Fuller Youth Institute

FYI

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Right before the holidays, I was feeling more busy than usual. More travels. More year-end fund development tasks. More email.

So I asked all three of our kids this question: How are you feeling about my work schedule?

I was fully expecting any one of them to say that I was on too many airplanes, or they were tired of seeing me on my laptop.

Two of them said my schedule was just fine.

The third had a surprising answer—one I never would have predicted.

“I wish you didn’t have 7 am phone calls.”

As part of an 8 week task force for Fuller Seminary, I had a weekly 7-8 am phone call. It’s hard to imagine a time more inconvenient for me as a parent than Monday between 7-8 am, but because of the importance of the task force, I felt like I needed to do it.

It wasn’t the airplanes or the e.mail. It was that one hour every Monday morning. I never would have known that bothered her if I hadn’t asked.

I still did the remaining 3 Monday 7 am phone calls, but I carved out time before each call to be with our kids, especially the one who had mentioned it as problematic.

In our new Family Guide Video Curriculum, we highlight the importance of warm family relationships. More than any tip or trick, family affection and intimacy is a key factor in building long-term faith in our kids. That sort of intimacy can only happen when we have honest conversations with our kids about all sorts of topics. Even our own schedules.

When can you ask your kids how they are feeling about your schedule? Their answer might surprise you.

Photo by khoa vu.

Toward the top of the long list of things I love about being a faculty member at Fuller Seminary is what I learn from my amazing faculty colleagues. Recently, Dr. Scott Cormode, Fuller’s Hugh De Pree Professor of Leadership Development, and I were co-teaching at a Sticky Faith Cohort. When it was Scott’s turn to teach, he commented that parents can dramatically improve their parenting if they heed the wise advice of fifth grade math teachers.

I was intrigued. What was that advice?

Show your work.

In other words, parents can—and should—invite their kids into their parenting process. Not in an enmeshed, boundary-less, “Gilmore Girls” style of parenting. But in a warm, open, and conversational approach to parenting.  As we’re showcasing in our new Family Guide Video Curriculum, having warm family relationships is related to kids’ long-term faith. It’s often easier to have warm family relationships when we welcome our kids into some of our processing, or at least help them understand some of the tensions we’re experiencing as parents.

So I’ve shown my work with our kids by helping my son understand why he needs to keep his phone in our bedroom overnight, even though he complaints he “might forget it” in the morning.

When my 8 year-old said she wished I had stayed at her school party for 2 hours even though I left after only one hour, I showed my work by explaining what the sign-up had said, and that I was so sorry that I misunderstood.

While we don’t need to share all of our parenting rationale and experiences with our kids, my hunch is that part of why we feel like our kids don’t understand us is because we do little to help them do so. Parenting doesn’t have to be a covert activity.

So how do you try to “show your work” to your kids? 

 

Join Kara Powell and Mark Matlock, Executive Director of Youth Specialties, for a FREE LIVE WEBCAST featuring practical ideas both for parents as well as for leaders who want to partner with parents.

Mark Matlock speaks and writes for leaders, parents, and students nationwide. He's a parent of 2 teenagers himself.
 

We will be live February 10th, at 12:00 noon PT
 

Watch live here:
 


 
 
 

While you wait:
 

Read about our latest family resource

Latest blog post on how to connect with boys

 

Photo by amanda tipton.

Having parented two girls into childhood and now adolescence, we’re still trying to wrap our heads around what it means to parent our son, suddenly a first-grader.

It’s not the same.

As much as I am not a huge proponent of focusing on lots of gender differences, there is no escaping the social reality of boys. It shapes them in profound ways. While we can’t protect or remove them from that shaping influence, learning about the structure of boy world (or refreshing ourselves, for those of us who were once boys) gives us a bit more of a compass for navigating these murky waters.

That’s where Rosalind Wiseman comes in. Having appreciated the insights from Queen Bees & Wannabes years back, I have had on my shelf for a while her latest, Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World. Its title and size alone left me with a pit in my stomach. But I finally packed it on a trip and devoured the content during a couple of flights.

