Tag Archives: youth ministry

we need some painful disruption in youth ministry

a couple weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me this quote in a google chat:

“The major advances in civilisation are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur”
(Alfred North Whitehead)

and, immediately, i started thinking of youth ministry.

and this is what came to mind: i don’t like pain. i avoid pain. but i really like change. in fact, two of the seven vocational core values i came up with for myself earlier this year when i was doing some reflection on where i’m headed were:

I want to change the world. I believe in my gut that I am invited into the ongoing restoration work of Christ in the world, and I want to actively participate in that Kingdom work.

Change is non-negotiable. Upheaval, starting new things, risk and failure are all necessary and good, both for the organization I’m a part of and for my own level of thriving.

sounds like a recipe for pain, doesn’t it? because, really, there’s no way to lean into change and upheaval without also heading into some pain.

i pray for, long for, dream of, and want to be an active part in youth ministry changing. i won’t go into long detail about what that looks like; but i will say that our continued isolation of teenagers, our culturally lame attempts to entertain them, our arrogance about how cool we are (please know i’m looking in the mirror on that one), our immaturity, and our ongoing fondling of bigger and better as a measurement of success all need some painful disruption.

tweaking isn’t going to get us there.

here’s where i might be shooting myself in the foot (which would, i assume, be painful): i’m a youth worker. i can’t escape that calling. and — if i’m honest — i don’t really have a sure-fire recipe for a new way. whatever disruption happens is likely to hurt me in one way or another.

but that quote got me thinking:

what would “processes that all but wreck the [youth ministry structures and assumptions and culture and organizations] in which they occur” look like?
what would it mean?
where would it come from?
what might be beautiful and smelling of the kingdom of god on the other side of it?

middle school culture, part 3

i have a new book releasing in december for parents, called Understanding Your Young Teen: Practical Wisdom for Parents. the book is a significant rewrite of some of my chapters from the book scott rubin and i co-authored a couple years ago, called Middle School Ministry. In this series, i’m excerpting portions of one of the chapters, called “White-Hot Temporary (Early Adolescent Culture)”.

my first post in this series covered a culture of information, and a culture of immediacy. the second post in the series included a disposable culture, and a culture of consumerism.

———–

An Intense but Temporary Culture
In the chapter on middle school relational change (chapter 6), I wrote that young teen girl friendships are often surprisingly intense yet also tend to be short-lived. To some degree this is also true of middle school culture in general.

Some of this is developmental. In their effort to sample and discover, young teens often immerse themselves into their interests, affinity groups, or value systems. They try these on as if they’re the last ones they’ll ever try on, as if they’re going to give their lives to this new direction.

My daughter, Liesl, who’s now 16, has always been an all-or-nothing kid–and this was especially true during her young teen years. When she was into art (taking art classes and such), she was convinced she’d spend the rest of her life doing it. When she decided she wanted to be a skateboarder, she adopted everything of that subculture (including music, clothing, and many other seemingly unrelated variables) in a “this is who I am” manner. Liesl has gone through a dozen or more identity makeovers, and has only in the last year or so started to settle into some less-temporary identity wrappings.

We adults tend to either try things on more tentatively or immerse ourselves in things we will stick with for a long time. Not so, usually, with young teens. I titled this chapter “White-Hot Temporary” for this reason: Young teens give themselves wholeheartedly to the interest, relationship, choice, value system, or belief that’s in their faces, but they also easily discard it for the next sampling exercise. This is a cultural issue, in addition to being a developmental issue, because it’s what they observe all around them in other young teens.
It’s considered normal.

We adults might ask, “Why don’t you ever stick with anything long enough to really know if it’s you?” But their peers sure aren’t saying that to them.

A Networked Culture
Obviously, this is a huge shift in young teen culture. The fact that most young teens (sure, not all of them) have cell phones that instantly connect them with parents and friends is a whole new world of instant, networked connectivity. Text messages, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking tools have created a middle school culture that exists in bits and bytes.

This is a fascinating shift. While relationships are as important as ever, these relationships are more dependent than ever (seriously, more than ever–in all of history) on the written word. Friendships are no longer primarily dependent on physical proximity, audible vocalization, and listening. Friendships and social networks of middle schoolers are more dependent on networks played out over transmitted data.

