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Why We Published This: One Body

this, my friends, is #3 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. and yesterday i wrote about jake kircher’s pot-stirring but pragmatic book, Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World. today, we’re on to Sam Halverson’s…

One Body: Integrating Teenagers into the Life of Your Church

9780991005086-frontfirst, a bit about why i wanted to publish sam. i got to know sam a couple years ago when he participated in the Cartel’s Youth Ministry Coaching Program. sam was already a veteran youth worker with about 20 years of experience. but he’s committed to growth, and YMCP proved to be a significant year for him. one of the many results is that sam made the move to becoming the youth ministry dude (not his official title!) for the north georgia conference of the united methodist church. but during that year, i also saw deeply into sam’s heart and mind. he’s a gifted and insightful youth worker. and we found that we shared a passion for spurring youth workers to consider breaking down their youth ministry ghettos, their silos that keep teenagers isolated from the rest of the church.

about a year ago, april diaz wrote Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker for us. it’s a “manifesto of integration” (which is the subtitle). sam and i started talking about him writing a bit of a “sequel” or expansion of april’s book. while april’s book is a shot across the bow, sam book is deeper and wider, and gets into more pragmatic implications (this was by design–april’s book was intended to be short and go for the jugular).

this is a critically important subject for youth workers. and, really, it’s a bit of an identity crisis for us. we often have this broken-but-symbiotic relationship with our churches: they want to hire pied pipers, and we’re happy to take the money and run a silo’d youth ministry. integration is messy, full of complications and resistances, and feels counter-intuitive as it is–to a small degree–working our way out of parts of our job.

sam does a great job of setting up the problem, unpacking solutions, and providing a raft of ideas.

here’s the back cover copy from the book:

Most youth groups function like a parasite within the body of the church: a separate organism that relies on its host for resources, but isn’t integrated into the whole. Strong language? Sure. But it’s accurate. And if left untreated, this parasitic relationship will lead to unhealthy results for both youth ministries and churches.

One Body addresses how even the most active youth ministries can unknowingly hinder the development of their adolescents by preventing them from being integrated into the body of Christ. It also reveals practices that hinder growth within the body and suggests some exciting ways to connect the stories and lives of the youth and adults in your church.

Let’s get teenagers out of their ministry silos—their youth group ghettos—and start building relationships beyond the youth room. Let’s dream together of moving our congregations toward a better understanding of their biblical call to disciple and be One Body with youth.

and here’s what others are saying about sam’s book:

Our churches have become silos, and in this thought-provoking yet practical book, Sam Halverson calls us to do something about it. One Body is a necessary read for all who believe that people and relationships are more important than programs.
Chanon Ross, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Youth Ministry, Princeton Theological Seminary

It’s now almost universally agreed in the world of youth ministry that we’ve got to stop isolating our teenagers from the rest of the church. Isolation hurts teenagers and hamstrings the church. But up to this point, we’ve had few prototypes for making that seismic shift. With One Body, Sam helps us imagine a church without generational isolation and makes a compelling, practical case that integrating teenagers into our congregations really can happen. I can’t think of a single church that won’t benefit from this book.
Mark DeVries is the author of Family-Based Youth Ministry, the founder of Ministry Architects, and served 28 years as a youth pastor in Nashville, Tennessee.

Sam Halverson offers biblically grounded, theologically rich arguments for why churches must move away from the silo model of ministry that perpetuates the isolation and alienation of youth from the church, while providing compelling examples and ideas to show us how this can be done. Anyone committed to building a church alive with the energy and prophetic insight of young people should read this…and then show it to every leader in their congregation.
Dr. Elizabeth Corrie, Assistant Professor in the Practice of Youth Education and Peacebuilding and Director of the Youth Theological Initiative at Candler School of Theology, Emory University

download a free sample of sam’s book, or buy the whole thing on The Youth Cartel site.
or, get the kindle version or physical copy from amazon.

teaching teenagers in a post christian world banner

Why We Published This: Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World

uh… a week ago i posted a ‘why we published this’ about gina abbas’s amazing new book, A Woman in Youth Ministry. and i said i was going to post every day that week a “why we published this’ about one of our new resources. but then i didn’t post again. my bad. weak internet during my travels conspired with a schedule that was more full than i’d planned to result in a goose egg. so, now, i resume this li’l series with…

Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World: Cultivating Exploration and Ownership

teaching teenagers in a post-christian worldlast fall, jake kircher drove me from Open Boston to his church in CT, where i spoke to teenagers, then taught a parent seminar. we had a bunch of time on the road; so when he told me he had a product idea for me to consider, i told him to take his time. jake wove a story about the need he’d discovered with his post-christian teenagers for a different approach to curriculum. as he shared what he’d developed, and why, i responded with something like,

“jake, i think this sounds great; but i think there are two separate resources in this: a curriculum line using this approach, and a short ‘manifesto’ book describing the approach in more detail than a curriculum intro allows for.”

jake considered that for a few weeks, and we were off to the races. later this week i’ll post about jake’s THINK curriculum. but here’s the manifesto–an articulate, challenging, pithy-but-practical book about a teaching approach closer to the socratic method than a propositional throw-down. i’d imagined jake’s book as a sister book to brock morgan’s exceptional book Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World, as they’re addressing some similar contextual realities. so we titled jake’s book with a ‘companion’ title to brock’s.

here’s the back cover description:

Youth workers are in a tough spot these days. On the one hand, we’re finding that teenagers who have little to no church background and Bible literacy tend to be hyper tolerant of all religious views except for Christianity. On the other hand, students who grew up in the church and have heard all of the “right answers” are still struggling to articulate their beliefs and live them out day to day.

When these two realities combine in youth ministry, they can make teaching teenagers about spiritual things an infuriating experience. It can feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall.

It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So maybe it’s time we try something different when it comes to teaching theology to our students. That’s the hopeful change that Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World addresses.

As a follow-up to Brock Morgan’s exceptional Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World, this book will help you shift from being a content dispenser to a conversation cultivator. It’s time we stop treating teenagers like consumers—even when we really believe in what we’re selling. Instead, let’s create learning environments that lead to faith exploration and ownership.

and here’s what others are saying about it:

In Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World, Jake Kircher calls us to reset how we communicate the truth of Scripture to teenagers. We need to clear our memories and adapt our approach to their real world. It’s not the world many of us grew up in. Jake’s style is transparent and humble. He advocates an organic style of ministry that acknowledges and draws on the worldviews and learning styles of students. What he says should be carefully considered by youth leaders—especially those of us whose faith was nurtured in the “God said it…I believe it…that settles it” era. It’s a helpful and provocative read.
Doug Clark, Director of Field Ministries, National Network of Youth Ministries

As you read this book, you will hit bottom with Kircher and then begin to see youth ministry from a new perspective. It’s a tough perspective. You can’t just pour the essence of this book into your cup of ministry, add water, and stir. This is a call to leaders to give up all the superficialities, competitions, and idols of our present ministries and accept a radical relationship with Christ, with the intention of showing young people the difficult cost and high value of discipleship—a radical relationship with Jesus. Only this way can young people escape the limitations and bondage of a post-modern, post-Christian age. It is a self-critical approach to ministry—one in which we need to learn and determine our goals through self-reflection and out of deep relationships with youth, discovering with them what life is all about and how true, loving relationships grow. This book might be too searing and personal, a little too radical and honest for you—though I hope not; because it’s also disarmingly practical.
Dean Borgman, Charles E. Culpeper Professor of Youth Ministries, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; Founder and Director, Center for Youth Studies

How refreshing to get advice from someone who’s right in the thick of the challenge of sharing faith with young people. Jake writes from the perspective of an experienced youth pastor who knows that the old methods of teaching teenagers are increasingly ineffective. The goal remains the same: for teenagers to develop a deep commitment to God that will last a lifetime. But standing up front at a youth meeting and telling teens what to believe isn’t working. Instead, Jake gives us inspiration and practical guidance to teach teenagers who are immersed in modern culture and, of course, the digital world. This is a place where having the space to explore and ask questions is a critical element of the journey to truth, and Jake’s advice will ring true to anyone wondering how to help young people find faith in a postmodern world.
Chris Curtis, CEO, Youthscape

Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World is a quick but important read for far too many of us youth workers who declare we have a plan for ministering to youth, but deep down we aren’t really sure that what we’re accomplishing will last. Jake Kircher is not afraid to be honest about his youth ministry past and what he believes today.
Mike King, President, Youthfront, Author of Presence-Centered Youth Ministry

I loved this book and I highly recommend it. Jake Kircher understands today’s culture and gives us wonderful insights on communicating with teenagers. This book is well researched and no doubt will give you many effective tools to speak to this generation.
Jim Burns, Ph.D., President, HomeWord; Author of Teenology and Confident Parenting

Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World is a must-read for youth workers who are in the trenches. Jake Kircher has written an honest and practical book full of thoughtful and deliberate strategies for guiding teenagers’ spiritual formation in today’s very complex, post-Christian world. Kircher can do this so well because he is immersed in this paradigm shift as he ministers to teens in the Northeast. His personal accounts resonate with my own and, most likely, with those of any youth worker who is passionate about leading students into life-giving faith. My recommendation is that you buy a copy of this book for yourself—and then buy six more!
Brock Morgan, Author of Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

Teaching is often missized in youth ministries. We either give it grandiose value, or we’re entirely too dismissive of the power of the spoken Word. Jake Kircher is clearly a gifted practitioner, and he does a skillful job of right-sizing the importance of teaching in our ministries. This work is a masterful combination of stating the inaccuracies of our theology and practices, while offering creative, practical insights for how to do it better.
April L. Diaz, Author of Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker; The Youth Cartel’s Director of Coaching

Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World is an engaging and compelling journey of ministry transformation with huge kingdom implications. I enjoyed Jake’s personal, even vulnerable, approach as he moved his youth ministry to one characterized by “exploration and ownership.” My favorite chapter is chapter 5, “Why We Discourage Exploration.” We don’t mean to, of course; but we end up, as he aptly describes it, making our students listeners, not livers of the Christian faith. I love how Jake’s book is filled with fresh hope for youth ministry—and the whole church!
Len Kageler, Ph.D., Professor of Youth and Family Studies, Nyack College; Author of Youth Ministry in a Multifaith Society

download a free sample and/or buy the physical book from The Youth Cartel site
buy kindle or physical copies from amazon

homepage-a-woman-in-ym

Why We Published This: A Woman in Youth Ministry

A Woman in Youth Ministry: Honest Insight and Leadership Wisdom for Real People

a few years ago, before The Youth Cartel was publishing stuff ourselves, i had coffee with a local youth worker named Gina Abbas. i’d sorta known of gina–at least i knew her name–but we didn’t actually know each other. but when we met for coffee, i could quickly tell she was a seasoned youth ministry veteran with something to say. she’d been consistently blogging at her “a woman in youth ministry” blog, which was starting to cause a few challenges (everything from raised eyebrows to outright conflict) at her conservative church. we processed a bit, and got to know each other, and that was about it.

not long after that, gina showed me the proposal for a book she’d been thinking of. i signed on as her literary agent, and after we tweaked and polished the proposal, i started shopping it around. but, alas, three factors wonderfully conspired against finding a publisher for her book:
1. the youth ministry publishing world has been wildly unstable and shifting for a number of years, with many publishers not sure what they’re hoping to publish, and others mired down in a quicksand of cumbersome processes.
2. gina’s book was honest. some would call it edgy (which, in this case, was code for “more honest than we’re comfortable with”).
3. and, gina didn’t have a national platform with built-in sales guarantees.

but: that’s exactly the sort of book and author the Cartel decided we needed to publish (look at morgan schmidt’s book for an example). and when we decided to start publishing, i told gina, “enough of this shopping around to publishers who don’t see why this is both an important book and a needed book; let’s publish this ourselves.” and, i am very happy that gina agreed.