Wiseman not only parents two boys, but has researched Boy World on the ground through her cadre of over 200 middle school and high school advisors (plus a slate of parents). Their collective input delivers an impressive look into the ins and outs of boys’ actual reality in social contexts. Worth the price of the book alone is Wiseman’s description of the “Act-Like-A-Man Box” that most guys eventually resign themselves to inhabit. Similar to Michael Kimmel’s work on Guyland (see this article for an overview), there is a lot going on under the surface, and we need to be paying attention.

As a parent and a youth leader, I was struck by a few insights in particular about communicating with boys:

1. Boys want to connect, they often just don’t know how. Boys themselves attest to their need for parents and adults who are there for them, even though they may act like they could care less. So even when you get brushed off, don’t give up on connection. Don’t pull away permanently, even when he does temporarily.

2. Don’t interrogate. One of Wiseman’s boys shares, “The first thing my mom says to me every day after school is, ‘Tell me five things that happened at school today.’ Five. She exhausts me.” And of course when he can’t remember five things or isn’t in the mood to unpack his day immediately, she feels like he’s hiding things and he gets annoyed. So what can we do? First, recognize that the school day can be completely exhausting when you figure in the combination of academics with complex social dynamics. Wiseman suggests, “Your goal is to make the first few minutes stress-free. If you do this, he’ll be much more likely to tell you about how his day was on his own. Try asking no questions when you see him.” After some time, invite him to share one high and one low. And be willing to share your own. Then leave him alone.

3. Try the night. Most boys respond best when they’re winding down later in the evening, or when they’re going to bed. Even though this means staying up later for older teens, it’s worth it to occasionally wait up and see if he’s more receptive to sharing a conversation.

4. Boys usually say, “I’m fine, don’t worry about it,” when they’re really feeling the complete opposite. They’re trained to shrug away concern and show calm detachment. Offering a simple, “I’m here if you want to talk about it later” leaves a door open without forcing an interaction.

5. Offer them your help, but also a pathway to another adult. There are things your son won’t want to tell you, but needs to tell someone. Most of the time that distinction needs to be made by him, not you. So how do you navigate all that while still making sure he’s getting adult help? Here’s a suggestion from Wiseman: “If ---[whatever you’re wondering about] ever happens to you, you know you can talk to me. Or if you don’t want to talk to me, let’s think of someone that you would like to talk to.” Your son should have a few adult allies he can turn to that he knows will take him seriously and won’t break his trust by telling you.

6. Do something together. Boys often talk more freely when they’re sharing an activity—a sport you both like, going on a hike, playing video games together, or doing something you know he’s interested in, whether you share the interest or not. Household chores can also become conversation starters when they’re shared rather than done individually. Stay away from phrases like, “Let’s spend time together,” or “I don’t see you enough anymore,” and instead offer something like, “Do you want to go to lunch?” Wiseman suggests, “Lunch has a definite beginning and end. Plus, you’re feeding him.” Brilliant. Be careful about raising the pressure for every experience together to be about deep bonding. That’s likely to push him away.

7. Don’t say these two things. First, never, ever, ever call him a girl (or say he runs/hits/throws/anything else like a girl). Ever. Aside from the fact that it’s degrading to girls, you will lose every ounce of respect he has for you, and you’ll drain him of any personal dignity. Second, never say “I’ll take care of this,” or its many counterparts in response to a problem he’s facing. Taking over his battles will only cripple his ability to learn to face hard things, and will likely make him resent your control.  

And one more thing: Be prepared to be changed by what you hear. This is Wiseman’s definition of listening. If we’re actually paying attention to what our boys tell us, we have to be willing to change in response. Especially when they come to us for help or when they point out something we do that drives them crazy.

Or he is seriously telling us how awesome that new video game is, and we want to roll our eyes and dismiss it as brain-rot.

I don’t completely resonate with everything Wiseman suggests, and in a few cases I want to have different or more direct conversations with my son about some of the issues raised when the time’s right. But the tips for talking are going to be invaluable as my son gets deeper into the boy world of older childhood and adolescence. Right now he wants to talk about everything. But that could all change.

What are your best tips for getting boys to talk?

Bonus: Wiseman offers a free ebook called The Guide for guys themselves to read. You can point an older boy here.

As parents, we’re guessing. A lot.

