the new SoCal Presby cohort (PCUSA) kicking off in Pasadena, CA in a couple weeks. But we’re actively working to open up cohorts (a cohort is a word used for “learning group,” in this case, is 10 youth workers) for 2015.

YMCP, in case you don’t know, is a whole-life personal and leadership development program for youth workers. You’ll find a safe group of peers who listen and speak into your life, as well as training and personal application from the lead coach. it’s full of variety and customization. Most cohorts meet six times, for two days each time, with online interaction and coaching phone calls in-between meetings. After the current cohorts wrap up, we’ll have more than 200 grads who unanimously say it was one of the most significant growth experiences they’ve ever been through. Learn more about YMCP, and download an overview document, here.

Here’s what we have open now for 2015, with a few extras that we’re considering…

San Diego cohort
Location: San Diego (duh)
Launch date: Hopefully January 2015
Coach: Marko and April Diaz (two coaches for the price of one!)
Approach: full ‘open’ cohort (anyone can be in it), with 6 meetings of 2 days each (every other month)
Price: $3000
(We only have 2 or 3 spots still open in this cohort. Contact April Diaz at [email protected])

North Carolina cohort
Location: Charlotte area
Launch date: January or February 2015
Coach: Marko (but with the possibility of April Diaz leading a 2nd cohort in the same location, pending interest)
Approach: full cohort, with 6 meetings of 2 days each (every other month). Open ONLY to youth workers from churches in the Western NC Conference of the UMC.
Price: $500 (the Conference graciously covers the rest of the cost)
(This cohort is currently accepting applications. Contact Caroline Wood in the Conference office for details: [email protected])

Women in Youth Ministry cohort
Location: Orange County, CA, Asheville, NC, and online
Launch date: Hopefully January 2015
Coach: April Diaz
Approach: This is a hybrid cohort. First and last meetings will be 2 days in Orange County, CA. 3rd or 4th meeting will be attached to (and include) the Women in Youth Ministry Campference in Asheville, NC. 3 additional meetings (in between face-to-face meetings) will take place online.
Price: $2250 (includes registration for the Women in Youth Ministry Campference!)
(See more info here. We are currently accepting applications for this cohort. Contact April Diaz at [email protected])

Middle School Ministry cohort
Location: Orange County, CA
Launch date: Hopefully February 2015
Coach: Kurt Johnston and Katie Edwards (two coaches for the price of one!, plus Marko and April Diaz will lead sessions at some meetings)
Approach: full ‘open’ cohort (anyone can be in it), with 6 meetings of 2 days each (every other month)
Price: $3000
(We are currently accepting applications for this cohort. Contact Katie Edwards at [email protected], or April Diaz at [email protected])

Canadian cohort
Location: Calgary
Launch date: First quarter of 2015
Coach: Matt Wilks and Jason Frizzell (two coaches for the price of one!, plus Marko will attend 2 of the 6 meetings)
Approach: full ‘open’ cohort (anyone can be in it), with 6 meetings of 2 days each (every other month)
Price: $2250
(We are currently accepting applications for this cohort. Contact Jason at [email protected])

In addition to all that awesomeness, we’re currently in conversations about a few more cohorts, including:

  • New England cohort, led by Jake Kircher and Mark Orr (with Marko and/or April also involved)
  • Large Church cohort, led by Marko and April (this cohort would be limited to participants on staff at church of 2500 or more in weekly attendance)
  • SC/Holston Conferences cohort, led by Marko (probably) (this cohort would only be open to youth workers in the South Carolina and Holston Conferences of the UMC)

If you have interest in any of these last three, please contact April Diaz ([email protected])

So: who’s up for some growth in 2015?

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Redwoods & Lighthouses

my “epilogue” column in Youthwork Magazine (UK) came out recently. i wrote it while on vacation in big sur, california, in july. here’s where my mind went…

I’m on holiday in Big Sur, California as I write. It’s on the central California coast, and is known for it’s massive sea cliffs and stunning vistas of the Pacific Ocean. But it’s also known for its California redwood trees. Redwoods, in case you don’t know, are massive trees. They can be up to 350 feet tall and 20 feet wide. And the older trees around here are 2000 years old.