A Woman in Youth Ministry.covernow, a couple years later, gina’s book is real, and one of several titles we have releasing just now. it is at times winsome, even funny; and it is at times confrontative and challenging; it is at all times honest and helpful. this is a book that every woman in youth ministry would benefit from. but it’s also a book that male youth workers need to read if they hope to understand some of the unique challenges their female peers face.

here’s the book’s summary, from the back cover:

If you’ve ever been boycotted for being a girl, pumped breast milk on a church bus, gotten fat from eating too much pizza, or wondered if women really can do youth ministry (even when they get old)…

Whether you’re a single or married female in youth ministry, with or without kids…
Whether you’re a part-time, full-time, or volunteer youth worker…
If you’re serving in a tiny church or a ginormous church…
Or even if you’re a guy who wonders how he can better partner with women in youth ministry…

A Woman in Youth Ministry is for you.

This book is full of stories and rants and blessings and cone-of-silence honesty. Gina Abbas is a storyteller, a listening ear, and an honest coach. She pulls no punches and bares her deepest pain and joy. And—over and over again—Gina provides encouragement and practical help for youth ministry leaders who sometimes feel like they’re going it alone.

and here’s what others are saying about it:

“I wish we didn’t need this book. Really, I do. I wish the current Christian culture were such that a book like this would be completely superfluous. But it’s not. It’s needed—desperately needed. As a youth ministry professor at Indiana Wesleyan University, I’m constantly having conversations with young women who want to know, “Could I be a youth pastor, too?” I look forward to handing them a copy of Gina’s book so they can get current, firsthand information about what it’s like to be a woman in the trenches of youth ministry. Gina’s conversational style is full of insightful stories and wise tips to help bolster her readers’ confidence. While it’s true we learn a lot from experience, Gina’s vulnerability allows us to learn from her experiences as well. This is a must-read for any young woman who wonders whether God could use her to minister to his children.”
Dr. Amanda Drury, Assistant Professor in Practical Theology and Ministry , Indiana Wesleyan University

“‘It’s hard to be awesome when you’re too busy.’ This line from Gina’s book rang so true for me. With creativity, honesty, humor, and meaningful advice from her own story, other voices, and God’s Word, Gina weaves together a beautiful addition for women in leadership. May we–as individuals and as the church–slow our busyness so the kingdom can be even more awesome.”
April L. Diaz, Author of Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker; Director of Coaching at The Youth Cartel

“The challenge for women in ministry today is not just confronting the overt ways women experience inequality (still very present), but also naming the latent ways inequality is perpetuated in ministries’ unchecked assumptions, expressed through programs, postures, relationships, language, and theology. Gina’s story is exactly that–a journey packed with encounters, ideas, and questions worth considering. Women and, more importantly, men should read this book and let Gina be another (or maybe their first) female ministry conversation partner.”
Steven Argue, Pastor and Theologian-in-Residence, Mars Hill Bible Church; Adjunct Professor of Youth Ministries, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary; Advisory Council Member, Fuller Youth Institute

“I wish A Woman in Youth Ministry had been available when I began my career in youth ministry. I desperately emulated the male youth pastors I knew because I was unsure how to be a woman in youth ministry. This book would have saved me considerable grief and heartache, and enabled me to feel less alone. Gina’s stories and wisdom will, no doubt, provide many female youth workers with a road map for how to confidently live into their calling as women in youth ministry. But don’t be fooled by the title. This book isn’t just for women. It’s also for male youth workers who want to partner with their female colleagues more effectively in order to do God’s kingdom work.”
Jen Bradbury, Director of Youth Ministry, Faith Lutheran Church; Author of The Jesus Gap

“If you’re a woman in youth ministry, or know a woman in youth ministry, this book is essential reading. Gina’s writing is warm, honest, and encouraging, with a little bit of rear-kicking. I loved how she opened up difficult but essential topics like education, pay, family-life balance, and boundaries. A Woman in Youth Ministry is a great resource for women in all levels of youth ministry leadership, from volunteers to youth pastors. You’ll return to it over and over.”
Emily Maynard, Blogger & Speaker

“I’ve never read another book like this. A Woman in Youth Ministry is a next-level glimpse into the journey of a youth worker—who also happens to be a woman. It’s a raw, heartfelt, practical guide to navigating the ups and downs of the youth ministry world. If you’re looking for a guide to longevity in youth ministry–you’ve found it!”
Katie Edwards, Saddleback Church