We’re not sure about this, we make hunches about that, and we constantly feel like we’re failing. Most of the time, we don’t talk about it. Even when we bring a partner or trusted friend into our struggles, our deepest questions can remain buried in insecurity.

And what about what’s actually worked? The moments we’ve really nailed it? We rarely focus on those since our parenting victories are immediately eclipsed by the next unexpected challenge.

It’s time to talk, both about our failures and our successes as parents. And we’ve made some films to help.

Through a compelling blend of real-life stories and interviews with parents, this new five-week video curriculum drops you into the latest national family research, and into the hearts of parents discussing their own struggles, successes, and ideas that have shaped lasting faith in their own families.

Season 1 includes five short films:

Why – Why talk about parenting? Because 1 in 2 kids drift from God after High School.

Mirror – What happens when I see things in my kids I don’t like?

Warm – How can I create a safe place to connect with my kids?

Spark – How do I create a flourishing connection with my kids?

Plan – What do I do next?

Join Kara Powell and a host of parents like you in a fresh, honest look at parenting strategies. Discover new ideas that work and create a personalized plan for integrating those ideas into your own family routine.

Watch a sample of the new curriculum here

Are you a church leader?

Find out more about how to use these films in your church or small group!

How to use this in your church

If I told you I spent time studying my Bible this morning, then asked you to draw a picture of what that might have looked like—what would you draw?

Probably a guy reading a book that says “The Bible” on the cover, right?

What if I told you I listened to a few minutes of my audiobook version of the New Testament, read by Johnny Cash (which is awesome by the way)? Or that I watched a YouTube video of a praise song that had a certain passage scrolling on-screen throughout?

Media shapes our lives, and expectations, in certain distinct ways. This includes our religious practices and traditions. We as Christians—especially Protestants—place a special emphasis on a book, the Bible, as a central part of our life of faith.

Researchers have been paying attention to how Christians, and American Evangelicals in particular, have integrated digital technology into the “ecologies” of our religious practices and churches. They have also been keeping tabs on how we discuss new technology and frame our conversations about it in certain unique ways, distinct from other faiths.[1]

What’s perhaps most interesting about the research, however, is not what researchers are finding, it is what they are not finding.

Scholars in the field of “media ecology” have looked back at how new technologies have impacted culture and the church at various points throughout history. They found that in the long term the important thing that changes as a result of new communication technologies ultimately ends up being Biblical interpretation.[2] Yet in our current conversations about digital technology, this has not yet been a major topic or consideration.

Media have an interesting way of very subtly reshaping our imaginations. For example, we might start to use new technologies like wireless communication and the digital “cloud” as analogies to help us understand things beyond our understanding like the Holy Spirit. No matter your age or vocation, we all approach church and scripture with certain culturally conditioned understandings of what abstract things like community look like. That understanding is derived from our context and experiences. And when digital technology is intricately woven into our daily experiences, we begin interpreting scripture with this reality implicitly in mind.

I do not have any great insights yet on how digital technology might reshape our contemporary theology. Perhaps it is worth simply pointing out that history suggests it will. In some areas these developments may produce a thorny hindrance, but in others, by the grace of our God, it will bear new fruit and the church may be blessed with a richer and more robust theology.

Throughout this series we have reminded parents and youth leaders how important it is to listen to young people. Listen so they will feel comfortable telling you if they are being bullied, listen so you will understand what they are sharing online and why, listen so you can grasp their enthusiasm for playing video games. I am confident that many of you are already doing a great job of listening in these ways.

There is another question we need to listen for that is crucial: How are young people making sense of scripture, and of the messages they are receiving from the church, in light of digital technology? So often conflicts and crises arise as the result of unintentional miscommunication. It is clear that there is a significant shift taking place between those who have adapted to digital technology throughout its emergence as opposed to those who have been immersed in a digital world their entire lives. In order for us to do the best job we can of sharing our faith and the good news of the Gospel, we need to listen to young people. If we don’t, no matter how good our intentions are or how great the message we are sharing is, it will fall flat.  