As such, the “Who’s in your network?” question of identity and affinity is more than a cell phone company marketing tag. Most young teens consider online and text communications to be both the foundations and the buttresses of their relational cathedrals.

A quick example: My daughter has a formerly very close friend who lives only about a mile away from us, but no longer attends her school. He has a cell phone, but it’s almost always out of minutes (since he has a very limited prepaid plan). So she can rarely reach him by cell phone or text message. He doesn’t use Facebook (which Liesl does). So even though he lives in reasonable proximity to Liesl, she’s finding she has no real means of sustaining the friendship. She has other friends who no longer attend the same school she does, but she still considers them to be very close friends because they constantly–daily–connect via text
messaging and Facebook (and the occasional phone call).

———-

up next, in the last post in this series: a driven yet sedentary culture.

Cartel Culture (The Youth Cartel free awesomeness, part 2)

this week, The Youth Cartel (my kick-butt little company!) launched two amazing, free youth ministry resource emails. yesterday, i wrote about YouTube You Can Use, the weekly mini-discussion built around a youtube clip. free. really. that sucka will come out pretty much each and every monday (but only to the wise and savvy youth workers who sign up for it, here).

but that’s not all! if you order now, we’ll throw in the ginsu knives

wait. no.

oh, yeah, it’s CARTEL CULTURE.

let’s be honest: no one wants weekly emails full of long letters and articles — that’s what blogs are for (c’mon, sing that last line to the tune of michael w. smith’s ‘that’s what friends are for’; i’ll wait for you). links. when it comes to FREE weekly emails about stuff youth workers should see, it’s gotta be links, baby.

that’s what the weekly CARTEL CULTURE is. it’s a free link-fest (all in a beautifully designed shell, i must say, created by the unstoppable adam mclane). looks like this:

you’ll notice there that we have 6 links, each in a different “bucket”. but those are only 6 of the 15 “buckets” we’ll rotate through each week. the whole list includes:

Do
Discuss
Delight
Whimsy
Explore
Think
Imagine
Inspire
Discover
Reflect
Debate
Resources
Ideas
Ignite
Play
Trash

who knows, maybe we’ll throw in some more categories over time (we’re sneaky that way — we’re a cartel, after all).

some of the links go to The Youth Cartel site, so that we can host some conversation around the bit. others go to external sites.

you can sign up here for the weekly CARTEL CULTURE email, which is free (did i mention that?). you’ll see the other emails you can sign up for also (YouTube You Can Use, and our event and book and curriculum news, the latter two of which will only be sporadic, at best). we promise, we won’t spam you or sell your email address or anything like that. hey, once you’re in the cartel baby, you’re like family.

YouTube You Can Use (The Youth Cartel free awesomeness, part 1)

The Youth Cartel launched two new FREE weekly emails this week. really, i can’t take any credit for them. my brilliant partner, adam mclane, came up with the ideas, design and content for both of them. i’ll throw in with some links and stuff from time to time, i’m sure. but, really, these are the shiznit.

first up:

YouTube You Can Use

each monday (if you sign up for this free list), you’ll get an email with a youtube video, and a mini discussion guide (topic, discussion starter, linked scripture verses, discussion questions, and a final ‘wrestle with this’ thought or question. it’s freakin’ youth ministry gold, man, and it’s free.

did i mention it’s free?

no, really, it’s totally free.

here’s where you can go to sign up for this.

oh, and if you missed the first email, click here to see the archived version, on the topic of perfection.

viva la revolucion, baby.

daniel 3 for youth workers (a very snarky, tongue-in-cheek version)

in the last couple months i have been wearied by the seemingly endless trail of wounded youth workers who are second-guessed, criticized, diminished, fired, lied to and lied about, undermined, and tossed aside. i know these things:
1. we youth workers are not always the most mature leaders in the church. we bring some of this on ourselves.
2. there are wonderful churches where this doesn’t happen.
3. there are way too many churches where this does happen.

with that in mind, this bit of highly-altered scripture, from the story of shadrach, meshach, and abednego (consider it commentary):

————–

painting by Gustave Dorè
The church board made a record book of gold, a cubit high and a cubit wide, and set it up on an alter-like table in the narthex of the church. It contained all the names of the members of the church, and a list of the ways “things are done around here.” They then summoned the pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons, and volunteers of every kind, to come to the dedication of the book they had set up. So the pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons, and volunteers of every kind assembled for the dedication of the record book of gold that the church board had set up, and they stood before it.

