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Youth Ministry

3rd Graders Say the Darndest Things About Drugs


Every year I have the privilege and honor to speak at schools across the Central Illinois. I speak to a range of age groups from 3rd grade through high school. I always love talking with the younger kids best. We talk about age appropriate drug education; taking only your medicine and only taking it like your doctor tells you to. We talk about how smoking cigarettes are bad for you and what to say to your friend if he offers you some of his Adderall. The conversations are fantastic and their questions are even better. Most don’t actually ask real questions, they just tell on the parents for drinking beer at the campsite or when watching the football game.

The younger classes almost always send me handmade thank-you cards with a brief handwritten letter inside. I was cleaning out my office desk last week and came across these cards and some are too good not to share, as written by the students.

Dear Mr. Schaffner,

Thank you, for coming and talking about bad decisions, I guess it’s time to talk to my mom my dad and my mom’s boyfriend. You interested?

And there’s this gem…

Dear Mr. Schaffner,

Thanks for telling me not to take any more of my vitamines. I’ll pass this over to my grandma and tell her to stop making me take them. (What I actually said was to only take what the instructions on the bottle said and let an adult give it to you. I think this one is using me to get out of taking it altogether.)

And…

Mr. Scaffner,

I won’t take drugs thanks to you. I will tell them NO WAY HOZAY! I will only take my medicin when I’m puking or have diarea or a fever or coffing or have a stuffey nose. But other than that I wont.

And lastly…

Dear Mr. Schaffner,

Thanks for telling us about the difference between bad drugs and good medicine. I will take my medicine right. Also thanks for telling us about drinking. My dad likes to drink at the cabin and then gets grabby with mom.

It’s stuff like this that get us out of bed in the morning and keep us laughing in the hardest of times.

May you find plenty of reasons to laugh today. May you find joy in the hardest of circumstances and may you discover hope in the darkest of places.

Conversations on the Fringe: 2016 Year in Review


2016 was our busiest and most fruitful year to date. There’s so much that happened over the year that we’d love to share with you but we’ve condensed it down to the highlights. Thanks for making 2016 an awesome year. We’re looking forward to journeying through 2017 with you.

Grace and peace,

Chris Schaffner

Founder of Conversations on the Fringe

 

Top 10 Blog Posts

  1. Youth Ministry and the Post-modern Learner
  2. Teen Gender Dysphoria and Christmas Shopping
  3. Sex, Aggression, and Adolescents
  4. How to Talk About Intimate Partner Violence with Your Students: A Guide For Youth Workers
  5. Stages of Sexual Identity Development for LGBTQ Youth
  6. Imaginative Hope
  7. Trauma-Informed Youth Ministry
  8. White Privilege
  9. Protecting Against Sexual Abuse In Youth Programs
  10. This is Your Brain On Opiates

 

Highlights

  • Youth Specialties Facebook Live Q&A Series (self-harm, addiction, depression/suicide)
  • Can the Church Be Good News to LGBTQ Youth for the Illinois Mennonite Conference
  • Can the Church Be Good News to LGBTQ Youth at Simply Youth Ministry Conference
  • Conflict Management at Youth Leadership Academy at Elgin Community College
  • Reimagining Adolescence at the Faith Forward Gathering
  • Racial Reconciliation Experience at National Youth Worker Convention
  • Student Retreat at Heights Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, NM
  • Guest Lecturing at Eureka College on Systemic Abandonment and Moral Disengagement for the Juvenile Criminal Justice Program

 

New Initiative in 2016

Innovative Disruption – Helping churches disrupt the status quo and discover innovative ways to reach marginalized and vulnerable youth.

Fringe Life Support Training – Helping churches help hurting youth through pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, and mentoring.

RealTalk Drug Prevention – Working with communities who desire to have honest conversations about effective drugs and alcohol prevention among area youth. We offer a variety of educational opportunities for students, parents, schools, and communities.

Reimagining Adolescence – We explore the developmental, physiological, social, cultural, and spiritual complexities of guiding adolescents through contemporary society. This event is perfect for parents, grandparents, teachers, social workers, coaches, youth workers, or anyone else that love kids and desire to walk with them as they navigate an increasingly difficult world.

AND…CHRIS RAN INTO BILL MURRAY!!! (That was a personal highlight, even though he locked up and could barely talk to him.)

 

Dreams for 2017

True North Youth Leadership Training Online Cohort – This online student leadership cohort is aimed at nurturing and activating your student’s leadership through individual and group projects that will directly impact the community they live in.

