Category Archives: Teens

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2013


 

Top-10

So 2013 was an amazing year for our ministry.  Some of the highlights we increased speaking and writing opportunities, new partnerships and more importantly, new friends.  Below are the TOP 10 blog posts of 2013.  Thanks so much for support CotF.  We believe in the work we are called to do and hope to continue that work into the new year.

 1.   Engaging Resistant Students in Youth Ministry

 2.   The Importance if the Imago Dei in Youth Ministry

 3.   Sex: A Little Porn Never Hurt Anyone

 4.   Sex: Porn Zombies

 5.   Sex: There’s An App For That

 6.   Youth Ministry and the Glee Effect

 7.   Moral Disengagement: Bombers, School Shooters, and Bullies

 8.   Incarnational Ministry to LGBTQ Students

 9.   Credibility in Youth Ministry

 10. Trauma Stewardship in Youth Ministry

 Honorable Mention:   The Power of Permission in Youth Ministry

 I’ve also been given the honor of blogging on one of the most popular youth ministry blogs morethandodgeball.com on the topic of Soul Care.  This is a recent partnership with Group Publishing (SYMC and KidMin) and part of my new job is to coordinate their ministry to pastors/workers called The Shelter.  I’ll be blogging over there periodically and there are some other really great bloggers there so give it a look.

Engaging Resistant Students in Youth Ministry


resistant teenOk, this is a lengthy post today but one we felt was needed.  Too often kids get a bad rap because they are resistant to engage in the life of our ministry.  Hear me on this…IT’S NOT ALWAYS THEIR FAULT.  There are many variable that contribute to a student becoming a part of a faith community.  I see this in counseling and I see it in “Big Church” as well.  Let’s dissect why students are resistant and what we can do about it. 

Ethan came to our youth ministry every Sunday and Wednesday.  He came only because his parents made him attend.  Ethan was an over-churched kid who went to the local Christian high school.  He grew up in church and his dad was an elder and his mom taught Sunday school for as long as he could remember.

Whitney did not grow up in church.  She was only coming because of our “evangelism daters” had convinced her to go with him.  She was uninterested but came because she really liked Jake.  She was emotionally distant and often snickered when another student would share openly about something they wanted prayer for.

Carissa was a wild child.  She was ADHD and ran on caffeine from the minute she woke up until the moment of the inevitable crash later into the night.  She was disruptive and impulsive.  Carissa loved to show up late so she could make an entrance and equally loved getting attention from the boys in the youth group.

These three students have something in common; they were all very difficult to engage in the spiritual life and practices of our youth community.  In spite of many attempts to get these kids under control or to peak their interest they remained stagnant and distance with their heels dug in.

It seems so obvious years later, but we learned that spiritual growth can’t occur unless a student is first engaged in a spiritual community.  Most students show up at youth group or church for the first time with a combination of issues and often are on the defensive and initially resistance to change.  Every student we encounter is a product of a process that has been going on in their lives that impacts how they connect and open up to others.  Let’s look at some of the reason why a student might be resistant to our efforts to engage them:

They are forced to go: Many students are only there because their parents are making them go.  This is not the kind of “soil” in which growth can occur.  If we’re honest we’d say there are quite a few kids that fit into this category.  This mandate automatically sets up resistance.

Lack of motivation to change: The great majority of young people who come to youth ministries are ambivalent about whether or not the want to stop their “sin”.  Most aren’t even sure what sin really is, let alone whether they are prepared to surrender it to a God they know very little or nothing about.

Discomfort opening up in front of peers/strangers: From the perspective of the student, youth ministry can be a strange experience.  It is so different than anything else they experience in their world.  Often the youth leader knows something about them (because of their friends) but they know very little about the youth leader and the world of youth ministry.  In addition, youth ministry thrives when its members are vulnerable and transparent, both pre-requisites for change and growth.  This also creates discomfort for students to open up to a room of virtual strangers or even worse, give their closest friend ammo to use against them later.

Multiple life stressors = Spiritual growth not a priority: A combination of family stress, school commitments, relationship challenges, identity struggles, brain development, physical changes, mental health concerns and a host of other stressors can push spiritual growth down on the list of urgent needs to address.

Difficult emotions to manage: There are myriad emotions that accompany being an adolescent, including anger, rage hostility, flat affect, depression, apathy, and hopelessness as well as love, excitement, fear, exhilaration, and freedom.  Likewise, there is distorted thinking to combat, such as; the imaginary audience, grandiosity, catastrophic thinking, minimizing risk, failure to see long term consequences, desire for immediate gratification, and a sense of entitlement.  All of these make engaging a young person like walking through a minefield.

Initial ministry approaches that increase resistance: There are a number of ministry approaches that, when scrutinized, would reveal that they actually decrease a student’s engagement.  At best the drive the kids toward shallow compliance, acting and saying the right things but not actually changing hearts.  This is like cleaning the outside of the cup but not the inside.  These approaches are aggressively confrontational and leave the student feeling defensive or shamed, they lack empathy, warmth, genuineness, and focuses exclusively on what students are doing wrong to the neglect of what they are doing right or have to offer.