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Parishioners, members, and donors of every sort, this is what you are expected to do: More than anything else, you must revere this book. Even more so, you must revere the values behind the book, that we exist for those who are here, and that our highest means of praising God is to stay the same. Whoever does not revere this book and the value of staying the same will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace of criticism, diminishing comments, questions about his calling and orthodoxy and character, and — for paid staff — the likelihood of being replaced by someone who will comply.”

Therefore, as soon as they saw the beautiful book with its gold-edged pages, they revered this book and the value of staying the same, even worshipping, in their hearts, the values that the church board had set up.

At this time some bitter, wealthy old members came forward and denounced the youth workers. They said to church board, “May the church board live forever! You have issued a decree that everyone must revere the book containing the list of members, and the values behind the book that clearly state that we exist for those who are here, and that our highest means of praising God is to stay the same. You also said that whoever does not revere this book and the value of staying the same will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace of criticism, diminishing comments, questions about his calling and orthodoxy and character, and — for paid staff — the likelihood of being replaced by someone who will comply. But there are some people in this church whom you have set over the affairs of the youth ministry who pay no attention to you. They neither serve your values nor venerate the gold book you have set up. They care about those dirty sinful young people outside of the church just as much — maybe more! — than they care about the sons and daughters of the biggest donors. And worse yet, they are committed to trying new things and making changes, always citing the need to ‘contextualize the incarnational gospel into the world of teenagers’ — blasphemy if we have ever heard it!”

Furious with rage, the church board summoned the youth workers. So these women and men were brought before the church board, and church board said to them, “Is it true, youth workers, that you do not serve our values or venerate the gold-leafed book we have set up? Now when we hold the book in front of you, if you are ready to back off and change your ways, if you are willing to limit your time and energy to the children of the biggest donors, and if you are willing to stop trying new things, very good. But if you do not prostrate your hearts and will to ours, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace of criticism, diminishing comments, questions about your calling and orthodoxy and character, and — for paid staff — the likelihood of being replaced by someone who will comply. Then what will happen to your precious ‘incarnational gospel’?”

The youth workers replied to them, “O board members, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace you describe, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from your hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, church board, that we will not serve your selfish values or worship the gold-leafed book you have set up.”

Then the board was furious with the youth workers, and their attitude toward them changed. They quietly ordered the furnace of criticism, character assassination, red-tape and every imaginable smothering of real ministry to be heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the loudest and most bitter old-timers in the congregation to tie up the youth workers and throw them into the blazing furnace of criticism, diminishing comments, questions about their calling and orthodoxy and character, and the threat — to the paid staff person — of losing her job. So these youth workers, wearing their youth group t-shirts, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The board’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire destroyed the loud and bitter old-timers who took up the youth workers, and these youth workers, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace of criticism.

Then the board leaped to their feet in amazement and asked their best gossipers, “Weren’t the youth workers tied up and thrown into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, board members.”

They said, “Look! I see one extra man walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the extra man looks like a son of the gods.”

The church board then approached the opening of the blazing furnace of criticism, character assassination and job threats and shouted, “Youth workers, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”

So the youth workers came out of the fire, and the pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons, and volunteers of every kind crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their youth group t-shirts were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

Then the chairman of the board said, “Praise be to the God of the youth workers, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the board’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God; they were willing to persevere criticism and second-guessing and gossip and rumor and absurd expectations, rather than giving up on a life-giving gospel. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of the youth workers be held accountable, and that we all reform our ways, reaching out to those outside our walls — even when it makes us uncomfortable — and embrace a new passion for trying new things in our effort to re-present God to the world around us.”

Then the board tripled the youth ministry budget.

