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The Voices Project – Anonymous Girl part 2


We recently received this email from an anonymous girl who wanted to tell her story. These are her words and we are honored to share it on her behalf. Her story is long so we have decided to post it in two parts. This is the second part of her story. You can find part 1 here. We pray for her continued healing and hope that she is surrounded by love, where ever she may be.

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The holding cell was just a big room with a bench along one side and a toilet in the corner behind a half wall. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was get sick and have to use that toilet. Eventually, I did because when you’re dope sick it comes out of both ends. It’s a horrible feeling but you don’t care because you’re miserable. I seriously wanted to die so bad but there was absolutely no way I could make that happen. Not only did I not have anything to do it with there was also a giant one-way mirrored window through which we would be watched. I just laid in the corner under the bench, as far away from the others as I could get.

After five days a mental health therapist came to talk to me. She evaluated my current drug use; how much, how often, and how long. She asked if I wanted to go to treatment and I said I did. Inside, I knew I didn’t really want treatment but I didn’t want to be homeless or hungry. I had already gotten over the worst of my withdrawals so they would be able to get me in relatively quickly. I still had to wait three more days.

Treatment was not new to me. I had watched my mom go in and out most of my life. He NA sponsor would come over from time to time. I saw all the books and stuff lying around the house too. I even learned the things they say, like “Just take it one day at a time”, and “But for the grace of God, go I”. I could recite them like they were a part of the pledge of allegiance at grade school. But, I had no personal experience with those in recovery.

My counselor was a nice woman and was really good at listening to me but I just didn’t connect with her. She had a good heart and all but I never got the sense that she really knew what I had gone through in my life. Now, the people at Sanity (local NA meeting), that was another story. Those people knew their shit. It’s like they knew my every thought before I thought it.

My first meeting I was welcomed and they read something called step one. I don’t remember much of that meeting or what they talked about but what I do remember was this group told me they wanted me to come back. That’s it. No strings attached. They simply wanted me to come back. I can’t tell you how good it felt to hear those words. It’s like all the things I’ve done and were ashamed of kept me from wanting to be around other people but I had a real sense that these people already knew about the crap that had happened in my life and they still wanted me to come back.

I have relapsed on a few occasions. Heroin imprints in your body and brain and because of that my brain has learned about a level of pleasure it was never intended to know. Each time I dragged my sorry ass back through the doors of that meeting room, I was greeted with, “We’re glad you made it back”. It’s like there was a force field at the front door that keeps shame from entering that space. My relapses got shorter each time and my sobriety got longer between relapses.

I am now clean 9 months and I’m working. I don’t know if I’ll use again. I hope not but it’s always there, in the back of my mind. It’s like a bear that’s hibernating. If I just leave the bear alone it will stay asleep. If I poke the bear, it will wake up and start devouring everything around it and I’m afraid I won’t be able to put it back to sleep. For today, I’m sober. I like who I am. I miss my mom and wish she was able to find a community like I did. I still have nightmares about the sexual abuse I’ve experienced but I’m working that out with my therapist. I’m living with people in recovery and go to meetings nearly every night. Sometimes I go and pick up the girls from the local treatment center. It’s cool to see them at the beginning. It reminds me where I came from and how far I’ve come.

You can post this on your blog if you want. I’m not giving my name because I still have a long way to go but if my story will help someone else then please use it. Thanks for making a place for people to share their stories. This was hard for me to write but it feels important for me to do this.

Thanks.

Youth Ministries That Nurture Resiliency In Vulnerable Youth


Young people are living in a world that seems hell-bent on breaking those who try to navigate it successfully. Likewise, the church in America has a tendency to break people as well, especially its young. If our students, children, and community youth are going to move out of adolescence into functional adulthood they will need to be resilient.

So, what exactly is resilience? Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ after a tough situation or difficult time and then get back to feeling just about as good as you felt before. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change, and keep on thriving.

Rick Little and the fine folks over at the Positive Youth Development Movement have identified the 7 Cs: Essential Building Blocks of Resilience. They say “Young people live up or down to expectations we set for them. They need adults who believe in them unconditionally and hold them to the high expectations of being compassionate, generous, and creative.”

Competence: When we notice what young people are doing right and give them opportunities to develop important skills, they feel competent. We undermine competence when we don’t allow young people to recover themselves after a fall.