The Youth Cartel is unapologetically feminist. while we love our youth ministry friends in complementarian churches, and are committed to serving them, we stand very emphatically in a place of affirming women in youth ministry as equals.

honestly, i am really proud of this book. it’s an important book. and i deeply hope that lots of my youth ministry friends will read it and be both blessed and challenged by it: encouraged and equipped and made uncomfortable.


purchase A Woman in Youth Ministry from The Youth Cartel store, or download a free sample
purchase A Woman in Youth Ministry from Amazon.com
purchase the Kindle version of A Woman in Youth Ministry from Amazon.com

anti consumerism

teenagers and materialism, part 4

here’s part 4 (the final bit) of an article i wrote a few years ago, that i thought was worthy of a revisit. part 1 set up the topic. part 2 addressed the futility of addressing materialism head-on with teenagers. part 3 suggested that consumerism is the real issue, not materialism (and that many of our churches and ministries compound that identity). and, part 4:

Top 10 signs your youth ministry might be built on consumeristic assumptions:

(Warning: some of these are intentionally overstated, and reveal why a friend in Northern Ireland called me “a sarky git”.)

    10. You talk about “my group” (that’s ownership language–the language of consumers).
    9. Your mission statement: More teenagers, more often.
    8. You constantly pressure your teenagers to bring friends. Those teenagers whose natural outgoing personality makes this easy are considered the most spiritual.
    7. Guilt and manipulation are seen as necessary evils, and reframed as “speaking the truth” or as “the gospel.”
    6. The biggest buzz you ever had in ministry was the time you were able to report ten “decisions for Christ”–whether those teenagers were ever seen again or not.
    5. You’ve pondered how to make Christianity as simple as possible for teenagers.
    4. The result of your youth ministry is nice teenagers who are willing to attend church.
    3. The ministry “tools” you’re sure will really get things moving: a great sound system, a hip youth room, and truly awe-inspiring media on screens.
    2. You daydream about the things you’ll never have: laser lights and a fog machine.
    And the #1 sign your youth ministry might be built on consumeristic assumptions… When you talk about “growth”, you’re only referring to numbers.

What’s a good youth worker to do?

Go ahead: teach about materialism. Like I wrote in part 2, talk with your teenagers about how the accumulation of stuff is a dead-end approach to fulfillment, an endless roundabout of temporary satisfaction. Talk about the amazing counter-cultural idea straight out of the Kingdom of God, that stuff will never truly satisfy, and that true and full living will never be found in money, toys, gadgets, cars or clothes. Offer up for consideration the life-giving practices of living-with-less, serving, and giving.

And don’t just talk about these radical ideas: offer them up as the practices and programming of your ministry. I’ve never seen anything confront materialism in a teenager’s life like the hard, in-your-face realities of an effective cross-cultural missions trip or work project (done well).

But always keep in mind that our most effective teaching and programming will never have full impact unless we begin to undo the consumer-driven underpinnings of our ministry thinking and assumptions. Start with assumptions: ask yourself (and your entire ministry team–even students), “What are the assumptions driving our ministry to teenagers? What assumptions do we have that could be a reflection of an unintentional courtship with consumerism?”

Also look at your “measuring sticks.” What do you measure to determine if you’re effective? You might find that some or all of your success metrics are reflective of an underlying approach to treating teenagers as consumers. Of course, that would mean that you need some new measuring sticks! What non-consumer measurements could reframe the assumptions of your ministry? What non-consumer measurements could you begin to use (in the wake of rejecting or diminishing those that are consumer-driven) that would be truly reflective of Kingdom values? How can we measure whether our groups are embracing Grace and Mercy, Justice, and the journey of Discipleship?

At the end of the day, it’s only when we truthfully and courageously confront our own consumerism and our consumer-driven thinking about youth ministry, combined with effective teaching and programming in the area of materialism, that we can hope to see change. If we do these things, and model these values in our own lives, then we can hope to have teenagers see through the materialistic veil placed on them by our cultures (and our churches!).