————–

others in this series:
selections from exodus 3 & 4, rewritten for youth workers
2 Corinthians 11 & 12, if Paul had been a youth worker
psalm 23 for youth workers
luke 5 for youth workers
1 kings 19 for youth workers
2 timothy 1 and 2, if paul were writing to youth workers

help the youth cartel with the extended adolescence symposium

some time ago, i started to read and learn about the phenomena of extended adolescence. the short story is that adolescence, in the united states, is now considered to be close to 20 years in duration, from about 11 on the young end, all the way to about 30 (on average) on the upper end. of course, with the loss of high school graduation and the marker of turning 18 as fairly accepted ending points, the ‘normal distribution’ is very wide — there are young adults who are fully functioning as adults in their early 20s, and others who stay in adolescence into their 30s.

the inertia on this thing is around commodifying this ‘new developmental life stage’ — the upper end commonly referred to as ’emerging adulthood.’ culture at large, as well as businesses and churches, are quickly buying into this as the new normal. some are even saying it’s good.

but there are a few voices (in the minority) who are saying, “what a minute; maybe this isn’t good, and maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.”

i started to dream about an event where we could explore this tension, particularly around it’s implications for youth ministry and the church. i talked about it with my partner in the youth cartel, adam mclane, and he had a bunch of energy around it also.

we put together an A-list of who were would love to have — long shots, really. and we thought about how great it would be to offer it in atlanta the day after the YS national youth workers convention (monday, november 21). with the blessing of YS, i went after our long-shot A-list: Dr. Jeffrey Arnett, the author and academic who coined the term ’emerging adult’; Dr. Robert Epstein, author of Teen 2.0 and a leading dissenting voice; and Dr. Kara Powell, a brilliant youth ministry academic who we felt would rock it as a moderator (and youth ministry interpreter). somewhat to our surprise, they all said they would love to be a part of it!

so the EXTENDED ADOLESCENCE SYMPOSIUM was born… kind of.

the plan is for a one-day event, rich with presentations, dialogue, and moderated debate.

but we still had a significant problem: how to fund the thing. we’ve enjoyed seeing how kickstarter has become a very cool platform for people trying to fund creative ventures. steve taylor’s film adaptation of don miller’s book blue like jazz was, for a period of time, the highest funded project on kickstarter, after the film lost its funding and fans came to the rescue.

we’re not blue like jazz, or don miller, or steve taylor. but then, we don’t need to raise a quarter million dollars either. we only need to raise $6000.

we’re hoping you’ll help us. there are a cool variety of sponsoring levels, each with their own benefit to the donor. you can get an mp3 of the event, an abridged ebook of some highlights, a reduced price ticket, lunch with one of the speakers, a nice steak dinner with me and adam (!), or even become an official sponsor of the event.

but we only have a few weeks to nail down the funding, as the speakers have all graciously agreed to wait until then to see if we can pull it together. so september 17 is our deadline.

click through to our kickstarter page to learn more about the event and the various donation levels. spread the news — please — via your own networks (email, facebook, twitter, G+, etc).

we really think this thing could be significant in helping us all wrestle with this juggernaut of extended adolescence, and its implications for us in the church who care about teenagers and young adults.

will you help us? better yet, will you join us?

check out “Pay it Square”

my parent hat
i have two teenage kids. one is in our church high school group, and the other is in our church middle school group. as you can imagine, we’re regularly paying for some trip or activity. and here’s a confession: we suck at it.

almost everything our family does happens online. we bank online. even when we have to send checks, we send electronic checks through our bank. but when the deposit for summer camp is due, we have to find the checkbook, write a check, and either mail it or hope that it will actually pass through our 13 year-old son’s hands to the middle school pastor. it’s all very old school, and not in a cool, retro way.

my youth worker hat
i’ve got an event coming up, let’s say a winter retreat. i need to collect deposits and balances. i need to track all those checks that come in (which i would rather not touch). i’ve got to manually keep track of who has paid and who hasn’t. i’ve got to send our reminder emails to those who i know are planning on coming, but haven’t paid.

the old school thing ain’t working for this hat either.

enter: pay it square.

i recently came across this cool little online tool, and instantly saw how it would be killer for youth ministries. maybe your church is big and fancy and has online payment process abilities. but most of us regular youth workers don’t have that. that’s where pay it square helps.

