High School Service Trips, Part 2: Innovating and Executing the New Service Trip

0 Comments Jun 26, 2014 Matt Laidlaw

Photo by tony katai.

In the first post in this series, Matt explored what it was like for their church to end a six-year commitment to take short-term trips to a particular community and figure out what to do next. Part 2 offers a window into that trip, and Part 3 will reflect on the experience. At the end of the series, Matt will share a more detailed look at how to turn your weeklong service trip into a plan for yearlong transformation.

Once we figured out the why of our trip, the what flowed naturally from there. It became much easier to sort through the possible partners, locations, and causes we could join. After having conversations with individuals and groups from around the country, we realized that we really didn’t know anything about our neighbor two hours to the east. We had a growing sense of confidence that Jesus was inviting us to take a step towards a relationship with our brothers and sisters in Detroit, Michigan.

Our church is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is approximately 160 miles west of Detroit. Although a two-hour drive doesn’t sound like an insurmountable distance to travel, aside from attending a sporting event or concert, many of our students and volunteers had never really experienced this part of our state.

Further, while the more recent economic struggles of Detroit have been well chronicled nationally, most of our team didn’t realize the complexity of a town so close to home. The more we learned about Detroit, the more we realized that it wasn’t anything like Grand Rapids. We didn’t know about the important role Detroit played during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, that the metropolitan area is now home to the largest population of Arab-Americans and Middle Eastern refugees in the United States, or that there is a vibrant Jewish community and Holocaust Memorial.

We decided that this trip must be focused on helping students and volunteers ask and answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” so we could better live out Jesus’ command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:36-40)

Because we couldn’t find one single organization to help facilitate the comprehensive experience we were looking for, our team had to do the hard work of finding lodging, meal locations, trusted ministry and non-profit organizations (both Christian and non-Christian), and individual conversation partners to help innovate this trip. This included hours of online research, phone calls, and several trips across the state to visit hosts and locations in advance of our trip.

After over a year of planning, last June twenty-four students and eight adult volunteers experienced our new High School Ministry Service Trip. Below, you can see how the itinerary and schedule puts into practice the values identified during our transition process:

Day 1: Depart from Mars Hill

Grandville, Michigan

  • Arrive at housing
  • Trip Orientation
  • Large Group Prayer


Day 2: Intro to Islam, Intercultural and Interfaith Immersion

Dearborn, Michigan

Partner: Community Center[[At the request of the Community Center Director, details related to the name and work of this ministry must remain anonymous.]]

  • Guided individual solo-time and prayer
  • Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt
  • Guided tour of the Arab-American Museum
  • Cultural lunch and tour of Christian ministry center
  • Mosque visit and Q & A with an Imam (Muslim religious leader)
  • Conversation with a Christian ministry leader serving the Muslim community
  • Cultural dinner
  • Large group debriefing, processing, and prayer


Days 3-5: Community Development and Service Work

Detroit, Michigan

Partner: Habitat for Humanity  

  • Daily guided individual solo-time and prayer
  • Conversation and neighborhood tour with Habitat Staff
  • Discussion on economic, racial, and religious history of Detroit
  • Daily participation in abandoned home demolition and construction
  • Interaction with neighborhood small business owners
  • Daily large group debriefing, processing, and prayer


Day 6: Intro to Judaism and Global Issues

Farmington Hills, Michigan

Partner:  Holocaust Memorial Center

  • Guided individual solo-time and prayer
  • Guided tour of Holocaust Memorial Center
  • Interaction with Holocaust survivors who live in Farmington Hills
  • Large group debriefing, processing, and prayer
  • Return to Mars Hill

(The details related to how our team debriefed and processed our experience together before, during, and after the trip will be explained in Parts 3 and 4 of this series)


Questions for your own context:

  • Can you identify any “causes” or “needs” that may exist closer to home than any previous service or mission trips you’ve planned and led? How would your community respond if you planned an experience that didn’t involve traveling a long distance?
  • How does this schedule and itinerary compare to trips you’ve developed or participated in? What can you learn from or adopt? What would you challenge or improve upon?
  • What kind of response do you think you would get from church leadership, parents, and volunteers if you created an opportunity for your students to learn from and interact with people from other religious groups?
  • What tools or resources, guides, or devotionals have you provided students or volunteers during your mission trips? In what ways were they helpful? In what ways were they unhelpful?
  • How would your students answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” What kind of resources and experiences can you provide in your context to continue to shape how they might respond to this question?