Shopping bags

teenagers and materialism, part 3

here’s part 3 (of 4 parts) of an article i wrote a few years ago, that i thought was worthy of a revisit. part 1 set up the topic. part 2 addressed the futility of addressing materialism head-on with teenagers. now, part 3:

Prepping for a different perspective

Sometimes an extreme example can help (although sometimes it’s easy to distance ourselves and say, “well I’m not that bad!”).

Why do so many youth ministries continue–overtly or more subtly–to embrace a Field-of-Dreams mentality (“If you build it, they will come”)? “Attract a bunch of teenagers” could really be the summary job description of a simple majority of youth workers I interact with (even if it’s not what they want their job descriptions to be). Now, “attracting teenagers” to your youth ministry isn’t in-and-of-itself a bad thing. It’s just a misguided priority.

And here’s how this plays out in extreme (not so extreme that it’s not the reality in hundreds of examples all of the U.S.): First, a church with lots of resources hires a youth worker. Already operating with the attractional philosophy, the youth worker makes a logical leap: “if they will come because we built it, then they will come in much larger numbers if we build it really big and flashy!” So they build youth work facilities better than any rec center you’ve ever seen and offer the most kick-butt high-activity and high-volume youth ministry ever conceived. And, confirming their suspicions, lots of teenagers are “attracted” (it’s a good show, so why wouldn’t they come?).

Materialism isn’t really the problem

Why look at a problematic philosophy of youth ministry in the midst of an article on materialism? Well, because I don’t believe that materialism is our root problem. I think materialism is a symptom. Consumerism is the real problem. And our churches have so completely bought into consumerism (at least most churches that aren’t conversely stuck in traditionalism), it’s almost absurd to try to teach our teenagers about the problems of materialism.

This isn’t an article about church history and models of ministry, so I won’t go into too much detail here–but somewhere in the 2nd half of the last century, propelled by our modernistic propensity to view everything as quantifiable, objectifiable and mechanical, our churches fully embraced “growth” as the ultimate goal (sounds nice and organic, doesn’t it?). Again, I’m simplifying here, but stick with me: in order to get more people (or more teenagers), we started making changes, many of them long overdue, in our programming and worship and architecture and everything else about church ministry. Many of these changes “worked” in terms of making church (or youth group) more attractive. While the church is struggling in many quarters, churches who adopted these innovative approaches often experienced significant numerical growth.

Now, please don’t misread me. I believe some of the changes churches have experimented with or implemented have been good and needed changes. The problem is, the church accidentally swallowed something else along with the good changes: noncritical assumptions that treating parishioners (or teenagers) as consumers is just how things have to be done these days.

That’s my point here: it’s rather useless to challenge teenagers on their materialism if our entire ministries are built on treating them as consumers!

next, tomorrow: part 4, wrapping it up

goldfish

teenagers and materialism, part 2

here’s part 2 (of 4 parts) of an article i wrote a few years ago, that i thought was worthy of a revisit. part 1 set up the topic. here’s part 2:

Let’s pretend materialism is the real issue

I’m not denying that materialism is a major issue, a distraction from living fully in the kingdom of God, and that we’d be irresponsible as youth workers not to talk about this with our teenagers. It is, and it does, and we would be if we didn’t (did you follow that?).

Jesus spoke clearly about the love of stuff and how it erodes real life. That gadfly teaching of his about the guy with the perfect pearl is the annoying pea that distracts all of us under our princess-like pile of mattresses.

If we believe that Jesus knew what he was talking about, we have to embrace the fact that the accumulation of “stuff” impedes teenagers’ ability to live the fullness of life Jesus promises in John 10:10. Of course, the problem is, our teenagers are soaking in a culture that constantly tells them the accumulation of stuff is fullness of life. So merely talking about the evils of materialism is like talking about the evils of water to fish–it just doesn’t compute. Our once-in-a-while diatribes about the love of money just come off sounding like antiquated sentimentalism for the good old days; or worse yet, like complete and utter hypocrisy.

Think of it this way: simply telling teenagers “sex before marriage is bad” doesn’t do much to reframe their thinking about a message that is so counter to everything else they hear and experience. To effectively talk about sexuality, we have to offer a counter-story–a better story about goodness and ultimate fulfillment, not just condemnation and consequences.