it’s a slick and easy to use app that allows you to do all kinds of things — all related to collecting funds for paid events. built on paypal (which means the funds are secure and safe), pay it square allows you to create a page for an event and totally customize it. you can manage the whole process from your pay it square account page: sending out information, collecting funds, seeing who has paid and who hasn’t (even if they pay offline), sending out reminder messages (manually or automatically), printing out rosters, and more. no more loose checks or cash, no more handwritten rosters or inputing names and payments into a spreadsheet. oh, and they have great embedding options: you can drop it into a facebook page, or add their widget to your blog or website.

the cost is cheap, too. the standard paypal fees, plus 99 cents per transaction. and you can choose to have that added on to what the payee pays (as a parent, i would gladly pay this small fee to avoid writing and handling checks), or eat that cost yourself.

i really encourage you to give it a try. click through here and poke around. create an account (takes about 30 seconds), and set up a real or fake event — you’ll see how simple it is.

*this is a sponsored post, but i wouldn’t be sharing it with you if i didn’t think it would be super helpful for youth workers.

slant33

over a year ago, barefoot ministries launched slant33, a creative weekly online set of three responses, by three contributors, to a question that youth workers would find helpful. it was a great start, and mostly interesting. but it also got a big academic at times, and not quite connected enough to the real world of in-the-trenches youth workers.

so, after a nice hiatus (i think slant33 vacationed in cancun), barefoot came to the youth cartel, and asked us to reimagine it for a year, taking the lead on identifying a new slate of 20 contributors, coming up with the 52 questions for the year, and moderating the whole shebang. they redesigned the site, making it much more user friendly. i’m stoked about it, and really hope you’ll follow it this year, engaging in the comments and joining in the dialogue.

the newly re-launched slant33 went live yesterday! new slants will be posted every monday. you can subscribe via email or rss here.

the list of contributors is amazing, including a wide variety of youth ministry thinkers and practitioners with great diversity in every way. check out the list of contributors here.

the first slant, that went live yesterday, has responses from kara powell, ian macdonald, and tiffanie shanks, to the question: how do you pursue personal skill growth?

as a tease, the next six slants, going live on mondays in the weeks to come will be:

– How far out do you plan your calendar? Why? What’s your process?
– How do you determine the line between vulnerability and over-sharing?
– In what practical ways do you find solitude and rest?
– What time and expectation boundaries should be non-negotiables for youth pastors?
– How is the priesthood of all believers fleshed out in your ministry? How does that impact your role?
– How do you decide what to teach?

and there are 45 more questions following that!

i hope you’ll join us!

(oh, and i need a small handful of guest contributors for a few slants throughout the year. let me know if you’re interesting in writing one!)

2 timothy 1 and 2, if paul were writing to youth workers

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, to Youth Worker, my dear one: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your the tears you shed for teenagers, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your own youth worker and in your youth worker’s youth worker before that and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the power of the Holy Spirit and your calling from God to this precious ministry. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of your calling or work; do not be ashamed of what others would think silly, or a lesser calling; do not be ashamed of investing into teenagers written off by most adults, including most in your church. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

What you have heard from me and the rest of scripture, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

You know that many dismiss me, as they dismiss you, including the wife of the board chairman and driven father of that one rich kid.

You then, my youth worker, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to other reliable youth workers who will also be qualified to teach teenagers. Join with me in suffering, as you clearly do. You suffer sideways glances and rumors. You suffer people asking what you do ‘the other days of the week’, or ‘what you’re going to do when you grow up’ or ‘if you’d like to be a real pastor one day.’ you suffer unrealistic expectations, and people who only measure your impact in attendance, and church leaders with authority over you who do not understand that your best work is not done in the church office. You suffer teenagers who you’ve poured your life into turning away from our Savior. You suffer with every choice they make, because of your Christlike love for them. You, my dear youth worker, suffer like God suffers. And in that suffering, you draw near to the heart of God. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

Here is a trustworthy saying:

If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.