High School Service Trips, Part 1: Navigating transitions from one experience to another

0 Comments Jun 24, 2014 Matt Laidlaw

Photo by Kris Arnold.

Too often in youth ministry, we tend to jump from one cause to the next. This gives our students missional whiplash, and I suspect prevents us from supporting the “cause” as much as we think we are.

I wouldn’t be able to recognize this reality except for a relationship that our ministry stumbled into nearly eight years ago. After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, our church began an immediate and active presence in Waveland, Mississippi – the community most devastated by the storm. As an extension of the initial disaster relief Mars Hill provided, our high school ministry sought to get involved in any way we could.

If you had asked me in 2006, I would have guessed that our high school ministry would raise some money and make 1-2 short-term trips to Waveland. Then we would move on to the next opportunity for our students. However, our students were captivated by early estimates stating it would take ten years for Waveland to recover and rebuild from Katrina-related destruction. Every time we heard someone’s “Katrina Story” or met a family that was still rebuilding, our students and volunteers responded with an attitude of, “We’re not done yet.”

What started as disaster response and a short-term opportunity for our students evolved into a six-year relationship from 2006-2012, including seven short-term trips where 350 individuals contributed 12,000 hours of service work towards helping Waveland rebuild. Our “Spring Break Trip” unexpectedly became known as “Mississippi,” and our relationship with this region became part of the DNA of our high school ministry.

But in April 2012 it became clear to our staff, students, and volunteers that our ongoing commitment to this relationship was coming to an end. Local leadership in Mississippi extended the invitation for our continued presence and work in the region, but they were excited to tell us that most Katrina-related relief work had been completed. This news created mixed emotions among our students and volunteers: joy on behalf of the people we were serving, satisfaction for a job well done, and grief because it was time for the relationship to change.

This difficult but clear sense of “release” from our long-term commitment propelled us into a year-long process of discerning what was next. Because of what our high school ministry had learned from our relationships in Waveland, it wasn’t as simple as finding the right next “opportunity” or “cause” for our students participate in. We were interested in the next relationship we wanted to invest in, with the hope of mutual transformation.

Because there was such a high level of investment in this trip among students and volunteers, and because so much about our church had changed since 2005, I knew this discernment process would bring both challenges and opportunities. There were multiple opinions about what the future should hold, and our church leadership had since very precisely focused how our congregation would think about mission, the causes and relationships we would join, and how we would use our community’s resources.

For the first time in our ministry, we needed to create an intentional mission transition strategy. Beginning the week after we returned to Grand Rapids from our last trip to Mississippi, I outlined a nine-month “transition process” to help guide this discernment of completing our work in Mississippi and determining our next partnership.

Here’s what that transition process looked like:

  • One-on-one meetings with volunteers and students who had participated in a minimum of two of our service trips. This time was spent listening to what they valued about our experiences and what they sensed God was inviting us to consider for the future.
  • A series of conversations with our outreach pastors, trying to navigate the tension between our community’s missional values and the unique needs and opportunities presented by a short-term service trip for students and volunteers.
  • A series of conversations with our executive ministry leadership team, asking for guidance, support, and advocacy in this process.
  • A series of conversations with several elders with experience in youth ministry or missional outreach in our congregation – to listen, learn, and share stories.
  • Identifying a small team of staff, interns, and volunteers committed to helping divide the work related to researching and vision casting for our next trip opportunity: making phone calls, visiting potential partners, and building consensus within our community.

After all of this work, what became clear to me was that before we could make decisions about future opportunities, we needed to outline a core purpose for a high school outreach trip. We also determined that we wanted to weave the core values of our student ministry – identity, belonging, and mission – into the fabric of the trip. The four following ideas rose to the surface from those transition conversations as we began to articulate a trip purpose:

  • To reflect the missional philosophy and emphasis of Mars Hill outreach initiatives
  • To provide meaningful, age-appropriate, and intergenerational service-work opportunities for high school students and volunteers (A focus on “mission”)
  • To engage high school students in spiritually appropriate and missionally focused education, awareness, and debriefing (A focus on “identity”)
  • To invite high school students and volunteers into meaningful relationships with each other (A focus on “belonging”)

We built consensus surrounding these values among groups within our community, leading to a lot of energy and enthusiasm towards the future. Once this purpose was identified and communicated more broadly, making a specific decision about the future of service trips in our high school ministry became clear.