Unresolved grief/trauma: Painful emotions connected to loss or trauma can make engagement difficult due to the anxious nature of both conditions.  Fear of abandonment or exploitation can lead to a student leaving the group and never returning (early termination).  There is fear that the community it not safe or may trigger the trauma or grief.

Cross-cultural tension: All ministries are cross-cultural because of issues related to race, gender, religious backgrounds, sexual orientation, age, and so forth.  Tension can exist in the context of ministry and can be barriers to establishing a relationship between the ministry (people) and student (people).

Negative prior YM/Church experiences: Students who have previously attend church or youth ministry will bring with them preconceived notions about what they can expect.  If they had negative experiences they will likely filter your ministry through that lens, potentially tainting the new experience.

Adolescence: Adolescence by its very nature is a journey to autonomy, making young people resistant to engaging adults.  In addition, many adolescents do not believe that sin is problematic.  Many simply think they are behaving normally and that it is normal to drink, party, have sex, etc.

Evan eventually began to engage and share his gifts and strengths with the group.  He entered into a mentoring relationship with Art and discovered he had leadership skills.  When Ethan went off to college he became a leader at his campus ministry and now leads dozens of other students as they seek to grow in their faith.

Tiffany, as it turns out had a recent suicide attempt and regularly engaged in self-injury.  She had difficulties trusting others due to trauma she experienced as a child.  She found hope and healing through a mentoring relationship with Jillian who taught her how to love and be loved.  She is married today and lives a whole life.

Candice has settled down, SOME.  She was able to discover her heart bled for orphans after the youth group went through the 30 Hour Famine.  Her heart was wrecked by the overwhelming need she saw in the kids.  She finished high school and became involved in the organization International Justice Mission that her mentor Trudy told her about.  She is currently in school working on a degree in International Law and intends to devote he life work to freeing captives in the sex trade and bringing justice to the oppressors.

Engaging students in an important skill youth workers must have if they are to be effective in impacting the world through the students they are called to reach.  Before we can invite them into the redemptive kingdom work God has for them they first need to be engaged in a community that will equip them for such work.

So what are some strategies for engaging resistant students…

Hospitality has to be a high priority: We must invest our resources in creating a culture of hospitality.  Students are more likely to let their guard down when they enter a warm, friendly environment.  This includes everything from how we train our volunteers and student leaders to the décor of our meeting spaces.  We lose a lot of kids within the first few minutes after they walk through our doors.

Focus on what the students have to offer: Many students feel like they are failing at life.  Many reel like this faith thing is simply too complicated for them to engage.  If they feel they serve a purpose and that the community is incomplete without them, they are more likely to feel valued.

Explore and validate past ministry experiences: Admittedly, the church wounds people.  There is a chance that some of your students have been hurt by the body of Christ.  If this is the case we increase the likelihood that those students will engage in our ministries if we validate their experiences and feel like someone takes them serious.  You do not have to run down the other youth ministry but a simple acknowledgement of pain or betrayal is often more than enough.

Match levels of spiritual interest with appropriate ministry expectations: Like we mentioned earlier, most student are ambivalent about changing.  When we put them directly into intense discipleship situations we end up with a mismatch of motivation and expectations.  Having various points of entry for all students regardless of where they are in their walk will allow the students to experience your ministry without adding more pressure to a young person who is already overwhelmed with the rest of their life.

Minimize confrontation: There is a time and a place to share the truth about someone’s choices and the consequences.  That is a right that is earned first and timing is important.  A student is more likely to listen to hard truth when you have invested the necessary time for them to know you care.  It may be wise to tolerate certain behaviors until a healthy and appropriate trust is established.  Once this occurs the relationship will be more likely to withstand the tension of confrontation because love and trust has already been established.

Engage the student in their spiritual growth plan: Another reason students are resistant is because they typically have very little input into their spiritual growth.  Each student is created uniquely by God to connect with him in a unique way.  There are multiple pathways to encounter God, such as; intellectual study, worship, community gatherings, being in nature, enjoying fellowship and relationships, and acts of service.  Too often we create experiences that are born out of the youth leaders natural way of connecting but don’t necessarily lead to connection for the student.  Individualized feedback from the student provides a personal investment and more buy-in.

Avoid power struggles: This will lead to an immediate decrease in student engagement if they come to believe that you are a power hungry, control freak.  Remember each student has a right to chose or reject God and that right comes directly from God Himself.  View the power struggle as a sign that maybe you need to take another approach with the student to try and engage him or her.  Pay attention to non-verbal body language.  Folded arms across the chest are often a sign of disinterest.  Re-evaluate your strategy with this student and try again.

Avoid labeling student: Students are constantly in development.  What you see before you is not what they will be some day.  Be careful to avoid labeling them with title slike: He doesn’t care, she just wants attention, and they’ll never change.  Grace will and should cover a multitude of sins.