——

others in this series:
selections from exodus 3 & 4, rewritten for youth workers
2 Corinthians 11 & 12, if Paul had been a youth worker
psalm 23 for youth workers
luke 5 for youth workers
1 kings 19 for youth workers

my thoughts on ‘divided: the movie’

“every generation, in the history of the church, has had its defining issue. in our generation, the issue that’s facing the church is whether parents will be able to raise up a new generation for the future”

really? that’s our defining issue? you can’t think of any others?

that’s a direct quote from the documentary film ‘divided the movie.’ weeks ago, an online friend sent me a link to the film and asked if i knew i was in it, and what i thought of it. i’ll admit – i was kind of excited… until i watched it.

i’ve been sitting on this for weeks now, because i general try to avoid ripping on things in christendom (unless it’s snarky fun, like my old ‘jesus junk of the month’ awards). i know, or believe, that the creators of this film had good intentions. i believe — i choose to believe — that they were genuinely and rightly concerned about some stuff they saw in youth ministry and the church, and were motivated to use their trade to do something. and so much of what i think they were trying to say aligns with things i’ve been trying to say. all that to say, i really, really, really wanted to like this film. but i hated it.

i still wasn’t going to blog about it, though.

but i keep being asked about it (partially because i am in it, for about 5 seconds). i think people must assume i have something to do with it, or at least that the filmmakers had cleared it with me, or at least that the filmmakers had informed me. none of those assumptions would be true, i’m very sad (and slightly angry) to report.

the original guy who had contacted me knows the filmmakers. i do not. when i told him i was thinking about posting about it after all, he told me that he thought the makers would not be offended if i offered an honest critique, rather than just sarcasm or flippancy. that was a good gut-check, as my normal approach would have be a tendency to sarcasm or flippancy, at least some of the time. but resorting to sarcasm on this one is really just using a tool the filmmakers used that really frustrated me: tearing down straw men. more on that in second.

here’s the film’s website, where, at least at this point, you can watch the entire movie online. you can decide for yourself, and not agree with my slant. if you watch the bonus material clips, you’ll see more truth about this “film” revealed, which is that it’s less of a film, and more of an extended promo piece for the national center for family integrated churches.

so. the basic premise of the film is that parents should be responsible for the spiritual nurture and upbringing of their children and teenagers. good. i’m with them there. and we have plenty of research now (in addition to theology) that backs up the impact of parents taking the leading role. good. they also contend that isolating teenagers from the rest of the church is harmful to them. good. i’m with ’em on that one too. and, they say that intergenerational relationships are key. yup. go get ’em! let’s preach together!

but…

the problems from there on out are so numerous i hardly know where to start (and certainly don’t know where to end). but let’s start with that straw man thing. if you’re not familiar with the phrase, the idea is that it’s easy to tear down an idea or set of ideas if you construct a fake version of the idea in the first place. that approach is employed throughout the film. some examples:

– the oddly earnest young adult narrator (whom we can only assume is present in the film to give it a sense of ‘i’m one of them’, but who instead comes across as a puppet of some adult with a bigger agenda) interviews teenagers at a state fair like event (is it a christian festival? i think it was), asking about their various beliefs. from the three or four we’re shown, we are to conclude that all teenagers are going to hell in a handbasket. conclusion aside, the methodology of showing us a few selected camera-in-your-face interviews with teenagers, given pop-quiz questions about their faith in front of their peers, is hardly research. you got on a plane to film that?

– same thing is true for the filmmaker’s visit to the simply youth ministry conference. i’ve never been to this event (sure hope to someday!), but i know it’s a good event. i thought the filmmakers portrayed youth workers as idiots. and there’s not much more infuriating to me that that kind of set up.

– there’s a giant rabbit trail fairly early on about how many teenagers no longer believe in a literal 6 day creation. this is offered as the ‘shocking proof’ that we’re in deep doo-doo, and is corroborated only by ‘experts’ who would be promoting this point of view themselves.