Check back in for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll talk more about the details of what happened next.

Questions for your own context:

  • In your short-term missions and service work, how have you balanced the tendency toward “missional whiplash” with seeking out long-term relationships?
  • What have you done to evaluate longer-term relationships and/or repeat service locations? When do you know it’s time to move on? How do you involve local hosts in that process?
  • Can you—or better yet, can your students—articulate why you’re going on your next trip? If not, what would it look like to put together a purpose statement that folks can rally around?

Helping teenagers make sense of inequality … without making peace with it

0 Comments Jun 20, 2014 Brad M. Griffin

Recently TED Ideas released a gallery of images illustrating inequality. In curator Helen Walters’ words, “We asked an international group of artists, designers, photographers and activists to provide one image that encapsulates what inequality means to them — and to explain their selection.”

It’s a gut-wrenching collection of domestic and global scenes picturing a world where much is broken. It raises a lot of questions about human life, suffering, community, and the presence of God.

In the words of one photographic contributor whose image shows Palestinian workers lining up to be allowed through the largest separation checkpoint in Bethlehem:

“Inequality is one of the roots of injustice, and one of the biggest contributing factors to crime and violence (including war). It’s the result of unchecked privilege and of the inability to empathize. It’s the ritual humiliation of the less powerful for the benefit of the more powerful. It’s depressing and tragic, and the worst part is it’s completely unnecessary and totally avoidable, even in a capitalist economy. So, when I see inequality, I see a society that has chosen to keep some of its members subjugated, even though all evidence and observation says that it’s destructive and completely preventable.” Saeed Taji Farouky, filmmaker and photographer in Palestine and the UK

The image is part of a series urging the question, “What’s to be done about rising inequality?” which is a fine question for TED to be asking, and an even greater one for the Church. In fact, chances are good that you have students in your ministry who are wondering about inequality of all kinds, alongside other students who probably remain oblivious.

How do you help them respond to these kinds of hard questions?

This summer can be a great window of opportunity to explore issues of injustice, poverty, marginalization, and God’s heart for the world in the midst of these crushing realities. Especially if you’re taking students on a short-term mission trip or serving nearby in your local community, be sure to take time along the way to process pressing questions like inequality. You might even use this photo gallery as a prompt to stir up conversation and explore some scriptures that call us to action against injustice (like Isaiah 58 or Amos 5).

If you want even more resources, at FYI we’ve written a few that might be helpful. For your short-term trips and service projects, Deep Justice Journeys offers over 50 exercises to do before, during, and after you serve. For bigger-picture conversations about why God might allow injustice in the world, Can I Ask That? is a small-group curriculum for high school students with Leader and Student Guides you can use to tackle eight hard questions about God and faith. 

The Coolest Sticky Faith Action I’ve Seen in a While

0 Comments Jun 19, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by shota mitsuyasu.

The fifth grade assignment was fairly typical: write an essay about an adult who’s important to you. Most of the class wrote about parents or grandparents, but my daughter decided she wanted to be different than the rest of the class (which if you know Krista completely fits).  She wrote about my step-sister, her Aunt Laura.

Laura has been “cool” all her life. Five years younger than me, she and I have had a special bond ever since her mom married my dad. Not only is she hip and fun, she’s incredibly committed to loving Jesus and loving others.

Last summer, Krista bonded with Aunt Laura on our annual family vacation. I watched as Krista wanted to sit next to Laura at dinner, and ride in her car to the beach. Given our Sticky Faith research about the power of adults investing in kids, Dave and I were thrilled to see this relationship blossom. 

So it was no surprise that Krista wrote her five-paragraph essay about her Aunt Laura. A few days ago, Krista used my phone to text her Aunt to let her know about the essay, and that she was going to mail her a copy.

What was surprising to me was Laura’s text back:

Hi Krista!  What a delight you are!  I’m going to write an essay about you and mail it to you.  You’re awesome!