The same is true with materialism. Our teaching can’t focus on the negative. We have to propose an alternate reality–a better reality, a “more real reality”–of how living fully in the Kingdom of God, without a focus on getting more stuff, is a better way to live. And not just better in its moral value, but better in its fruit. We have to show examples of passionate, highly-fulfilled people who haven’t found their meaning in possessing more. We have to teach about the revolutionary way of Jesus, the upside-down realities of the Kingdom, that promise the greatest meaning and passion and purpose in life through serving others, through selling what we have and giving to the poor.

Don’t forget, all this is highly abstract. And most teenagers are fairly limited in their ability to fully grasp abstract ideas. So we have to work hard to concretize these truths–talking about what it really looks like to live in an affluent culture and still embrace life-giving Kingdom values.

Of course, the best way to teach this is to live it out in front of your teenagers. Ah… that’s part of the rub, isn’t it?

next, in part 3: i don’t think materialism is actually the issue.

Stacks of Money

teenagers and materialism, part 1

here’s an article i wrote a few years ago on teenagers and materialism. i thought it was worth a revisit.

A Different Spin on the Problem of Materialism

I have a friend who’s on welfare. He’s brilliant and creative and funny. He’s a fantastic writer, and has dreams of getting published. As employment, he’s waiting for that dream to come true. His wife had a minor injury at work a few years ago and went on disability. Now, if she gets a job, the disability will be cut off. So they have absolutely no money. And they have three teenage kids (all of whom, by the way, are fully capable of getting a job and helping the family, but don’t).

My friend’s teenage kids, who have an nice gaming system, feel completely ripped off that they can’t get the newest gaming system. They lounge around the house complaining about how much it sucks that their parents can’t get them the new system, while dozens of games for the fully functional gaming system at their feet retire to the land of forgotten toys.

Why does this bug me so much? Well, a few reasons. But the reality is, the whole thing bugs me because it exposes everyone’s materialism–certainly my friend’s teenage kids, but also my friend and his wife, and yes, even mine. See, while I really enjoy this friend, and like hanging out with him, I’ve not yet had him over to my own home. I’m concerned that he will only see me as a source for money or other stuff. I don’t have that newest gaming system, but I have a lot of stuff. And the potential that my friend could view me as a potential lava-flow of cash only exposes me! If I weren’t materialistic, and a champion-level collector of new gadgetry, my friend’s potential perspective wouldn’t be an issue.

Let’s face it: we’re all materialistic (at least most of us). Trying to say that this generation of teenagers is so different, so much worse–I’m not sure I buy it (ha, get it? “Buy” it!). Anyone young enough to have completely missed World War II (that would be most of us) has no real sense of limitations on spending. So what is different about today’s teenagers and materialism?

Well, first of all, they are materialistic. They want stuff. They have massive spending power, and Madison Avenue spend millions of dollars to open the pocketbooks of teenagers. This is overly simplistic, but there are a couple key factors in play here:
– There have always been materialistic stuff-hoarding people. But materialism was never embraced as a cultural norm–as something to be proud of–until the 1980s.
– Connected to that reality, teenagers today embrace the materialism they see exhibited in their homes and the world around them. They have lived with a heightened materialism their entire lives.

This is one of the reasons we tend to notice the materialism of teenagers. Especially for those of us who were teenagers prior to the 90s (for me, WAY-prior to the 90s!), there is a new embracing of stuff that wasn’t present to the same degree when we were teenagers.

tomorrow: “talking about the evils of materialism is like talking about the evils of water to fish–it just doesn’t compute.”

one on one with the lord

photo in need of a caption, hoopin’ j-man edition

i opened my blog this morning and thought, “today feels like a photo in need of a caption day.” maybe that was a prompting from the holy spirit; or maybe it was the carnitas i had for dinner last night.

either way: this gem is begging for captioning. best caption wins your choice of 6 new products The Youth Cartel is releasing in the next couple weeks:

whatcha got?

one on one with the lord

CONTENDERS

chunkypbj
Jesus Christ Superstar

Bethany Butterfield
Cleveland says, “Nevermind, LeBron.”