IMG_4586The place we’re staying on holiday is in a deep canyon; our cabin is pressed in on all sides by redwoods. Yesterday, I sat outside for a while just enjoying the majesty of these colossal sentinels. And, as is common for me, my mind started wandering to how what I was viewing had connections to my life.

First, one can’t stare at a Rrdwood tree (or a sunset, or any number of other natural wonders) without having a sense of God. Majestic beckons our hearts and minds to reflect on God. Atheists struggle to find words for transcendent moments like this, compelled by a sense of something good outside of themselves, but not having language for it.

People default to faulty-but-aspirational language about “the universe,” ascribing volition and moral will to the earth or all that is. It clearly has an otherness, this sort of beauty. But so many of our attempts to describe it fall short, because, sitting in the dappled sunlight at the bottom of a stand of redwoods, I feel something personal in their presence.

I’m not suggesting that the trees are God. I’m suggesting that I am experiencing, as you would if you were sitting next to me, a liminal space that naturally carries so many of the characteristics of the Creator that I can’t help but sense the Creator.

As a youth worker, it’s critical that I put myself in these spaces on a regular basis, that I am reminded of this sense. I’d even go as far as to say that right now, looking at and contemplating the redwood trees, a full 9 hour drive from the teenagers I work with, I’m actively doing youth work. In fact, this is important youth work. Cultivating my spiritual vitality is some of the most important youth work I ever do.

But there’s another level of reflection I’m drawn to, one that’s more metaphorical and less literal: in youth work, I’m called to be the redwood tree.

I’m reminded of my horrible youth work failure, at about 20 years old. I’d just come from almost-and-accidentally breaking a girl’s neck while attempting an attention-getting pied piper move, when an older youth worker sat me down. He said something very close to this (he said this in love, but he was blunt):

You’re really failing at this so far! You’re trying to be a lighthouse on wheels, following the teenagers around and constantly beaming out “notice me!” But they don’t need or want that from you. They need you to be a lighthouse on a promontory, stationary and dependable. The light from a lighthouse isn’t used for prying or invading or exposing; it’s a faithful reference point.

So, lighthouses and redwood trees–sorry for all the metaphors there. But looking at these redwood trees, words like faithful and dependable and steady and constant take on bark-covered life. These trees show the scars of abuse and fires; but they remain steadfast. Storms have raged and glorious days have passed by. But these trees, they are persistent and relentless.

I’d like to be that kind of youth worker. I’m not interested, anymore, in putting on a good show. And, frankly, I’m not interested in trying to replace the Holy Spirit, bringing conviction, exposing faults. But I dream of being a youth worker–an agent of Christ in the lives of teenagers–who could be described as I’ve described these Redwood trees: dependable, faithful, persistent and relentless.

And just as these California redwoods are a reminder to me of a personal Creator, providing a transcendent sense of God’s majesty, I pray that I will be a youth worker whose steadfast reliability reminds teenagers of the One who created them and loves them, the One my life points toward.

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Why We Published This: THINK Volume 1 (Culture)

and finally, this is #5 in a little series explaining why The Youth Cartel chose to publish the five products we’re releasing this week. first up was gina abbas’s amazing new book, A Woman in Youth Ministry. then i wrote about jake kircher’s pot-stirring but pragmatic book, Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World. yesterday i wrote about Sam Halverson’s new book One Body: Integrating Teenagers into the Life of Your Church, a book that is 100% timely and 100% helpful. yesterday, i wrote about the most creative youth ministry resource i’ve seen in a very long time; jake bouma and erik ullestad’s Hypotherables. and today we circle back to jake kircher…

THINK Volume 1: Culture

v4on a long car ride from Open Boston to jake’s church in connecticut, he shared with me how his new england students–unique in how post-christian they are–had completely stopped responding to any sort of traditional curriculum. over time, he’d developed a different approach to teaching times–one that respects teenagers’ ability to consider and process and seek. using something closer to a socratic method held up to scripture, jake had developed lessons that were (as i saw when he sent me samples) very unique–really unlike other curriculum. they aren’t traditional “say this and have students do this” lessons. instead, they are guided discussions, fair in presenting differing opinions and thoughts (and even theologies), while seeking truth in scripture.