Be aware of countertransference: By definition, countertransference involves negative reactions that youth workers have towards their students.  Youth workers who have negative reactions to the students can contribute to those students’ resistance to youth ministry outreach.  It is during these moments when we must search our hearts for the barriers that stands in the way of our being able to love this specific student.  It may be as simple as a personality conflict or it may be deeper, this student may be unintentionally triggering a memory of a bad experience or relationship the youth worker has had in their past.  Either way, these situations should be discussed with your supervisors and consulted with other volunteers to see who can step in and reach out to this particular student.

Maintain a sense of humor: It’s been said that the shortest distance between two people is laughter.  Humor can reduce resistance in the most obstinate youth.  When one individual is perceived to have the most power in a situation, humor can be the great equalizer, leaving both parties on equal footing.  Humor can also make the leader more human in the eyes of the student.  This requires some discernment as we can be too flip or crass or even hurtful if humor is not used appropriately.  When used properly a well placed comment can make all the difference in the world.

How have you engaged those students that appear to be resistant?  What strategies do you have built into your ministry that directly addresses this posture in students?

A Mind For God (A Youth Ministry Perspective)


Moral RelativismI recently finished reading a small yet powerful book titled, A Mind for God by James Emery WhiteAs I thought through the personal implication of this book on my own spiritual life I couldn’t help but think about the following regarding youth growing up in today’s culture.

 Emery White starts his book off with the idea that the god of this world assaults those living within it and is not without intellectual forces, which he arrays against the kingdom.  Within this assault are four major ideas of which are critical to understand.   I believe these to be of ultimate importance to those of us in youth ministry as well.

 Moral Relativism

 The basic idea of relativism is:  What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me.  What is moral is dictated by a particular situation in light of a particular or social location. Moral values become a matter of personal opinion or private judgment rather than something grounded in objective truth.

 Autonomous Individualism

 To be autonomous is to be independent.  Autonomous individualism maintains that each person is independent in terms of destiny and accountability.  Ultimate moral authority is self-generated.  In the end, we answer to no one but ourselves, for we are truly on our own.  Our choices are ours alone, determined by our personal pleasure, and not by any higher moral authority.

 Narcissistic Hedonism

 The value of narcissistic hedonism is the classic “I, me, mine” mentality that places personal pleasure and fulfillment at the forefront of concerns.  The “Culture of Narcissism” is concerned with a current taste for individual therapy instead of religion.  The quest for personal well-being, health and psychic security has replaced the older hunger for personal salvation.

 Reductive Naturalism

 Reductive naturalism states that all that can be known within nature is that which can be empirically verified.  What is real is only that which can be seen, tasted, heard, smelled or touched and then verified, meaning able to be replicated through experimentation.  Knowledge is “reduced” to this level of knowing.  If it cannot be examined in a tangible, scientific manner, it is not simply unknowable but meaningless.

  •  Which of the above do you struggle with the most in your own personal journey? 
  •  Which of the above do you see most in the kids in your youth ministry?
  •  How do we collectively address these issues in our own lives and the lives of our youth?

Sex (A little porn never hurt anyone, right…?)


porn-hook

As with any behavior we engage in there are payoffs and there are consequences.    This post explores the negative consequences of obsessive and compulsive consumption of pornography.

  1.  Misusing sexuality or unhealthy sexual expression for the gratification of personal lusts and desires rather than the divine purpose if was gifted to use for (pro-creation and monogamous bonding/attachment) creates a host of attachments neuro-chemically and emotionally.  When we complete a sex act (climax) we have engaged a process that includes attaching (oxytocin/vasopressin) to the object of our sexual desire.  If these objects are images on a screen then we form a connection with those objects that was intended for your partner.  Repeated gratification to pornography can lead to difficulty bonding with a loved one in meaningful ways, emotionally and physically.
  2. Because of the impact of porn, our ability to connect with others emotionally is reduced.  The real problem is that our understanding of the true nature of sexual relationships gets polluted with porn consumption (creates fantasy).  Porn creates something less life-giving, commitment-solidifying, joy-producing for transient, sensual, immediate gratification.  As a result we learn that porn consumption, leading to masturbation and climax can be a powerful “mood altering experience” helping us deal with the stress of day-to-day life.
  3. Regular pornography viewing can also create a distorted perspective on reality.  It reinforces body types that are not natural, sexual positions that are only for a good camera angle not a natural position during sex, it creates expectations for our and our partners sexual behaviors and puts pressure on both to perform as what is seen on the screen.  Neural wiring changes occur due to regular porn viewing that reinforces our desires for what we see on the screen.   We begin to crave in real life what we see on screen.  This can also lead to a sense of emotional disconnect in which we are observes of our own sex acts rather than fully present with our partner.
  4. Emotional deregulation can occur when we become dependent on porn to relieve stress or make us feel pleasure.  When we are frustrated with our partner being sexually unavailable we turn to porn out of frustration or to extract secret revenge for their scorn after a fight.
  5. In order to consume porn regularly we must disengage morally.  This is dangerous because if done frequently or repetitively we lose our ability to empathize with others.  Moral disengagement allows us to do that which is socially unacceptable by blaming others, justifying our behavior as deserved or just, or by displacement of responsibility of our choices.
  6. Porn will likely reinforce negative gender stereotypes.  Cultural messages still support traditional gender roles and elevate the notion that women exist for men’s pleasure in a male dominated world.
  7. The shame and guilt that often accompanies pornography related problems is intense.  One the episode is over these feelings rush in and drives the behaviors underground to keep them hidden from others.  This leads to isolation and disconnect from important relationships.  This can lead to depression or hopelessness and helplessness.  The feeling that one is trapped in a shame cycle is often reported.