Confidence: Young people need confidence to be able to navigate the world, think outside the box, and recover from challenges.

Connection: Connections with other people, schools, and communities offer young people the security that allows them to stand on their own and develop creative solutions.

Character: Young people need a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity.

Contribution: Young people who contribute to the well-being of others will receive gratitude rather than condemnation. They will learn that contributing feels good and may therefore more easily turn to others, and do so without shame.

Coping: Young people who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when stressed.

Control: Young people who understand privileges and respect are earned through demonstrated responsibility will learn to make wise choices and feel a sense of control.

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This is a great grid to think through when creating programs, purchasing curriculum, and planning events. Can our efforts increase resilience in the most vulnerable youth? I think they can but it will take thoughtful intentionality.

  • What if our we created more opportunities for students to lead (in big church)? Would that increase their competence to have their leadership validated and nurtured by other leaders?
  • What if we taught a series on confidence (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me)? Sound familiar? Are we driving this truth deep into the hearts of young people? I’m not talking about the notion that I can achieve but more the notion that I can overcome.
  • What if we continued to beat the drum of integrity and character but laced it with grace so when they fail they are able to get back on track without having to avoid the shame monster?
  • What if we did more than just allow our kids to babysit for the Women’s Fellowship Coffee? What if we actually gave our students meaningful work in the church and community? What if they led teams with adults? What if they helped plan services? What if they researched their community needs and church leaders valued their work so much that it might actually alter the organization’s mission?
  • What if we offered more than shallow platitudes to manage the hurt and pain they experience as they navigate life? What if we deliberately included emotional and social intelligence in all our teaching and small group curriculum? What if we actually modeled self-control and appropriate vulnerability of emotions? What if we taught coping skills to kids in our youth group?
  • What if we allowed teens the power of choice? What if we allowed them to make wrong choices and were there to help them process the consequences of those choices? What if we encouraged rebellion (minor rebellion) and autonomy instead of conformity? What if we didn’t overindulge youth so they develop a sense of entitlement and instead taught them the value of work and earning respect?

I wish I had learned many of these lessons growing up. More than that, I wish I had been surrounded by a great herd of adults that walked alongside me while I learned these lessons, encouraging me, walking beside me, challenging me by raising the bar, modeling resilience, and not giving up on me when I screwed up. I imagine that sounds a little like heaven to a vulnerable teenager and that’s the point, isn’t it?

New Trainings for 2016


We’re excited to offer two brand new training opportunities for 2016. Both address much needed conversations around important and urgent issues; the opiate overdose epidemic, and the need for cultural intelligence in a rapidly changing world. If you are interested in bringing either of these conversations or any of our other trainings/workshops/community conversations to your area, just email us at cschaffner@fringeconversations.com

Connecting with Marginalized Youth (increasing your CQ)

Do you have a diverse group of kids? Do you want to be more effective in reaching a more diverse cross-section of youth in your community? Do you desire to impact the lives of LGBTQ youth, kids with disabilities, cross racial and ethnic barriers, and get to know those who are strikingly different than you and those in your ministry? Do you desire to increase your cultural intelligence in order to build a bridge across the gap between your church and others? This training focuses on developing and increasing our cultural intelligence (CQ) in order to begin the bridge building process of learning how to love our neighbors that appear to be different that us.

Understanding the Opiate/Heroin Overdose Crisis

According to a government website heroin related overdose deaths have seen a 10-fold increase since 2001. Many of those impacted by this growing trend at adolescents and young adults. Prescription narcotics and heroin have become the drug of choice for youth across all classes, races, and socio-economic ranges. Learn about the impact of opiates on the developing adolescent brain and body as well as how someone becomes addicted to opiates. In this training you will earn how to use a life saving medication called Naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal medication that can save a loved one’s life. This workshop is in partnership with the JOLT Foundation. Visit JOLT Foundation for more information on Naloxone.

Developmental Relationships and Youth


1626473042009youth_summit_flyer_photoI came across this article from the Search Institute that is an update on their research of developmental relationships. The Search Institute adopted the term developmental relationships to describe the broader conception of relationships that are defined by the close connection between a young person and an adult or peer that powerfully and positively shapes the young person’s identity and helps the young person develop a thriving mindset. A thriving mindset is one that is focused on more than just surviving and is flourishing, thriving.