As I read the text aloud to Krista, I teared up. Laura had sent the PERFECT response. As much as I’ve championed Sticky Faith and intergenerational relationships, I don’t know that I would have had the brilliant idea of writing an essay in return.

So my question to you is this: When a child or teenager shows you how much you mean to them, how can you tangibly reciprocate? 

If a child draws you a picture and hands it to you at church, maybe you do the same.

If a teenager comes and talks to you Sunday after church, maybe you make a note to text them twice this week to let them know you’re praying for them.

What can you do this week to let a young person know you are crazy about them?

The Science & Art of Story: New Possibilities in Ministry

0 Comments Jun 12, 2014 Brad M. Griffin

Photo by bassett12.

I’m not an awesome storyteller. I know it’s important, but admittedly it’s a tool I have had to work on. And every time I teach students or preach in my church, I have to remind myself of its value.

It’s not that I don’t value a good story. It’s just that I don’t intuitively know how to tell them well, and I get so excited about content that I forget content often gets lost outside of narrative.

I was reminded recently of this truth through an HBR blog post on storytelling. Contrasting Dead Poets Society’s John Keating (one of my all-time favorites) with novelist Kurt Vonnegut (who you likely have never heard of), HBR’s Andrea Ovans wonders what we can learn from actually graphing out classic storylines.

I’m not one to graph a story, but this is pretty amusing:

Vonnegut’s “good fortune/ill fortune” axis approach yields fascinating insight into the stories we love to love, and love to remember. Someone gets into trouble, then gets out of it. Something wonderful happens, then all is lost, then they get it back again. The third and most popular Western story, however, is the Cinderella story. Here’s a graph, thanks to HBR:

But the post goes on to point out that “…Vonnegut’s delivery matters as much as his ideas. His timing is perfect. His language is concrete and unexpected. He’s showing you the simplicity that underlies apparent complexity – that’s what data are so good at doing. But he’s just as concerned with making sure you’re paying attention — since no one is persuaded by something they don’t remember.”

And this is where John Keating is so impressive. A good story involving ripping pages out of a textbook. What could be more compelling for high school students in a stuffy prep school? Watch this scene again, especially if you need the inspiration to rip a little J. Evans Pritchard today:


It was no accident that one third of Jesus’ teaching is recorded for us as storytelling through parables.

As Jon Huckins reminds us, there’s both a science and an art of storytelling. A good fiction story creates a suspension of belief that opens up new possibilities for understanding and exploration. It’s part of the science of what happens in our brains. And it requires the art of crafting a narrative that catches and holds the attention of those squirrely middle schoolers who show up in your youth room on Wednesday night.

So as you’re thinking about your next teaching series, those summer camp talks, or this week’s Sunday School lesson, don’t forget the story.

I’ll close with a few concrete suggestions from Jon’s article excerpt based on Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling:

  • Instead of preparing a three point propositional teaching, begin to build an outline of your story as a modern day parable, while taking into close consideration your audience and context. As a 1st century Rabbi in the Roman Empire, Jesus was exceptional at this.
  • Create characters, a setting and plot that integrate scripture and illuminates your topic. Try to develop characters and setting that your teenagers can relate to and have fun with it!
  • Prepare follow-up discussion questions that unpack your story, which ground it in the everyday realities of your teenagers.
  • Tell your story with confidence and conviction!  You can tell your whole story in one night or you can tell it over the course of a few weeks and build momentum by ending each session on a cliffhanger. Your teenagers will hardly be able to wait to come back and hear the rest of the story!

What can you do with a little trash?

0 Comments Jun 10, 2014 Brad M. Griffin

It’s World Cup time. Depending on your interests, that might be a big deal. Or I might have just made you a little more culturally relevant for a few days.

In light of global attention on soccer, the New York Times ran a mini-documentary on a story you won’t find on many screens this week.

This Congolese man gathers plastic and other scraps from around the village and weaves together something lovely: a soccer ball for local kids to freely enjoy.

It’s local recycling at its best, combined with craftsmanship and generosity.