This list is not exhaustive but is a good gauge of what can happen to an individual that compulsively and/or obsessively consumes pornography.  In the next post we will look at ways to walk alongside someone stuck in the labyrinth of pornography.

Sex (Porn Zombies)


zombieadc

There is a hypnotic effect of porn that is all consuming, turning consumers into Porn Zombies.  Sex and the human body was meant to captivate our attention and it is good.  God created sex to be shared within the boundaries He laid out but there is a level of moral disengagement via objectification that one must accept if they are to habitually consume pornography.  The male brain is predisposed for this type of objectification. 

A recent study found that showing men pictures of sexualized women evokes less activity in areas of the brain responsible for mental state attribution—that is, the area of the brain that becomes active when we think we are looking at an entity capable of thought and planned action.  When consumed too frequently, for increasing lengths of time, compulsive pornography viewing has the potential to rewire the neural circuitry of the brain.  Viewing pornography creates a superhighway to climax (dopamine reward) that was intended to be a long journey through the back roads leading to intimacy.  Sex and the climax were simply meant to be the end result of that intimate journey.

Through studies, men who watch porn have shown that they are visually aroused not just by images of the human bodies they desire but also by the facial expression of pleasure shown.  This is cause by mirror neurons that are cells in the brain that activate when you simply see another behavior.  Have you ever watched an UFC fight where one opponent lands a giant knee to the face?  What do we do in response to seeing that?  We all collectively gasp and oooohh and aaaahh and wince in pain.  Why?  Because the mirror neurons in our brains are active, sending out signals that are similar to what the individual being punched is experiencing.  As we watch porn our brains neurologically experience what we’re seeing on the screen, increasing our desire for the same experience.

Your Brain on Porn

In order to understand the effects of porn we must first explore certain parts of the brain that are in play.  The following is just an overview.

Limbic System:

The Limbic System is home to many things.  First and foremost, it is responsible for rewarding behaviors the brain and body deem “good”.  The word “good” is in quotes because “good” is subjective when left up to man’s definition.  “Good” according to God is not defined the same way man defines it.  Man defines “good” as anything that delivers pleasure or removes displeasure.  Pretty simple.  It’s hedonic in nature and self-serving. 

Two parts of the Limbic System that are responsible for pleasure and feelings of pleasure are the amygdala and the hippocampus.  The amygdala allows us to express emotions and reward behaviors that make us “feel good” so we increase the likelihood of doing them again.  The hippocampus stores and retrieves memories associated with those feelings and behaviors. 

It works like this; I’m driving in my car and Never Say Goodbye by Bon Jovi comes on the radio.  When my senses take those sounds in the brain begins the process of retrieving memories attached to the song.  It immediately presents the memories of a high school dance.  I remember all the details with vivid clarity.  I remember slow dancing with Angie, the lighting in the gym, the feelings that accompanied that nervous dance and other sights and sounds that were present (this is important to remember).  Those memories trigger an emotional response in my brain and send signals to the prefrontal cortex (the smart part of my brain behind my forehead that makes sense of things and add meaning to memories and events) and if the pre-frontal cortex determines that this event was good I will then feel good as I think about it.

Take a moment and just contemplate how the regular viewing of sexual material can have a similar impact on how the brain responds to porn.  Here’s an example of how this plays out: You’re at home alone while the family is at the grocery store.  You’re alone (crime of opportunity) and you’re on your iPad (accessibility).  Before you even begin surfing porn sites (most viewers have their personal favorites and can quickly navigate right to it) we have to resolve any cognitive dissonance (moral objections) and we use a myriad of techniques to do that.  After we begin viewing the porn your mirror neurons cause you to become aroused based on what you’re seeing on your screen.  This arousal builds until you have to release the tension your body is experiencing and you masturbate.  This results in a climax and you experience the rush of natural endorphins such as dopamine (neural rewiring is occurring during the entire process) and the body begins to return to a normal state.  It is typically at this point the we re-engage our moral compass and for some a flood of emotions rush in; guilt, fear, remorse, shame, etc., all set us up for “needing” to view porn again because of powerful pleasure reward makes those negative emotions disappear for a while (it’s hard to feel bad about yourself while having an orgasm while being caught up in a fantasy).