That may sound daunting, but consider this: historically, times of growth and revival in this country started with youth-led movements. They also quite often involved new media: colonial newspapers and later the telegraph to announce forthcoming revival meetings, or sermons and worship broadcast on radio and television. Throughout the history of the church, all the way back to a handful of young men and women sending letters around the Roman empire, there have been tremendous seasons of growth and renewal whenever young people were empowered to share the gospel in new ways.

New media and technology can feel so threatening and uncertain to those of us who feel forced to adopt and adapt. This is especially true for those of us who care for and about young people as parents and leaders. I want to conclude this series by turning our attention towards the opportunity digital technology has put in the hands of our young people. If history has taught us anything, it is that teenagers have an opportune moment to do great things. In the midst of important conversations about creating healthy boundaries in our relationship with technology, let’s also encourage young people to seize their moment and share the timely truth of the Gospel with the world in dynamic new ways.

 

[1] Hoover, S. M., & Kim, S. S. (2012). Digital Media and the Protestant Establishment: Insights from “The New Media Project”. Finding Religion in the Media, 97.

[2] Boomershine, T. E. (1987). Biblical Megatrends: Towards a paradigm for the interpretation of the Bible in electronic media. In Society of biblical literature seminar papers (pp. 144-157).

 

Photo by Nikky Stephen.

Today’s guest post is from Chad Inman, Director of Christian Education at Rockford United Methodist Church in Rockford, Michigan. Chad and his team were part of the 2013 Sticky Faith Cohort.

We were looking for a way to get our volunteers to jump into Sticky Faith with both feet. Our ministry context is a medium-sized congregation (400-600), meaning that we rely on volunteers to do things that larger churches might assign to staff. We realized that volunteer ownership was the crucial starting point for becoming a Sticky Faith Church.

It only takes a few moments looking into the Sticky Faith Launch Kit to discover that it is jammed packed with resources for equipping volunteers. In our context, we found this material incredibly helpful. Using the Launch Kit, we set out to help our volunteers discover their personal roles in bringing about the big three Sticky Faith shifts of partnering with parents, teaching a grace-based gospel, and integrating teenagers into the life of the church.

Perhaps some of the below suggestions we gave to our team will also be helpful to yours:
 

Partnering with Parents


We began by encouraging our volunteers to find concrete ways they could invite parents into the process of discipling their children. As a church, we try to make sweeping attempts to do this with all of our children’s and youth programs, but we know that such broad attempts will often fall short. Volunteers have to fill in the gaps. We encourage them to give any information about the content of a gathering to parents that can be used to have real faith conversations with their kids at home. This could mean a text, email, or even a more formalized “take home sheet.” We also ask leaders to look for opportunities to share age-specific“tips with parents, or perhaps personal observations about their student to specific parents. For example, that their son made a great observation that week during the group discussion.
 

Grace-Based Gospel


Much of the available curriculum we find (especially for elementary ministry) often flirts dangerously with “the gospel of sin management.” We encourage our volunteers to find concrete ways to point children to God’s grace, exemplified in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Whenever a lesson focuses on right actions, we ask our volunteers to ask, “What happens when we mess this up?” in order to bring the focus back to grace.

Our volunteer staff knows the importance of communicating that trust, not performance, is the key to a relationship with Christ. We also ask our leaders to make it a point to help their students memorize and take to heart the grace-focused phrases “Jesus is bigger than any mistake,” and “There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less.” Essentially, we have given our volunteers permission to take the lesson we have given them, and make it more “sticky.”
 

Integrating Young People


Our team has made a point to instill the importance of helping young people become comfortable with worshiping with the whole congregation. We ask our volunteer staff to look for opportunities to discuss aspects of worship, as well as to communicate the importance of worship. Volunteers are also instructed to help their students find ways to serve, whether it is together as a group, or individually outside of the ministry, as a way to help build a 5:1 web of support around every student. We ask volunteers to: 1) intentionally connect with their students outside of their ministry setting – especially in worship, and 2) make it a point to introduce students to other adults in the church.  

Fostering Sticky Faith is a huge undertaking, and a slow process. This transition takes a personal touch. By asking our volunteers to jump in with both feet and make a personal investment in these three shifts, our effectiveness increases exponentially. Maybe it’s time for you to ask your volunteers to jump into Sticky Faith.
 

Find Out More About the Launch Kit

 

Photo by ... Ju !.