The Search Institute has created a Developmental Relationship Framework that is based on qualitative and quantitative research regarding developmental assets and focuses on making a positive impact in young people’s lives. I can’t help but think of the possible impact this research has on how we build relationships with youth in our homes, ministries, and communities as it relates to spiritual formation. There are 20 identified actions that make a relationship developmental. They are organized into the framework listed below:

Express CARE: Show that you like me and want the best for me.

  • Be present – pay attention when you are with me.
  • Be warm – let me know that you like being with me and express positive feelings toward me.
  • Invest – Commit time and energy to doing things for and with me.
  • Show interest – Make it a priority to understand who I am and what I care about.
  • Be dependable – Be someone I can count on and trust.

CHALLENGE Growth: Insist that I try to continuously improve.

  • Inspire – Help me see future possibilities for myself.
  • Expect – Make it clear that you want me to live up to my potential.
  • Stretch – Recognize my thoughts and abilities while also pushing me to strengthen them.
  • Limit – Hold me accountable for appropriate boundaries and rules.

Provide SUPPORT: Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.

  • Encourage – Praise my efforts and achievements
  • Guide – Provide practical assistance and feedback to help me learn.
  • Model – Be an example I can learn from and admire.
  • Advocate – Stand up for me when I need it.

Share POWER: Hear my voice and let me share in making decisions.

  • Respect – Take me seriously and treat me fairly.
  • Give voice – Ask for and listen to my opinions and consider them when you make decisions.
  • Respond – Understand and adjust to my needs, interests, and abilities.
  • Collaborate – Work with me to accomplish goals and solve problems.

Expand POSSIBILITIES: Expand my horizons and connect me to opportunities.

  • Explore – Expose me to new ideas, experiences, and places.
  • Connect – Introduce me to people who can help me grow,
  • Navigate – Help me work through barriers that could stop me from achieving my goals.

Spend some time with other adults and youth to flesh out these ideas. Here are some questions to get you started. Hopefully they will lead to other questions and solutions.

Beyond just understanding the concepts of developmental relationships how can we create space for and strengthen these necessary relationships in our homes, ministries, and communities?

How can we identify systems that support or stand in the way of the building of developmental relationships?

What methods and activities can we create the help new or existing relationships move towards a developmental relationship?

How can we collaboratively work with other youth oriented entities to build developmental relationships?

Visit http://search-institute.org for more information on developmental assets and developmental relationships.

Juvenile Justice Ministry: Restoration of Criminal Youth


mental-health-youth-1-460x250Shame and stigma are difficult barriers for juvenile offenders to rise above after an arrest or in making the transition between incarceration and the community. Some of those barriers are juvenile peers that have pro-criminal attitudes and reinforce the criminal behavior/thinking as well as there being no clear pathway from juvenile criminal behavior to responsible, pro-social behaviors as an adult.

One effective approach to rising above this stigma involves encouraging ex-offenders to become active as a volunteer in support of community activities. Providing an opportunity for individuals to make a positive contribution to the community – to “give back” – may reduce feelings of alienation and build empathy and positive self-regard, paving the way to a life that has been restored.

If you serve in ministry, there are youth all around you that are engaged in criminal behaviors. Regardless of the reasons for their behaviors, we are called to “put on the flesh of Christ” and pursue them.

How might your ministry create opportunities that could lead to restoration for these youth between themselves, their communities, and God?

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?

Credibility in Youth Ministry


honestyWe all know youthworkers who have lost credibility with their students.  We often pass judgment on them and know personally what we would have done differently.  However, what makes a youthworker credible in an teenager’s eyes may be different from what a youthworker thinks will make them credible.  Credibility is often confused with trustworthiness and likeability, with the youthworker more concerned with with being liked than respected.  But teens are smart consumers, and they know the difference between authentic adults and those just trying to sell a product.

 We want to look at the ways adults in youth ministry often lose credibility with the students in their ministry.  Usually the intentions are good, but sometimes the outcomes of our ministry efforts are not.  Adults in general can try to hard, control too much, or pretend something is working when it clearly in not, and this is typically because they don’t know what else to do. 