Repeated cycles of this and its accompanying behaviors can and most certainly will lead to neural rewiring that is habitual.  If the porn was heroin (a comparable experience to orgasm) this is what we would call addiction or drug dependency.  The craving for the payoff of watching pornography is compelling enough to alter our lifestyle and behaviors.  We may become deceitful, coming up with ways to be alone, to cover our tracks, socially isolate, or other intimacy retarding behaviors and a host of other consequences we may not even be aware of.  In our next post we will look at some of those consequences.

Sex (There’s An App For That)


3xgalleryiphonepicIf you’re a youth worker then you already know about the abundance of pornography due to modern technology. If you don’t, you should pay attention. Due to new technology porn has never been more accessible, affordable, or anonymous than it is today. At the same time, sale of Smart phones to adolescents is driving the mobile phone industry. Add these two factors together and you have a new way to engage in an old struggle.

Young people are historically impulsive and vulnerable to addictive behaviors. This is not a revelation to anyone but the temptations and opportunities to act on those impulses have increased significantly in recent years. Viewing pornography almost seems like a rite of passage and current research tells us that first exposure to pornography is occurring at an average age of 11-years-old. The natural but curious nature of sex often makes it hard for even the most convicted teenager to resist the compulsion to revisit these sites again and again.

Accessible – Youth have unlimited means of accessing outlets to pornographic material today; smart phones, apps, tablets, gaming systems, the internet, television, pay-per-view, and peer-to-peer sexting. There are a myriad of ways that kids can intentionally or unintentionally view material that captivate their bodies and brains in a powerful way.

Affordable – Access to porn has typically come with a price tag that served as a barrier for most young people accessing such material. Today, much like a drug dealer that fronts you a sample to “hook” you, porn website offer free samples in short increments with the same intention.

Anonymous – Because much of this is done of personal i-Devices the stigma typically associated with these behaviors is diminished. One can privately browse content for hours and easily delete any browsing record of such indiscretions. Instead of going to the seedy gas station to buy a magazine, or to the backroom of the video store to find the adult movie selection, technology allows those outlets to come directly to the consumer.

I do not want to demonize the adolescent’s desire for sexual expression. God gave us a sexual desire and it is good. It is important to distinguish between normal sexual curiosity and unhealthy/unsafe sexual practices. Nevertheless, we know that when anyone engages in a behaviors repeatedly neurological changes can occur, rewiring our brains to a “new” norm. Compulsive pornography consumption will fundamentally change the way we, especially our youth, will experience sex. Everything from expectations about sex to the physical experience of sex to our ability to attach to others in an intimate fashion will be impacted.

All is not hopeless. In this blog series we will continue to unpack to the problems associated with sex, as experienced as the norm today, and how we might have better conversations with our youth, their parents, and ourselves about sex and sexual behaviors.

Youth Ministry and the Glee Effect


Cory MonteithThis past Saturday my wife I and I were anxiously awaiting the verdict of the trail for George Zimmerman, the man accused of shooting 17 year old Trayvon Martin.  While this “trial of the century” was capturing America’s attention another story was unfolding in a Canadian hotel.  Glee superstar and main man Finn, played by Cory Monteith, was found dead in his hotel room.

We won’t know the cause of his death for several days but speculation abounds regarding substance use and suicide, a history of depression, etc.  The horrible irony is that the writers for Glee have attempted to bring light to these and other issues that youth face on a daily basis.

Update: Autopsy reports say the a combination of heroin and alcohol contributed to Cory’s death.

No one can deny the impact Glee has had on youth culture over the last several years.  At the very least it has provided a soundtrack for the lives of countless youth.  More importantly Glee has given our youth a voice in a world where very few believe anyone is listening.  I heard from countless teens who expressed a form of solidarity with the characters from the show.  It had every stereotype one could imagine and they all found common ground singing for the lovable Mr. Schuester in Glee Club.  It was here that they all found meaning and a sense of belonging.  Glee Club became their refuge from a crazy world of bullies, expectations, pressure, stress, and the myriad of difficulties of being a teenager.  They often spoke of Glee Club in transcendent language.

I came to see Glee Club, as portrayed on the show, as a desire for a safer world in which youth can navigate the journey to adulthood, ripe with mentors willing to walk alongside them regardless of the personal cost.  Glee changed the expectations young people had for their schools, homes, and relationships with each other.  I’m wondering if, with Cory’s death, it will leave many of the show’s Gleeks feeling a sense of hopelessness that nothing they had come to believe in will actually make a difference.  This could be soil for fruitful conversations about what is worth putting our hope and trust in.

I have said to my wife during more than one viewing of Glee that I felt like these kids could be the kids from our community or youth group.  Hearing about Cory’s untimely death impacted me emotionally and I wept upon receiving the news.  Finn, Cory’s character, was the arch-type male student, popular, pretty girlfriend, football quarterback, and could rock some Journey like no one else.  I’m concerned about the level of celebrity worship in our culture.  I’m concerned about its impact on our youth, who take their cues for living life from their idols, whether they’re conscious of it or not.  This misplaced investment is fruitless and leads to despair.  When a celebrity of Cory’s stature can’t escape the pull of destructive choices then what are the kids in our communities supposed to do?