Today’s guest post is from Danita Brick, who volunteers as the Sticky Faith Team Coordinator at Shiloh United Methodist Church in Jasper, Indiana. Danita was part of a Sticky Faith Cohort in 2013 while serving as Shiloh’s Director of Student Ministries. Danita hosts six high school girls at her house for cinnamon rolls, bacon, and chatter on Wednesday mornings, and blogs at After Dinner Conversations.

Sticky Faith emphasizes the importance of all ages in the church partnering with families to raise kids who have a healthy view of Jesus.

All ages. Every...

Generation.

I agree, and it became even more urgent to me when I recently held my first grandchild for the first time. Holding Jude in my arms, I felt the mystery of life, heritage and...

Generations.

Jude is the next generation of our family, which means our family’s next generation is now.

Generations.

"There was a certain man...whose name was Elkanah, son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite."  I Samuel 1:1

I’ve been reading I Samuel lately—probably for the third or fourth time. As much as I geek the Old Testament (weird, huh?) genealogy gives me brain fade. Every single time.

Until Jude came into my life.

This time, instead of brain fade, I wondered what this genealogy would look like in my family.

So I looked at I Samuel 1:1 again and put Jude in the place of Elkanah—Jude, the son of Andy, the son of Gary, the son of Floyd, the son of Peter. And suddenly, a new understanding opened up to me.

Jude will meet Floyd and the other great grandparents, and hopefully, time will allow relationships to build. But he will never meet Great-great-grandfather Peter this side of heaven. Yet, Peter will influence Jude because he influenced Floyd who influenced Gary who influenced Andy who is parenting Jude.

Generations.

Gary and I are excited to be part of Jude’s faith development. We have stories to tell, blessings to give, and many, many memories to make.

Sadly, over 1,000 miles separate us from Jude. Technology makes communication easier, but it doesn't replace literally being with him. And while we will strive for quality time with him, a large quantity of quality time would be even better.

That’s where their church in Denver comes in. So here’s my plea to that community:

Dear people of all generations at Park Church,

You have many special, special children and youth among you. One of them is my grandson, Jude. Please notice Jude. Encourage him in the faith, and help him learn new skills as he grows. Please be involved in his life. Share your love and wisdom. Help him to “grow in stature and in favor with both God and men” like Samuel and Jesus. Please team with his parents and Gary and me.

 And be assured, I will accept my responsibility to engage with kids of all ages in my home church. I will notice them, learn their names, encourage them, teach them about God and life. I will help them to "grow in stature and in favor with both God and men." I will team with their parents and their relatives (maybe you!) who would love to be here with them, but cannot.


We need each other within both the local church and the church at large. As I serve where I am, I will ask questions about and pray for the extended families of the kids I serve. And I will pray thanksgiving for those in Denver serving Jude.

This post is part of a series celebrating the release of the new Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. We’re interviewing parents who think and write about faith, family, and ministry.

This week we hear from Adam McLane, an oft-consulted voice on teenagers and social media, partner with the Youth Cartel, popular blogger, and author of A Parents’ Guide to Understanding Social Media.
 

You think quite a bit about technology and how it shapes young people. How do you think about boundaries with technology when it comes to your own kids?


We have some household boundaries which we're quite rigid about. For instance, everyone in the house has to use Internet-connected devices in public spaces of the house. So you can't disappear into your bedroom with your iPad to play games behind closed doors. That also applies to Mom and Dad who both work at home full-time. Practically, that means that we've actually arranged our house so that our office space is really our old living room. In doing that we've made being online, playing games, watching Netflix, and working all a fundamentally social activity. We might all have headphones on, we might all do our own thing, but we're doing it within 15 feet of one another and all of our screens are open. 

That said, we don't have rigid time boundaries. In our house, we consider gaming or watching YouTube or what's commonly called "screen time" a free time activity. So while there are times our older kids have to do chores or get assigned to take their little brother to the park for a while, it's not unusual for our older kids to spend 6-7 hours playing Minecraft in the living room on a Saturday. On a typical school day, we have free time for an hour after school, then homework, dinner, and free time until bed. Many days most of that free time is playing video games. (Or bouncing on the trampoline!)