Fringe Learning Labs – Learning Labs fill in the gap that traditional youth ministry education doesn’t address. We provide an affordable, customized training experience for volunteer and staff youth workers to explore difficult issues facing yout today; issues such as race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and mental health.

Prisoners of Love: Teen Dating Violence Education

Dirty Little Secrets: dealing with the Problem of Porn

Digital and printed resources for youth, parents, and youth workers

Incorporation as a 501c3 nonprofit organization

Youth Ministry and the Post-Modern Learner


I facilitate group therapy for beautiful people. We have people of color, various sexual orientations and genders, abled and disabled, employed and unemployed, affluent and poor, mentally ill, substance abusing, and a host of others who don’t fit into a neatly defined category. The thing they all have in common is they have come to me to learn. Some hope to learn the bare minimum they needs to learn to complete the program. Others are looking for a significant life change as a result of their engagement in this learning space.

I use to hold the belief that I had something they needed and my job was to share it with them and their role was to sit passively and consume this information. It was also their job to practice these principles in their affairs when they left, often without direct feedback from others who knew what they were trying to do. I took the same approach for years in youth ministry. These teens were empty vessels that needed me to pour into their lives and fill them with the knowledge of what they needed to follow Jesus (defined by our church community and tradition).

Fortunately, I’m curious and like to ask for feedback from those who are sitting in the learning space. I also love research. I love to read it, break it down, and try to apply it in real time. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned over the years about how people learn best and why I think we need to reimagined how we pass on our faith to the current and future generations.

  1. Students must be at the center of what happens in the learning spaces – If teenagers are going to manage their emotions and become self-motivated learners they will have to be at the center of the learning experience. Often, in our youth ministry settings, it is the your worker that is at the center of the gathering. We are the ones on the stage, behind the pulpit, in the center of the circle, hoarding the words allowed to be spoken, setting the agenda and goals for the learning. Students rarely have anything to say about what they are being taught, how they are being taught, or the reasons they are being taught. This needs to change is we hope to create self-directed learners instead of mindless consumers.
  2. Students learn better in groups and rarely happens alone – We are social beings and we learn by interacting with each other. We learn when someone takes an idea you shared and extrapolate or pushes back. This pushing and pulling of ideas, in a collaborative setting, is what sharpens our vision and understanding of the subject matter being discussed.
  3. Our most powerful memories are connected to strong emotions – Faith communities have discounted the power of emotions in spiritual formation, citing their instability as a reason they can’t be counted on. As a result, we have stripped down our faith experiences to a simple set of academic memes we cognitively ascend to. The heart and soul is largely missing in the church today. The power of emotions to motivate one to learn cannot be overlooked. Consider this, if a student has high levels of stress at home or school, they won’t learn well. Similarly, keeping a student motivated (hungry) to learn about God, mankind, and their shared story, is the starting point of faith formation. If they understand why it matters, their journey becomes more important to them.
  4. Individual learning styles are a thing – Multiple learning styles have been largely ignored among the evangelical traditions of the Christian faith. We are still perpetuating the idea that people learn best and are spiritually formed best when one person stands before them and speaks words at them about a particular subject. This style of communication only engages one, or at best two, of the senses, decreasing the likelihood of retention and transformation. Post-modern learners almost need IEP (Individualized Educational Plans). Not because there is anything wrong with them as learners but because it is the better way forward. We live in a visual, digital, social world, and they are natives in this land. We cannot afford to try and make the information fit our outdated styles of teaching but must, instead, adapt our style of communication to the mediums that are culturally dominant today. We must strive for practices and processes that help leaders engage each student where they are.                                                                                                            Image result for kolb's learning styles And then there are multiple intelligences…but that’s a post for another time.
  5. Push but don’t break – We don’t want to push beyond a learner’s capacity, where they might just give up because the rules are too hard and instead engage in “shallow compliance” to the Ways of Jesus. We also don’t want to deny accountability to excellence or striving for righteousness. We are called to take up our cross daily. This requires concentrated effort and focus and self-control but, it shouldn’t exasperate the student to the point of giving up. There’s a sweet spot where they can experience a measure of success and still experience the challenge of discovery. We must seek discernment on our facilitation of either.
  6. Learning needs to be connected across intersections – Formation needs to reach out into the real world. Life change cannot be meaningful or lasting if the students don’t know why the knowledge is useful to them, or how it can be applied in life. Understanding the connections between subjects and ideas is essential for the ability to transfer skills and adapt. Often, our faith is taught in a disjointed manner. How does our quest for social justice intersect with our real lives where we come face to face with racism? How does Jesus’ call to be peacemakers intersect with the real life violence on the streets of our cities? How do we, as people formed in the image of God, be the answer to Jesus’ prayer to see the will of His Father lived out on earth, as it is in heaven?