Cue the church…

Glee struck a chord with young people like I’ve never seen before.  It spoke of the things that no one else would speak about and they did it creatively and honestly.  Many in the camp of Christianity wrote off Glee as obviously secular with an agenda but many failed to hear the messages of our youth that were reflected in the show’s storytelling.  Weekly, the show masterfully addressed the deepest longing of our kids and one could hear it only they would listen.

What if our youth ministries, what if our churches, what if our faith communities had the magnetic pull that Glee had for so many?  I really believe that kids vote with their presence, meaning, if our ministries even remotely smell like the shallow offerings the world has to offer they will not partake of it.  I believe in my core that youth will choose that which is most compelling.  We love to blame the youth for being apathetic regarding their spiritual growth and commitment to their faith but what if it wasn’t them?  What if it was our ministries?  What if we created deep ministries, like Glee, where students who felt they weren’t wanted anywhere could find a place to belong?  What if they were safe communities where they could let down their guard and be real and honest about the things in their lives that are important and troubling to them, issues like depression, stress, sexuality, self-injury, self-image, or their futures?  What if they felt they mattered because we loved them in spite of what they do and not just because they jump through our hoops and fit our mold of what we think they should be?  What if there were a number of adults who would commit to walking alongside them, regardless of how difficult it became?  What if our ministries were places of real hope that pointed to the Source of all hope? How is it that Glee has been kicking our butts when it comes to influencing and reaching our kids?  And I don’t buy the line, “Because it appeals to their fleshly desires” or what ever version of that sentiment might be.  I think it is because it speaks to the longings that are most important to youth and it does so in a meaningful way.

My heart is broken for Cory Monteith.  It’s broken because in spite of the Glee’s efforts to create the world described above, it still falls short.  Cory’s death is a reminder to us all that this world is broken and God’s children, apart from Him, are broken.  It reminds me that when we seek the satisfaction of those deep longings apart from Christ the world will always come up short.  I pray that our ministries are a place where the deepest longings of our hearts are fully satisfied through our ever growing relationship with Christ and His body.  It is there and only there we might experience the Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

Don’t stop believing…

A Look into the Crystal Ball of Youth Ministry


crystal ball

I work in the clinical world and often can’t help but wonder if the changes we are seeing in treating adolescents are parallel to what is happening in youth ministry as well.  I know it is audacious to think I have any more or a crystal ball that anyone else, but here’s my two cents regarding the future of youth ministry.

As I see more and more adolescents in our offices presenting with significantly more acute distress I am immediately concerned at how overwhelmed youth workers will be when and if they bother to show up at their church door.  Long gone are the days when you could single out the one or two problems kids had and walk alongside them as the work it out.  We are seeing more young people with co-occurring disorders, meaning they are presenting with any of the following in combination; substance use disorders, mood disorders, criminal or legal difficulties, family system breakdowns, and higher levels of stress that youth have historically been accustomed to.

What will this mean for how we train the youth workers of the future?  What kind of supervision will they need?  Will they all need to grow in competencies not typical to youth ministry, such as criminal justice, advanced counseling, developmental psychology or a host of other disciplines?  How will they increase their support network with others in the community?  Who do those in the support network need to be?

We will see significant change over the next ten years in youth culture.  I suggest developing competencies in the following areas:

  1.  Adolescent Culture:  We are and will likely continue to be a youth-focused nation and products and marketing will continue to grow in these areas.  We would serve our kids better if we understood how consumerism impacts their beliefs and views of the world, as well as their place in it.
  2. Adolescent Development:  We are learning new information at a break-neck pace about the human body and brain.  How that will impact our ministry practices has yet to be determined but it undoubtedly will.
  3. Criminal Justice:  In increasing number of youth (urban, suburban, and non-urban) are finding themselves in legal trouble that could create significant barriers to entering adulthood intact.  We could better serve our youth by developing partnerships with probation, courts, police departments, etc.  What if the church was the first place these entities turn to when a kid breaks from the social norms?
  4. Technology:  There will be an ever increasing focusing on technology as a means of reaching and staying connected to youth in our communities but also around the world.  The internet makes the world small.  For volunteers technology increases access to advanced training opportunities to be better equipped to help our students.
  5. Minorities:  With the changing face of America it is imperative that we grow in our cultural intelligences.  There will be a need for more culturally relevant and culturally sensitive expressions of Christian ministry.
  6. Families:  We’ve already begun to see a trend of moving to a family oriented expression of ministry.  This is a positive trend and I pray it continues.  It’s hard to remove a single part from its whole and try to impact it outside of it’s natural ecology.  Family ministry is necessary for the future of our churches.

 This is not an exhaustive list by any means.  Every crystal ball is foggy at best.  What are other trends you believe will need to be addressed to ensure the viability of youth ministry in the next ten years?

Jesus vs. Schemas (pt. 1 of 2)


Schemas — What They Are

A schema is an extremely stable, enduring negative pattern that develops during childhood or adolescence and is elaborated throughout an individual’s life. We view the world through our schemas.  When one does not learn a healthy theology and understanding of who they are in Christ, these schemas take root where theology should live.