Is that healthy? I don't know. My parents fretted about my playing endless hours of Madden Football on Sega Genesis and I have still managed just fine as an adult. So while I openly acknowledge that dopamine-triggering games are changing the neurology of our brains, I consider that a societal issue and not something I'm using to manage my children's online behavior.
 

Looking back, what mistakes have you made in handling technology in your family?


Besides allowing them to play Minecraft? I'm kidding. Minecraft is the Commodore 64 of my childhood. Tomorrow's Steve Jobs is playing Minecraft right now. 

When I think about mistakes I think about my own mistakes. My own bad habits have negatively impacted my kids’ view of technology. A few years back I was taking my son, Paul, to a San Diego State football game. While we were on the trolley to the game, I realized I had forgotten my phone in the car. I said, "Paul, I'm super bummed I forgot my phone in the car. Ugh!"

He looked at me and said, "Dad, I'm so glad you didn't bring your phone. Now you can be with me at the game instead of telling all your friends on Facebook you're at the football game with me." Game. Set. Match. He was absolutely right and we've had to be more aware that attention given to our phones is attention not given to them. When we went camping in Yosemite this summer, one of the best things I did was turn off my phone and lock it in the glove box. I didn't need it, but I would have fiddled with it instead of spending countless hours of playing Bananagrams with my kids and their cousins.
 

How has being part of the Youth Cartel impacted your parenting?


Two things strike me as family-related impact of my work with The Youth Cartel. First, I'm traveling 80 or more days per year. That's a lot of days where I'm out of the house with only minimal contact with each of my children. It impacts their schedule, it impacts school routines, and it can make it hard to maintain a relationship on day-to-day things if you let it. Second, that means I'm home 285 days per year. Since both my wife and I work at home, we are with our kids a lot. I love the flexibility working from home affords, and one way I express that is by consciously creating one-on-one experiences with each of my children. 

As I have transitioned from full-time church-based ministry to full-time work-based ministry, one thing that has dramatically impacted my parenting is becoming a "regular family." I don't think I understood the pressures my kids felt about being pastor’s kids until they stopped being pastor’s kids. Sure, they miss going to a building where everyone knows and loves them. But it also frees them up just to be normal. So if we miss a couple of weeks in the summer because we're on family vacation, no one notices and that's really lovely. 

“Leadership begins with listening.”

This mantra, provided by Dr. Scott Cormode link here at Fuller Seminary, quickly becomes one of the backbones of our Sticky Faith Cohorts. In order to train congregations in building Sticky Faith changes, we help them understand not only what to change, but how to bring about that change. Leaders quickly learn that listening to others (students, parents, volunteers, congregation members) is a key first step in changing a church culture.

That’s why I was especially intrigued with Jon Stewart’s interview with Cass Sunstein, a faculty member at Harvard. In research described in Sustein’s book, Wiser, Sustein studied the effect of spending time with like-minded people. For instance, he examined somewhat “liberal” folks in Boulder, Colorado who spent time only with others who were similarly “liberal,” and replicated the same analysis with more “conservative” folks in Colorado Springs.
 


His finding: A short discussion with like-minded people made liberals more liberal, and conservatives more conservative. This “echo chamber” effect has been demonstrated in multiple settings when similarly-minded men and women spend time with each other.

How does this relate to leadership and changing church culture? 

If we’re only spending time with people who are like us—or share our viewpoints—we become closed to fresh perspectives. We become more firmly stuck in our ideological ruts, making it harder to leave those ruts even when and if we eventually want to. 

Seeing this interview has made me ask myself a handful of questions:

1.How much time am I spending interacting with people, and media, who have different political viewpoints than me? One of my close friends listens on the radio to NPR and watches Fox News as her attempt for bipartisan information. I probably am not capable of that sort of stretching, but how much am I listening to contradictory political views?

2.How much am I listening to people in different socio-economic statuses?

3.How much am I learning from and interacting with folks from different ethnicities or cultures than me?

4.As I seek to make change at Fuller or in my own church, how am I doing at seeking out different viewpoints?

Of these 4 questions, I feel good about 2 of my answers, and not-so-good about the other 2. 

How do you try to love, listen, and learn from folks who are different than you?