Craving the Teen’s Approval

For some of us the validation we receive from the teens we serve can be a powerful experience.  Many of us involved in youth work are there because we had a particular experience in our own adolescence.  For some of us, it is an opportunity to return the favor and investment made on our behalf.  It is a chance to make a difference in the lives of the youth in our community and we have a sense of calling and/or obligation to do this. 

For others though, it may be a more pathological motivation.  I have met, on more than one occasion, the youth worker who is trying to re-live their teenage years vicariously through the students they minister to.  This is an insidious and often beneath the surface drive but is none-the-less real.  It plays out like this; I didn’t get validation from my peers during my formative years so now I am living that out in ministry and trying to gain their approval today, as if my intrinsic worth is tied up in their opinion of me. 

This typically results in shallow ministry fruit because the goal, intended or unintended, is not spiritual growth but personal validation from the students to the adult.  This does not mean that God won’t use an person’s past hurts in ministry today but if these hurts cloud your ability to see things clearly then the individual may do more harm than good.

Being too Cautious

As a result of seeking the student’s approval the youth worker must then measure everything that said to the youth.  This is much like a couple’s first date.  The individual does not want to say or do anything that would reflect poorly on them and end the chances of future endeavors. 

This can occur in ministry as well.  During the early stages of rapport building this is quite understandable but as time goes on trust and trustworthiness should develop.  These two things cannot develop is one party has an ulterior motive.  Also, once the relationship does develop it is difficult for the youth worker to speak challenging truth into the lives of their students for fear of losing their affirmation.  A wise man told me once that I should “love people enough to tell them the truth”.  This can’t be done if one can not remain objective.

Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

Rainbows, Pixies, Jelly Beans, and the Warm Fuzzies are not the substance of (most) teenagers lives.  Often, we sell them a fantasy world that says, “If you just accept Jesus then everything magically gets better!”  Ta-Da!  The quickest way to lose credibility, and therefore your influence, is to pull a bait-and-switch regarding what it means to follow Jesus.

Trying too Hard

Sometimes we can try way too hard to convince the students that they need Jesus.  I know that sounds antithetical to what we’re trying to do but kids can tell when the experiences they have with us are more about us meeting an objective that genuinely loving them.  Sometimes we need them to believe because we are the ones that doubt.  It’s like them coming to believe in Jesus validates our own faith.  This can be dangerous to both the students and us.  A faith that is built on “sand” is shakey at best and the damage it can do to the budding, young faith of a student is very real.  We must get this in check.

I’m Stumped

Lastly, we lose credibility when we try to be the expert on all things.  There is nothing so apparent to teens than a know-it-all youth worker.  We mask the fact that we don’t know the answers and kids can pick it up in our voice, our choice of words, body language, eye contact, and the stammer in our speech.  Our attempts to cover this unknowing only reduces our credibility and makes the situation worse.

This list in not even close to being exhaustive.  We should constantly be aware of those practices that erode our influence over our students.  It is our belief that students are looking for credible adult guides to lead them out of the wilderness of adolescence.  Teens will usually follow those worth following and their loyalty remains for many years after they leave our ministries.  Are you leading in such a way that you keep up a strong level of credibility?  Are you leading and serving in a way that young people know you are trustworthy of following?  And if you are, who is it you are pointing them toward?

Bueller…Bueller…(Youth Ministry 101)



 

Remember this scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?  Man, this scene resonated with me because I had experiences like this when I was a student.  I have also, unfortunately had youth ministry experiences like this when students wiped their saliva off their cheek after nodding out from listening to me drone on and on…

Our first objective as teachers is to capture our students’ attention.  If we don’t gain their attention, the chance that they’ll learn anything is remote at best.  The process of attention serves two primary purposes, the first of which is survival.  The brain kept our ancestors safe by alerting them to possible hazards in their midst like strangers, thunder clouds, or wild animals.  Fortunately, it is the rare occasion that survival is at stake in youth ministry.  Instead, attention serves its second purpose – maintaining pleasurable feelings.  The hot girl with the pierced tongue, a double chocolate ice cream bar, and listening to pop music are pleasurable diversions for modern teenagers.  So are funny stories, terrible tragedies, and first loves, which the bible is full of.  

So why does it seem that our kids are tuning out?