i could tell it was an approach that plenty of other youth workers would want to try.

as i wrote a few days ago when i introduced jake’s book Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World, i told him, on that car ride, that i thought the curriculum sounded like it had potential; but that i also felt he should write a short ‘manifesto’ type book that unpacked the theory and approach. so that’s what we did. Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World is both a complementary book to Brock Morgan’s excellent Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World (which is why we chose a similar title), and also an expanded framework and justification for what has become the THINK line of curriculum.

we’re planning on releasing four volumes of THINK, each with an umbrella theme to group the lessons. first up is THINK, volume 1: Culture.

here’s the official product description:

Today’s teenagers won’t accept merely being told information or the party line. They want to wrestle and explore—they want to be contributors and help develop their own set of beliefs. So rather than leave this process of exploration until their young adult years, a time when many of them will have left the Church, what if we purposefully came alongside our teens and helped them explore and own their beliefs while they’re still teenagers? That’s what THINK is all about.

THINK, Volume 1: Culture explores six divisive cultural topics from a biblical perspective: science versus creation, tattoos, alcohol and drugs, media, abortion, and tolerance/absolute truth. THINK is different from other curriculums because the goal is not to teach teens the correct answers. Instead, the intention is to invite your youth into a discussion with Christ, the Bible, and other people (including their peers, leaders, and parents) that will result in the best sort of spiritual wrestling match.

We can’t continue to spoon-feed our youth the answers they “need” to survive college or be a good person. Instead, we have to make the shift toward helping them own biblically informed views and opinions. THINK will deepen and personalize teens’ faith and give them the tools and resources they need to engage issues from a biblical perspective.

THINK, Volume 1: Culture includes:
• A detailed overview of how to use THINK, as well a short leader video to frame your thinking
• 6 lessons that each contain—
• A leader’s guide with a list of resources and Scripture passages you can use to prepare
• Sample emails to parents
• Social media blurbs to promote the topics with your teenagers
• Multiple options to start and end each lesson
• Thorough discussion guides with multiple questions and resources for each Scripture and subtopic
• A handout (which you can revise so it better fits your group) that will help teens continue exploring the topic on their own
• A short video that provides insights and tips for how to facilitate the discussion of each lesson

and here’s what people are saying about it:

I hate it when I read a book that I absolutely love and wish I’d written it myself. This was my experience when I read THINK, Volume 1: Culture. Not only is it full of real-world issues, but at the heart of the teaching is a thoughtfulness that meets a felt need in the lives of today’s students. I highly recommend this book and the whole THINK series. In fact, I’m ordering copies for my team, and we’re going to be using this material with our youth group!
Brock Morgan, Author of Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

Jake Kircher has done a masterful job of exposing the weakness of a teaching model that relies solely (or primarily) on the presentation of a series of beliefs that are to be taken at face value, rather than discussed, chewed on, and argued about. Jake offers us a better alternative in the THINK curriculum. Granted, the facilitator model of teaching is often more uncomfortable and definitely not as “neat and tidy” as a more traditional style. But, as those of us who’ve been in youth ministry for many decades can attest, teenagers who haven’t been challenged to think deeply about their personal beliefs and struggle with them on some rational level probably won’t hold on to them very tightly—or for very long. THINK will help them do both!
Mark Orr, Founder and Executive Director, REACH Youth New England

THINK is a much-needed resource for working with today’s teens. It gives youth leaders direction in discussing some of the hard questions our students ask, and how to do it in a way that gets them thinking about their faith and why they believe what they believe. Teenagers are grappling to know how to live for Christ when some issues seem hard to discuss. THINK provides ideas for how to show teens what God says in His Word about these tough topics, while providing the space they need to hear Him for themselves.
Leneita Fix, Co-Founder, FrontLine Urban Resources; Coauthor of Urban LIVE Curriculum (Simply Youth Ministry)

i really encourage you to check it out. download a free sample, or buy the whole downloadable volume 1 here. this isn’t your mama’s curriculum!