– in fact, throughout the entire film, the ‘experts’ (who are all from an extremely right wing edge of the church; there’s not even a moderate interviewed (well, other than the clip of me!)) are there to offer soundbite, emotionally packed, fear-tinged, support of the film’s points, points which are–in theory–being suggested by a 19 year old in a snappy vest with a big travel budget. that math is not working, on any level.

when you construct straw men, then tear them down, it’s all very easy to be mean-spirited (which this film is), cocky (which this film is), and protective of your biases (which this film is). in fact, i think i can safely say that the whole thing is extremely manipulative (a lie?). for the narrator to say that he wonders about some things, and he’s setting off on a quest to find answers, becomes an obvious falsehood. there was no honest inquiry here. there was no genuine journalism. what there seems to have been is a well-funded donor with a pre-determined set of agenda items.

i was deeply bothered by this one underlying thrust that eventually got said in clear words more than once, even put on the screen in text:
‘there’s not a shred of evidence from genesis to revelation that age-segregated programmatic youth ministry ever existed.’

so? what a completely absurd claim! but it kills me, because there could have been some good stuff in there — i agree we have too much age segregation! i agree our youth ministries have been too program focused! but saying this approach to youth ministry is wrong because it’s not found in the bible?

ok, first of all, ask a jew how children and teenagers are trained in spiritual matters. you are not, i promise, going to hear a story about nuclear families (the way they’re defined in america, btw — not the way families were understood by a single original reader of the bible) doing all the work. kids were sent to training with a rabbi. at least through age 12 or so, when they were bar-mitzvah’d. and that was about the age at which they were expected to begin functioning as apprentice adults in that culture. and when the family was involved (certainly, they were, as all of culture revolved around the extended family relationship at that time), it wasn’t just dad (which increasingly, becomes the cry of this film, near the end. moms seem to fall by the wayside as the film progresses, leaving kids without dads SOL), it was a freakin’ clan! grandparents and aunts and uncles and that weird cousin benny. why do you think jesus’ parents weren’t worried about him for 2 whole days when he wasn’t with them on the trek home from jerusalem? was that a failure on joseph’s part?

secondly, let me list a small, non-exhaustive list of things most likely found in the churches and theologies of the filmmakers (many of which are in my church and theology also) for which ‘there’s not a shred of evidence from genesis to revelation’:
– baptismal pools
– church buildings
– hired clergy
– church budgets
– the word ‘trinity’ (though i certainly believe the concept is there)
– church busses
– sound systems
– children’s ministry
– men’s ministry
– women’s ministry
– senior adult ministry
– christian radio

i’m going to stop there, before i actually get snarky (that wasn’t, believe me). to say that youth ministry has to go away because our approach to youth ministry isn’t found in the bible is what, ultimately, pushed me to post on this.

if you read my post from last week, thanking youth workers for their work, on behalf of a dad, you’ll see some of my (righteous) anger surfacing.

let me try to land the plane here. yes, there are problems with the approach we’ve developed for youth ministry in the past four or five decades. i hope The Youth Cartel can do something about some of those. but the issues are much more complicated that simply pulling kids out of youth ministry, or shutting down your church youth ministry. i think youth ministry needs to change (that’s why The Youth Cartel is all about ‘instigating a revolution in youth ministry’); but i think youth ministry needs to stick around. yes, for those countless teenagers who do not have parents who will take the lead (i almost broke my ‘t’ key when i just typed ‘do not’, i was typing so hard!). but not just for them. i need youth ministry to stick around for MY CHILDREN! and, darn it, the guys who were in my last small group were from awesome homes, all with 2 original parents, all of whom were highly engaged in the faith development of their teenage boys. and i PROMISE YOU (YES, I’M YELLING) THAT EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE PARENTS WOULD SAY THEY (AND THEIR SONS) NEEDED ME.

(breathe)

i want us all to talk about this stuff, because i think it’s massively important. i applaud the filmmakers for taking a risk. frankly, i’d enjoy some healthy and feisty dialogue. we should do a panel on this at some youth ministry event! “Divided over Divided the Movie” i pray a blessing, not a curse, on their heads. and i hope that somehow, as god has done over and over and over again through my flawed messages, that god will use your film to draw parents into relationship with their teenager sons and daughters. if that’s the result, i will will praise god with you. if it’s not, maybe we can still praise god together.

after i wrote this post, i discovered that my friend walt mueller, of the center for parent/youth understanding, wrote a fantastic post on divided a week ago. honestly, it’s a much better post than the one you’ve just read, and i encourage you to read it.

(btw, the filmmakers make an attempt to address some of my arguments in the FAQ section of their site, but not adequately, in my opinion.)