Cash
Jesus’ biggest foe on the court is Peter. Every time he drives to the hole, he gets DENIED!

AND THE WINNER IS…
close call between cash and bethany; but the scales just barely tipped to bethany. nice one, mrs. butterfield. i’ll contact you about your prize!

teenage brain

teenage brains wired for awesome stuff

brainstormreading Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel. it’s been on my ‘to read’ stack for more than six months.

it reminds me of the wonderful quote that dean blevins tossed out during our panel on teenage brains at the nywc last fall:

do we view teenagers as a problem to be solved, or a wonder to behold?

view this quote from the book through a “wonder to behold” lens:

Brain changes during the early teen years set up four qualities of our minds during adolescence: novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity, and creative exploration.

yeah, i think i’ll have to blog about this more. but this is worth a mini-post by itself.

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in defense of short term missions (with pictures!)

short term missions in youth ministry has been taking quite a bit of hits recently. and, honestly, i agree with a good bit of the criticism. but i think much of the criticism misses a few extremely important points and throws the baby out with the bathwater.

take, for instance, this huffpo blog post i read last week (but was posted earlier this year), called The Problem With Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism. the author recalls the savior complex she brought to her orphanage visit, and the horrendous construction work done by her group of teenage girls that required local men to come during the night and completely undo and redo the work. based on her experience with a poorly executed trip, the author suggests:

It turns out that I, a little white girl, am good at a lot of things. I am good at raising money, training volunteers, collecting items, coordinating programs, and telling stories. I am flexible, creative, and able to think on my feet. On paper I am, by most people’s standards, highly qualified to do international aid. But I shouldn’t be.

I am not a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, a scientist, an engineer, or any other professional that could provide concrete support and long-term solutions to communities in developing countries. I am a 5′ 4″ white girl who can carry bags of moderately heavy stuff, horse around with kids, attempt to teach a class, tell the story of how I found myself (with accompanying powerpoint) to a few thousand people and not much else.

and her “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” final conclusion:

Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip.

this, i believe, is unfortunately misinformed. i completely agree that there are some missions trip that are ill-conceived, poorly executed, and focused almost exclusively on giving the american participants a warm fuzzy feeling. i completely agree that you shouldn’t take your youth group on a trip like this.

but the correction doesn’t have to have only the two options the author (and so many others) suggest: either have a useful skill, or don’t go. instead, there are other very helpful (essential!) ways to ensure that your trip isn’t voluntourism. they boil down to these issues:

  1. work with an organization that is imbedded in the local culture.
  2. work with an organization that ruthlessly cultivates long term local relationships of trust from an unflinching commitment to serving the vision of local, indigenous leaders.
  3. prep your team effectively, so they come to serve, rather than to be either “saviors” or tourists.

here’s what i saw again this past week in belize, during my time here with Praying Pelican Missions:

people like this decide what needs to get done (the guy on the left, that is). that’s pastor henry, pastor of sand hill baptist church and a national leader in the belize baptist church. HE decides, not the visiting groups or PPM.
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skilled laborers are employed for construction projects, like this construction worker on a site i visited this week:
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but no particular skill is needed to mix cement and do other grunt work. in this case, the visiting group of teenagers and some teens from the church worked side-by-side on the non-skilled grunt work.
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kids min doesn’t focus on conversions. in this fantastic case, belizians led parts of the kids min (they’re the up front people during this time of singing), and visiting americans help where they’re helpful (running games, doing crafts).
kids min

and when an orphanage with wonderful leadership says “we’re short-staffed, and the children don’t get as much touch and play as we would like them to have,” well, it doesn’t take much skill to be present to a child who’s not experiencing much of childhood.
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so, yes, let’s absolutely be thoughtful and super cautious. let’s stay away from voluntourism and colonialism and savior complexes and helping that hurts. if your trips include any shade of those mindsets, repent, and find a new missions trip provider. but even if you wouldn’t think of knowingly taking your youth group on “bad” trip, don’t allow your good and healthy aversion to those sins keep you from helping teenagers participate in kingdom work in the world. just make sure you and the organization you work with or through is ruthlessly committed to (and has a track record of living out) the values i’ve suggested here.