Most of these ideas are like water to a fish to good teachers. They seem like no-brainers. To others though, they can seem impossible to achieve within an archaic faith tradition that is bureaucratic and slow to change. What might be some practical steps you can take towards a more innovative formation culture?

  • Invite dialogue regarding the subject matter. Our church practices large group Lectio Divina at the beginning of every sermon. Often, the pastor will read a significant portion of scripture and illicit immediate feedback, saying “What did you notice?” or “What connected with you?” or “What seemed odd or weird in this story?”. This is driven by the belief the the Holy Spirit speaks in and through the entire community and prevents a single voice saying there is only one way to see or understand a passage.
  • Creating space for silence. It can be very hard to learn when there is so much noise in the learning space. Whether it be audible or visual noise, it can make it difficult to focus, be still, and allow the material being taught/discussed to penetrate at a deeper level.
    Retelling the story in your own words. This is a common practice among teachers in public schools. When information can be consumed, processed, and regurgitated in our own words there is a level of brain connection that occurs that goes beyond simply memorizing content. Try having your students rewrite Jesus’ parable with content from their lives today. This will also help take an abstract idea and make it more concrete.
  • Multi-sensory is the pathway to integrated learning. We learn best when we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste that which we’re working with. You might not be able to accommodate all five senses into every gathering but being mindful of them and intentional will go a long way to creating memorable learning experiences for your students.
  • Service-Learning Projects. Think creatively beyond a short-term mission project or a weekend service project. Have the students identify an issue from scripture (i.e., poverty) and have them research that topic in their own community. Let them discover the scope of the issue for themselves and then walk them through the process of addressing the problem. Imagine this…your students learn about the story of the Good Samaritan. As a result, they were moved and impacted by a story of someone in need of critical medical care. They then research their community and discover that many of the elderly in their town don’t have access to a myriad of medical/health resources. One of your students tells a story about how their grandmother can’t afford her prescription medication and has a hard time driving to the pharmacy. Now, imagine these same students decide to go talk to the pharmacy to see if they would consider starting a medication delivery for the elderly. Imagine they also create an educational program for the community to dispose of unused medications and work with the police department to create a medication drop off center to properly dispose of these medications because this will reduce the potential of teens accessing dangerous drugs of abuse from their grandparents medicine cabinets.

If transformation is the goal of formation we must be intentional about how we cultivate learning and formation experiences. This requires more effort from the one facilitating the learning in preparing. This isn’t just a lazy form of teaching. This will require more focus and thoughtfulness up front but the end result, I believe, will be deeper transformation of our students as they journey with Jesus throughout their lives.

Here’s a link to a free resource on spiritual formation you can use with your students, volunteers, or for yourself.

Fringe Spiritual Formation Guide

Teen Gender Dysphoria and Christmas Shopping


There’s no denying there are toxic expressions of gender. Healthy gender training allows for fluidity and exploration. Toxic gender reinforcement says there are binary arch-types that are rewarded and social consequences when one steps “outside the gender box”. Be mindful of this as you shop this year for young children. Below are Wordles from advertisement for children’s toys. Think for a moment about the implicit messaging in such advertisement.

Boys

wordle-BoysToys-sm

Girls

wordle-GirlsToys-sm

These gender expressions aren’t necessarily bad but they do not accurately represent the whole expression of gender. When someone doesn’t fit naturally into a binary arch-type they are often made to feel as if there is something inherently deficient.

When a young boy plays with girl toys; dolls, tea party, or princesses, his peers will often call him a “fag” or a “sissy”. Derogatory statements like these only get more crude and more mean as they grow older.

What about the girl that likes to play sports and rough house or interested in cars? Well, she must be a “dyke” or “tomboy” or a “confused”.

Why? Because the cultural messages they are being told (i.e., out-dated generational gender binaries, marketing/advertisements, entertainment, etc.) that they are not acceptable in that expression and therefore must conform to the “approved” standard.

In one family I know, dad is a therapist and mom is a laborer. Mom often does the heavy lifting while dad tends to the emotional struggles of his pre-teen daughters. In another family, the two dads are both attentive to their children’s emotional needs, are kind and patient, and don’t parent authoritatively yet they are both outdoors-men and love camping and roughing it with their family.

Gender is a complicated thing. When we oppress/repress an individuals expression we create a situation in which they might be vulnerable to dysphoria. There is a term for the severe distress experienced by individuals due to the incongruence between assigned and experienced gender: gender dysphoria. This complex condition often first becomes clear in adolescents and young adults.