The brain is bombarded with information from the senses.  Everything we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste finds its way to the sensory receptors, from the clothes on your back to the beige walls of the youth group room and the radio playing softly in the back ground.  At the base of the brain is the brain stem, which controls involuntary actions like breathing, blood pressure, and heartbeats.  Deep within the brain stem is the reticular formation, a system of neurons that gathers information from all of your senses and controls your awareness levels.  Some awareness is at a conscious level (what you see and hear a speaker do and say) and some at an uncounscious level (the color of the walls or the socks you are wearing).  It would be impossible for the brain to consciously focus on each bit of data it receives.  You may be oblivious to the feel of a baseball hat on your head while the cute girl beside you captures your full attention.  Consider the immense amount of information the brain is capable of absorbing, from the food stuck in your teeth to the lint on your coat, we are fortunate to be able to forget most things.  Otherwise, we’d overload.

Ask a group of teenagers what they think about youth group teaching times and you might hear answers like: “Boring.” “Stupid.” “It sucks.”  Of course, friends, potential dates, meals, and doodling don’t bore them; the adolescent brain is fascinated by (and seeks out) novelty and emotion (Koepp et al., 1998; Spear, 2000).  Sitting through a youth group lecture (especially one that is self-indulgent) that fails to include either is the real test of a teen’s attention.  Many teaching strategies have a great deal of difficulty keeping attention and arousing emotion, both of which are necessary to stimulate change in behavior.  Lecture, which can be an efficient way to deliver information, is often not emotionally charged.  Objective memorization rarely generate emotion and are often difficult to apply to real-world applications.  Yet lecture is still a dismayingly popular means of presenting content.  We miss opportunities when we overuse strategies that neglect our emotional and cognitive constitution – two powerful memory builders.

I’m not suggesting that we dress up like clowns and juggle for our students.  I am suggesting that we understand their learning abilities and compensate for their developmental limitations and strengths.

How can we engage our students cognitive and emotional abilities in ways that motivate change in their hearts and their behaviors?

Each Student is a Culture (art of connecting pt. 4)


The age of one-size-fits-all youth ministry is over.  It has to be.  We live in a dynamic time filled with diversity.  This is an exciting time to be in ministry to youth.  Our world is smaller than ever before.  Cultures are not only clashing but blending to create new expressions of culture.  In this new era of modern life(culture) context is king.

Think about your average youth group gathering.  Think about the different elements that are present in your group:

  • Countries of origin
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Religious background
  • Parenting styles that shaped them
  • Generational influences
  • Abilities and disabilities
  • Personality
  • Sexual orientation
  • Political leanings
  • Thinking styles
  • Values and beliefs
  • Style and tastes

Historically we would rush in with an attempt to connect with kids on our terms with our own personal culture leading the way (just a heads up, I’m pretty sure nobody listens to Petra anymore so don’t lead with that).  In other words, just like early missionaries did, we would try to strip them of their own culture and colonize them to be, think, look, and act just like us.  It’s no wonder they have gone underground.

Cultural Artifacts:

Instant digital music, iPods, YouTube videos, Facebook, etc.

What other cultural artifacts can you think of, as it relates to contemporary youth?

Values and Assumptions:

Individualism, consumerism, instant gratification, collaborations, cause-driven, tolerance, etc.

What other values and assumptions can you identify that are held by youth today?

Where did these values and assumptions come from?

Individual Personalities:

Jocks, emo, nerds, Queen Bee, bully, outgoing, shy, obnoxious, flirty, school spirit, etc.

What is the current dominant personality being presented by each individual student?

Is there a connection between the personality and behaviors? 

Often, all we see are the cultural artifacts and we base our own assumptions on these.

David Livermore, in his book Cultural Intelligence, says:

“When measuring your Cultural Intelligence, a few questions to ask yourself include:

  • Am I conscious of what I need to know about a culture that is unfamiliar to me?
  • Am I conscious of how my cultural background shapes the way I read the Bible?
  • Do I determine what I need to know about a culture before I interact with people from that culture?
  • Do I compare my previous ideas about a culture with what I actually experience during cross-cultural interactions?
  • Do I check for appropriate ways to talk about my faith in cross-cultural situations?”

Is it fair to expect that we should be intentionally asking ourselves these questions as it relates to working with youth today?  Can you image the amazing discussions you can have with your volunteers as you wrestle with these kinds of questions?

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