Here are a few ways this short video documentary might be useful to you this week:

1. The Democratic Republic of Congo didn’t qualify for the World Cup this year, but clearly soccer is still alive. Filmmaker Jerome Thelia notes, “Despite living through one of the world’s most brutal wars, children there still play with passion and joy – regardless of what kind of ball they are using.” Wonder aloud with the teenagers around you, What does contentment look like in my life this summer?

2. What trash, or unused stuff or spaces, can be resurrected near you? When you look around your home or your youth ministry, what opportunities might kids discover, inspired by this Congolese man?

3. As you or your students are settling into World Cup viewing this week, wonder aloud about the financial investment in professional sports worldwide and especially here in the U.S. Is our obsession with sports culture a justice issue? Who might be marginalized as a result?

4. Forward this video to your volunteer leaders and encourage them that the little scraps they’re able to gather among their own lives—scraps of time, energy, prayer, and heart—are being woven together into something beautiful in the lives of young people in your ministry.

Six Tips on Preparing for Milestones in Your Ministry

0 Comments May 27, 2014 Kara PowellBrad M. Griffin

Photo by Xelia.

This post is an excerpt from the Sticky Faith Launch Kit, a 180-day resource packed with tools and strategies to make Sticky Faith work in your ministry. Buy one here.

Growing up is hard. So is parenting those who are growing up.

Maybe that’s why we celebrate the markers along the way that remind us all we’re one leg farther along the journey. These markers could be the first day of kindergarten, the last day of elementary school, and high school graduation. Outside of school, memorable experiences like a first date, earning a driver’s license, or bringing home a first paycheck from a part-time job can all evoke reminders that childhood isn’t forever.

These events raise all kinds of feelings for both parents and kids.

One way we can serve families in the Sticky Faith journey is by setting up rites of passage that mark specific milestones along the way.[[The term “rites of passage” was coined by French anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep, explaining significant community rituals that shape young people’s identity. For more on understanding rites of passage in the youth ministry context, see Brad Griffin,]] These life and faith markers can provide critical windows for engaging families at particularly tender times.

In our Sticky Faith Launch Kit we included a whole chapter of ideas on creating rituals alongside families—some of them church-based and some that families might celebrate on their own. Here’s a sidebar from that chapter on how one church approached this process:

At our church, milestones became a big focus of our Sticky Faith plan. We began thinking about milestones in a few main categories below. Our goal is to try to celebrate each milestone both corporately and individually:

1. Personal Growth Plans: All middle school and high school students individually complete a personal growth plan to focus on for the upcoming year and then share the plan with their small group. The plans consist of writing out four goals for spiritual growth for the year.

2. Stories of Future Hope: Students write their own stories of future hope. Dreaming about their next few years and what their lives will look like in light of their faith, they write out those stories and share them with their small group leaders. Last year, different students shared their future hope stories with the entire group each week during student ministry program nights.

3. We try to celebrate positive milestones in advance. We no longer want church to be the last place students celebrate life events like graduation or school promotion, so we try to more intentionally schedule advance celebrations rather than trailing after the fact.

4. We try to be equipped for difficult milestones after they happen. We don’t just look at positive rituals coming from our church tradition. We also try to prepare for rites of passage that are difficult life experiences. As much as we attempt to equip young people to make good decisions ahead of time, sometimes we have to deal with a rite of passage that may have painful repercussions, like a pregnancy, an expulsion from school, or a trip to jail. We’ve had small group leaders in delivery rooms with teenage moms and have visited students in juvenile detention centers. Along the way we’ve recognized that young people need our faithful presence during these hard milestones too.

5. We try to make milestones intergenerational. For seniors we have graduation Sunday, but we also take a senior camping trip where adults across the generations join us to share life wisdom. We’ve started connecting incoming sixth graders with adult mentors to serve in the church in a specific area for the year.

6. We involve parents in milestones. We do this through scheduling parenting classes, offering resources, communicating frequently during transition times, and being accessible for parents’ questions and needs in these seasons.

—Matthew DePrez, Intergenerational Pastor at Frontline Community Church, Grand Rapids, MI

How does this list resonate with what you’re doing in your ministry? What would you add, modify, or shift?

Need more ideas? See our Playlist: 20 Free Resources for Transition Season and this article on creating milestones in your church. Or pick up a Launch Kit for over six months’ worth of practical tools to put Sticky Faith to work in your context.