How and why this occurs is a post (likely several posts) for another time, the point of this post is to inform the reader of the deadly outcomes of untreated gender dysphoria. A survey of 6,500 transgender people published by the National Center for Transgender Equality revealed that 41 percent of transgender youth have attempted suicide at least once. Fifty percent of transgender youth will attempt suicide before their 20th birthday.

Due to these startling statistics, we must do better as humans. We must be kinder. We must be more compassionate. We must change the way we include these precious children in our communities because the potential of suicide cannot be an acceptable outcome. If we keep doing what we’ve always done we will always get the same results we’ve always gotten. This cycle of impotence must change. So, how does that happen? Here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Get to know someone who is trans. It’s really that simple. Everything changes when you actually get to know someone personally. Their story becomes your story too. Empathy increases and their pain and suffering imprints on your heart. Spend time together with no agenda other than to become friends and learn (listen).
  2. Educate yourself and others. There are great resources available. All it takes is some willingness and time. Here’s a link to get you started: http://www.transequality.org/
  3. Watch films and read books that pull back the curtain on trans-life. Dallas Buyers Club is a good place to start. There’s some nudity and profanity so here’s a link to IMDB’s Parents Guide to see if it’s something you’re comfortable with.

Whatever you do, or don’t do, just remember…

It matters. It matter to that young student who wonders if anyone cares about them. It matters to that student who wonders if there is a God that loves them. It matters to the adolescent who is afraid no one will miss them if they took their life. It matters to the families who live in the wake of that suicide. And it matter to our collective soul. If we are okay with these losses it says something about us, it says that maybe it’s our own hearts that are the problem that we would stand by and allow this atrocity to continue to occur when we could do something to stop it.

God help us, if this is true.

2016 Highlights


2016 was a busy year for CotF. Each year for the last five years, we have had an increase in speaking engagements. We completed 35 speaking/training opportunities in 2016 and are already making plans for 2017.

THANKS TO ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT! We have expanded our reach and impact this year and that is due to your support. Keep an eye out for our next post in which we will share some big news about the future of CotF. Until then, here’s a quick video highlight from the past year.


cotfchristmascard

Imaginative Hope


Are you glued to the 24-hour news cycle? Are you inundated with news of the election?

Does it feel like water dripping from a leaky well-pump, does bad news constantly drop on your soul, carving out a hole from the repeated hammering of water against a stone slab?

Do you feel like you might break under the constant pressure from this news cycle?

If you are like me, you may be struggling to find hope this year. 2016 has sucked for so many reasons.

Maybe you’ve lost your reason to sing or laugh.

I’m in a theater production this winter. I will be playing Sawyer from A Miracle on 34th Street. Sawyer is the horrible, doubtful, HR guy from Macy’s looking to commit Kris Kringle. He’s kind of a slimy guy. I imagine, if he has a Christmas tree at all, there aren’t gifts under it and that he’s just “riding out” the Christmas season. I imagine he can’t wait for things to go back to normal. I imagine there is very little imagination left in him, and imagination is so intricately connected to hope. To be able to envision a better tomorrow despite the current situation requires imagination.

Imagine for a moment, the hopelessness you might feel if you were one of the following:

  • A person going through severe heroin withdrawal
  • A person with a disability on a wait list for adequate housing
  • A single parent that works two jobs and is drowning in debt
  • A person stuck in an abusive relationship that can’t afford to leave and support their kids
  • A transgender teenager kicked out of their home by the people they love the most
  • A person who has been unemployed for over a year now and has no job prospects
  • A person with a terminally sick child
  • A young black male that is afraid to walk to school because of local gang violence and national hateful racist rhetoric
  • A young veteran who cannot sleep because of the incessant nightmares when he closes his eyes
  • A young, unwed and pregnant, refugee couple trying to find a safe place to deliver her child

Yet, every day, many apparently hopeless people find a reason to get out of bed and try again. That kind of resilience must be remnants of hope embedded in our DNA. This kind of imaginative hope is audacious. It is tenacious. It compels us to say, “Not today, but maybe tomorrow”.