Schemas are important beliefs and feelings about oneself and the environment which the individual accepts without question. They are self-perpetuating, and are very resistant to change. For instance, children who develop a schema that they are incompetent rarely challenge this belief, even as adults. The schema usually does not go away without therapy. Overwhelming success in people’s lives is often still not enough to change the schema. The schema fights for its own survival, and, usually, quite successfully.

It’s also important to mention the importance of needs in schema formation and perpetuation. Schemas are formed when needs are not met during childhood and then the schema prevents similar needs from being fulfilled in adulthood. For instance a child whose need for secure attachments is not fulfilled by his parents may go for many years in later life without secure relationships while seeking maladaptive ways (often sinful but functional) to satisfy his or her longings.

Even though schemas persist once they are formed, they are not always in our awareness. Usually they operate in subtle ways, out of our awareness. However, when a schema erupts or is triggered by events, our thoughts and feelings are dominated by these schemas. It is at these moments that people tend to experience extreme negative emotions and have dysfunctional thoughts.

There are eighteen specific schemas. Most individuals have at least two or three of these schemas, and often more. A brief description of each of these schemas is provided below.

Emotional Deprivation

This schema refers to the belief that one’s primary emotional needs will never be met by others. These needs can be described in three categories: Nurturance—needs for affection, closeness and love; Empathy—needs to be listened to and understood; Protection—needs for advice, guidance and direction. Generally parents are cold or removed and don’t adequately care for the child in ways that would adequately meet the above needs.

Abandonment/Instability

This schema refers to the expectation that one will soon lose anyone with whom an emotional attachment is formed. The person believes that, one way or another, close relationships will end eminently. As children, these individuals may have experienced the divorce or death of parents. This schema can also arise when parents have been inconsistent in attending to the child’s needs; for instance, there may have been frequent occasions on which the child was left alone or unattended to for extended periods.

Mistrust/Abuse

This schema refers to the expectation that others will intentionally take advantage in some way. People with this schema expect others to hurt, cheat, or put them down. They often think in terms of attacking first or getting revenge afterwards. In childhood, these individuals were often abused or treated unfairly by parents, siblings, or peers.

Social Isolation/Alienation

This schema refers to the belief that one is isolated from the world, different from other people, and/or not part of any community. This belief is usually caused by early experiences in which children see that either they, or their families, are different from other people.

Defectiveness/Shame

This schema refers to the belief that one is internally flawed, and that, if others get close, they will realize this and withdraw from the relationship. This feeling of being flawed and inadequate often leads to a strong sense of shame. Generally parents were very critical of their children and made them feel as if they were not worthy of being loved.

Failure

This schema refers to the belief that one is incapable of performing as well as one’s peers in areas such as career, school or sports. These individuals may feel stupid, inept or untalented. People with this schema often do not try to achieve because they believe that they will fail. This schema may develop if children are put down and treated as if they are a failure in school and other spheres of accomplishment. Usually the parents did not give enough support, discipline, and encouragement for the child to persist and succeed in areas of achievement, such as schoolwork or sport.

Dependence/Incompetence

This schema refers to the belief that one is not capable of handling day-to-day responsibilities competently and independently. People with this schema often rely on others excessively for help in areas such as decision-making and initiating new tasks. Generally, parents did not encourage these children to act independently and develop confidence in their ability to take care of themselves.

Vulnerability to Harm and Illness

This schema refers to the belief that one is always on the verge of experiencing a major catastrophe (financial, natural, medical, criminal, etc.). It may lead to taking excessive precautions to protect oneself. Usually there was an extremely fearful parent who passed on the idea that the world is a dangerous place.

Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self

This schema refers to a pattern in which you experience too much emotional involvement with others – usually parents or romantic partners. It may also include the sense that one has too little individual identity or inner direction, causing a feeling of emptiness or of floundering. This schema is often brought on by parents who are so controlling, abusive, or so overprotective that the child is discouraged from developing a separate sense of self.

Subjugation

This schema refers to the belief that one must submit to the control of others in order to avoid negative consequences. Often these individuals fear that, unless they submit, others will get angry or reject them. Individuals who subjugate ignore their own desires and feelings. In childhood there was generally a very controlling parent.

Self-Sacrifice

This schema refers to the excessive sacrifice of one’s own needs in order to help others. When these individuals pay attention to their own needs, they often feel guilty. To avoid this guilt, they put others’ needs ahead of their own. Often individuals who self-sacrifice gain a feeling of increased self-esteem or a sense of meaning from helping others. In childhood the person may have been made to feel overly responsible for the well being of one or both parents.

Emotional Inhibition

This schema refers to the belief that you must suppress spontaneous emotions and impulses, especially anger, because any expression of feelings would harm others or lead to loss of self-esteem, embarrassment, retaliation or abandonment. You may lack spontaneity, or be viewed as uptight. This schema is often brought on by parents who discourage the expression of feelings.

Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness

This schema refers to the belief that whatever you do is not good enough, that you must always strive harder. The motivation for this belief is the desire to meet extremely high internal demands for competence, usually to avoid internal criticism. People with this schema show impairments in important life areas, such as health, pleasure or self-esteem. Usually these individuals’ parents were never satisfied and gave their children love that was conditional on outstanding achievement.

Entitlement/Grandiosity

This schema refers to the belief that you should be able to do, say, or have whatever you want immediately regardless of whether that hurts others or seems reasonable to them. You are not interested in what other people need, nor are you aware of the long-term costs to you of alienating others. Parents who overindulge their children and who do not set limits about what is socially appropriate may foster the development of this schema. Alternatively, some children develop this schema to compensate for feelings of emotional deprivation or defectiveness.

Insufficient Self-Control/Self-Discipline

This schema refers to the inability to tolerate any frustration in reaching one’s goals, as well as an inability to restrain expression of one’s impulses or feelings. When lack of self-control is extreme, criminal or addictive behavior rule your life. Parents who did not model self-control, or who did not adequately discipline their children, may predispose them to have this schema as adults.

Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking

This schema refers to the placing of too much emphasis on gaining the approval and recognition of others at the expense of one’s genuine needs and sense of self. It can also include excessive emphasis on status and appearance as a means of gaining recognition and approval. individuals with this schema are generally extremely sensitive to rejections by others and try hard to fit in. Usually they did not have their needs for unconditional love and acceptance met by their parents in their early years.

Negativity/Pessimism

This schema refers to a pervasive pattern of focusing on the negative aspects of life while minimizing the positive aspects. Individuals with this schema are unable to enjoy things that are going well in their lives because they are so concerned with negative details or potential future problems. They worry about possible failures no matter how well things are going for them. Usually these individuals had a parent who worried excessively.

Punitiveness

This schema refers to the belief that people deserve to be harshly punished for making mistakes. People with this schema are critical and unforgiving of both themselves and others. They tend to be angry about imperfect behaviors much of the time. In childhood these individuals usually had at least one parent who put too much emphasis on performance and had a punitive style of controlling behavior.

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There are two primary schema operations: Schema healing and schema perpetuation. All thoughts, behaviors and feelings may be seen as being part of one of these operations. Either they perpetuate the schema or they heal the schema. We will explore both in part 2.

Criminal Youth and Injuries Unseen


criminalCriminality is often the result of a consistent pattern of distorted thinking errors (forgetting the Imago Dei in everyone and listening to the lies of the enemy) that results in irresponsible and hurtful behavior. One of the most common errors in thinking is the failure to consider injury to others.

As a general rule, young people (and many adults) do not consider the effect of their actions on others. Brief moments of guilt or remorse are quickly replaced with feelings of being a victim themselves or self-righteousness for the harm they have caused. When offenders express what appears as sincere regret, careful examination will show that these overtures are typically used to tell others what they want to hear.  They are often more sorry they were caught than remorseful for harm they have caused by their actions. 

Congruent with failing to consider injury to others, youth involved in criminal behaviors also don’t consider themselves bad people. The drug dealer will argue he isn’t forcing anyone to buy drugs. The drug addict will claim she isn’t hurting anyone but herself. The violent or aggressive individual will say he didn’t mean to hurt anyone and the thief will say she has to make a living somehow.  When adolescents with criminal thinking heed the advice of scripture and can honestly think about the injury they have caused, they begin to change their distorted sense of self worth and align it with the Imago Dei. They can then more accurately conclude that they are a victimizer more than a victim and have deeply harmed others.  They can do so because the faith community lives and dies by grace and mercy, seeking to restore people with their God and those around them.

Replacing the thinking error of failing to consider injury to others involves becoming aware of the full impact of abusive and criminal behavior.  It is important that one not only look at legally defined criminal behavior, but also examine irresponsible actions such as lying, deceit, conning, game playing, vindictiveness, and other tactics. For lasting change to occur it is essential that these students go beyond immediate injury and consider the “ripple effect.”  For example, in the case of property theft, consideration should be made regarding the crime’s affect on the business owner’s attitude, feelings, friends and family.

The effect on the offender’s attitude, friends and family should also be explored along with the ripple effect of the crime in relation to property values, feelings of safety, insurance rates, and a host of other consequences. The purpose of this activity is to aid the young person in developing, expanding and sustaining a moral conscience by aligning it with the Holy Spirit. God gives us the gift of guilt but it is only of value if it is used to break our heart of undesirable behavior and develop a sensitive, well formed conscience that is in sync with the Father’s. Criminally-minded youth do have a conscience but render it inoperative through repeated patterns of corrosion and dissociation. Feelings of guilt and remorse are corroded and thoughts about the impact of their behavior are cut off.

Regularly and thoughtfully contemplating injury to others helps redevelop the criminal conscience and strengthens it for deterring insensitive and criminal acts in the future.  This is only effective if there is an abundance of grace awaiting them when they are ready to let go of their criminal behaviors and they are only likely to do this if there is an open and loving community expressing the love and restorative mission of the Father.