Wavering at the Intersection of Science and Faith

0 Comments May 22, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

As part of our launch of Can I Ask That? 8 Hard Questions about God and Faith, we’ve been sharing different perspectives on faith and doubt. Fuller Seminary’s student journal The SEMI recently ran an interview on faith and science that we thought our readers might find helpful. What follows is an excerpt from that interview by SEMI Editor Reed Metcalf with Dr. Wilfred Graves, Jr., reprinted by permission. Dr. Graves is a pastor, professor, and author who has studied and worked in both aerospace engineering and theology.

Reed Metcalf: Is the scientific community really as atheistic and religiously-antagonistic as many of us have been led to believe?

Dr. Graves: As I see it, there are four ways of viewing the relationship between science and religion. The first is that the two are in conflict; this image gets sensationalized a lot in the media, and much of it is based on some seriously flawed understandings of Christian history. You hear things like, “All Christians in the Middle ages believed in a flat earth.” The majority of Christian scholars in the Middle Ages, though, didn’t believe in a flat earth—they believed in a round earth. The top scientists and intellectuals of the day were educated by and operated in the church. So we have this rewriting of history to try and get the sensationalized dichotomy that we see often portrayed in the media. We also see a lot of polls—statistics about who believes what, and these tend to bolster the idea that there is a conflict between science and faith. But I am a statistician, so I am very careful about these sort of things; when you dig a little deeper, you see the other factors that play into the equation: how those questioned were raised, their characteristics, that sort of thing. It might drive them to science, but science is not the reason they don’t believe in the first place. All things considered, the conflict model doesn’t help me sort out the two of them.

Another model: the two are independent. Science tells you about the physical world, faith about the metaphysical. I think this leaves out historical concerns: many people have been driven to appreciate God more as they study science, and vice versa; because God created the universe, let’s explore it via science. The independence model doesn’t consider these motivators.

I am much more in favor of a dialogue model, an integration model. In my own experience, I don’t see as big of a hostile climate as some would imagine. I certainly didn’t encounter overwhelming hostility in my environments [at Stanford and working in aerospace engineering]. Is hostility out there? Yes, in pockets. Yes, we have some very vocal atheists who enjoy antagonism and ridicule. But the growing trend that I have seen is that more and more scientists don’t see science and faith as mutually exclusive. Doctors and mathematicians are still more likely than other groups of scientists to embrace belief. I think, though, that the media is still playing a big part in creating a specter of warfare. In reality, the situation is much more tame than we typically think.

Reed Metcalf: How do you communicate to your congregation and students—since many of us buy into the model that the media feeds us—that science and faith are not diametrically opposed?

Dr. Graves: Well, we are in a world that God has created. God has written this book of nature that we are reading. The scientist’s pursuit is just one to enrich knowledge; if we start from that place, we understand it as a search for truth. If we believe the Bible is the Word of God, we are also pursuing truth there. If we believe that the same author produced both books, then they really shouldn’t conflict. If they do conflict, maybe it’s just your interpretation of the data. It is a two-edged sword; you can start from false premises in either the science camp or the faith camp. I think it is important to communicate to our congregations, though, that both books really do have the same author.

After that, I think it is important to push for open-mindedness. For instance, we all understand that the earth revolves around the sun, not vice versa. But if Ecclesiastes talks about “the rising of the sun,” we don’t conclude today that the science is wrong and that the earth doesn’t revolve around the sun because the text says the sun “rises.” We instead understand that the text is speaking from the vantage point of an observer on earth, and we understand the idiom. There doesn’t need to be a conflict.

Of course, there were conflicts in history. People think about Galileo. Supposedly Ptolemy’s geocentric view of the cosmos was embraced pretty adamantly, and Galileo got himself in hot water for adopting Copernicus’s view of heliocentrism. Even that story, though, is clouded by misinformation. Everybody involved in the debate was a part of the Church; it wasn’t secularists versus religious. Galileo’s attitude probably was part of what got him in trouble; I understand he remarked something along the lines of, “The Holy Spirit tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” You know, he was being antiestablishment in many ways, but the history is that Galileo’s findings riled other scientists. They went to the Church and said, “He’s challenging science!” and then the Church got involved and said, “Wait a minute—what is going on here?”