This. This is the hope of advent. This is the hope that says one day it will all be put right. When I hear these stories of hope they become bellows that fan the flame of hope in my own soul, because:

  • That heroin addict is now three years sober
  • That person in a wheelchair finally got the call saying they have a new place to live
  • That single parent was given an envelope of money from an anonymous person/group
  • That abused individual finally found the courage to leave and go to the abuse shelter, where they got help
  • That transgendered youth found a church that affirms LGBTQ youth and they now have supportive relationships
  • That unemployed person started their own lawn care business
  • That family with a terminal child found a faith that gave them meaning in their suffering
  • That young black male continues to stay in school and fight against everything inside and outside of him that says quit and join the gang
  • That veteran with PTSD meets a neighbor, who is also a veteran and takes him to the VA for the first time, for a support group
  • That refugee couple gives birth to a child that will one day give us all hope

Hope does not promise us a happy ending here and now. It does promise to sustain us in times of trouble, as we imagine a life beyond our present suffering. Advent is the season of longing and hopeAdvent is for those of us waiting. Waiting for our long-suffering hope to finally pay off. It is the waiting for the God-child to appear in the flesh and enter into our suffering with us. It is the waiting for this child to restore all things to the way is was intended to be, before our tears began to fall.

Don’t stop hoping now. You’ve come so far. Just a little further. It’s almost here. Don’t give up. You are almost there. Rescue is right around the corner. Tomorrow is coming and nothing can stop it.

You are enough for this task because hope is in your bones!

I dare you to imagine a world in which hope triumphs over fear, where love overcomes hate.

May you live within the imaginative hope of love in these coming days. May that love call forth the songs you sing. May love give birth to new celebrations amid suffering. May love be within you, and may love surround you. May you know–deeply know–the fullness of God’s love for you. Amen.

Words Matter


This video is from Love 146, an organization working to abolish sex trafficking and exploitation of the most vulnerable in our world. This video is a tremendous reminder of the power words have when spoken over young people. The message of this video is why we do what we do at Conversations on the Fringe.

Consider buying one less gift for each other this year at Christmas and instead, choose to give to Love 146 and their efforts to help those who have been impacted by trafficking and exploitation.

Please watch and share this with others in your circle and then ask them to share it too.

I am more. from Love146 on Vimeo.

Sex, Aggression, and Adolescents


In today’s adolescent dating culture, many express how frustrating and unsatisfied they are because contemporary dating styles encourage young men to be aggressive and young women to be accommodating to the men who pursue them.

Unfortunately, sex and violence are so intertwined for men that an easy separation is impossible.  Violence is constantly glamorized and sexualized in youth culture.  The multibillion-dollar pornography industry is the clearest example of how we learn that power and control are tied to sexual arousal.  Even in children’s comic books, popular music and videos, and magazine advertisements, we are constantly reminded that dominating and subduing women is sexy and arousing.  The primary message young boys receive is that having sexual access to women and having someone sexually vulnerable to you are the quintessential signs of male power, the epitome of success.  Women are regularly shown alongside other symbols of masculine power, such as fast cars, money, and guns.

Some of these images depict the women as resisting forcefully at the beginning, then finally giving up and enjoying sex.  In this way, young men are taught that women are somehow turned on sexually by the aggression exhibited by men.  They may protest or say no at first to guard their character, but if they relax they will enjoy it, they will become stimulated by the man’s aggression.  If they don’t, then there is something wrong with them.

The outcome of this conditioning is that men are given permission, even encouraged to use sexual aggression to control women, to deny what they’re doing and then assert that it’s no big deal anyway.  If this goes on long enough it soon becomes the norm.  Young men assume this is the way relations between men and women are naturally.  If there is any guilt or remorse, the young women get the blame.

  • She’s a tease
  • She’s frigid
  • She’s too emotional
  • She shouldn’t have said that
  • She knew that would make me angry
  • She asked for it
  • She said no but she meant yes
  • If she didn’t want it she wouldn’t dress like that

There are so many layers of aggression, blame, and denial that there is no way for young men to see the impact their thoughts and behaviors have on the women around them.  We can even use the Scriptures to reinforce these ideas that women are inferior, further damaging the inherent dignity and value each young woman has, leading to a fractured image of who she was created to be by God.

Here are some questions for you to start a conversation about domestic abuse/intimate partner violence:

  • What role does the church/your ministry have in (inadvertently) reinforcing these toxic gender beliefs?
  • When was the last time you had a conversation about male gender training with the young men in your ministry?
  • When was the last time you had a conversation about female gender training with the young women in your ministry?
  • What are new values/beliefs that need to be taught from Scripture to replace old, harmful beliefs?
  • How can we affirm young males without encouraging male privilege?
  • How can we affirm young women without imparting a second-class female victimstance?
  • Does your church/ministry talk about intimate partner violence with youth? Why or Why not? Should we start to? How should we begin that conversation?

If you suspect domestic violence is occurring with a student you can provide them with the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

You can also begin the conversations with students by using talking points from the healthy relationships spectrum on the National Domestic Violence website. This is a great resource to help those who struggle with the impact of aggression and violence in relationships.

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