On the other hand, we do need to recognize the pejorative language often used in demythologizing projects, where some say, “Because we can’t replicate this with science, it can’t be true.” Well, miracles fall outside the realm of science. If an all-powerful God accelerates a process or suspends some principle that we have typically held as scientific law—what we would call a miracle—science can’t speak to that. Both sides need to be honest about that.

But we can be honest that science can flow out of faith. God’s voice from Job—“Prove to me—test all things—examine me”—these are scientific principles. It’s okay to let our faith lead us to science.

Read the Full Interview



Why Mothers & Daughters Fight And Three Questions That Help

0 Comments May 14, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by J.K. Califf.

When I was a youth pastor, if a mom or dad of a teenager wanted to volunteer in our ministry, I’d always ask the kids how they felt about their parents serving. Both teenage girls and guys were usually fine with their dads serving, but only teenage boys were okay with their moms serving. Not teenage girls.

In a recent interview, Deborah Tannen, a well-known communication and relationship expert, sheds some light on why. According to Tannen, there’s a unique closeness between young people and their parents today. But this closeness has a few drawbacks. If a daughter opens up to her mom about how she’s feeling, the mom quickly moves from “friend” mode to “parent” mode, peppering her daughters with both questions and advice.

This causes the daughter to clam up, regretting that she ever shared her feelings with her mom.

According to Tannen, the 3 biggest sources of friction between mothers and daughters are hair, clothes, and weight.

What do these 3 have in common? They all relate to physical appearance.

Tannen insightfully comments that often if a mom is insecure about some aspect of her own appearance, she will give extra attentive to her daughter in that area. For instance, a mom who is ashamed of her own weight might be extra anxious about any unhealthy weight or nutrition patterns she sees in her own daughter.

As a mom of two daughters, Tannen’s interview sparked some new questions for me:

1. How can I make sure my own insecurities and issues don’t translate into stress between me and my girls? For example, it’s all too easy for me to place too much of my identity in what I do, and what others think about what I do. That so easily can spill over into putting pressure on my girls to perform and behave well, especially when others I care about are nearby.

2. How can I learn to bite my tongue? That’s one of Tannen’s tangible pieces of advice for moms: daughters can take offense at motherly advice, no matter how well-intentioned. The wisest moms I know are very sensitive to the best time to raise questions or conversations with their daughters, and that often means being radio silent for a while.

3. How can I major on the “majors” with my girls? One close friend of mine says that the primary conversation topic she remembers from her high school years at home was how her parents wanted her to keep her room clean. She’s wisely decided to hold the reigns loosely on her daughters’ rooms, even though she’d rather be able to see the floor of their rooms when she walks by. But she’s realized that what’s most important is her relationship with them, not whether or not their clothes are hung up every day.

Moms, step-moms, grandmas, and other women, what other questions do you ask yourself to strengthen your relationship with your girls?

You Don’t Have to Be Married or Have Kids to Minister to Parents

0 Comments May 05, 2014 Nate Stratman

Photo by eudæmon.

In all honesty, I think I became aware of parents who were connected with my youth ministry only after I became a parent myself.

I never ignored them on purpose, and I often recruited them to get involved, but I sure didn’t understand how to encourage or equip parents.

As I reflect on my youth ministry before marriage or kids, I think I would have and could have supported parents, but it simply wasn’t on my radar screen. In recent years I’ve noticed young youth workers who have made great efforts to encourage and resource parents who are often 10 or 20 years older than they are. This type of leadership is refreshing, but I don’t think it’s the norm.

Lets name a few realities that face youth workers when it comes to ministering to parents:

1. Most of us have had little training in this specific area.

2. It can be intimidating.

3. The temptation to take a default posture of, “What do I have to offer a parent?”

4. Many youth workers rarely cross paths with the parents of their students.

5. Many parents simply want to dump their child in our ministry.

Have you found several of these realities to be problematic in connecting with parents? I sure have. Yet, partnering with parents is so crucial to the spiritual development of teenagers that we cannot afford to avoid parents.

So what can we do? Glad you asked. Whether you ever become a parent or not, you can:

1. Encourage

This is the easiest and often the most underused strategy. One of my own children has been fairly difficult since she was born. There is a certain lady who works in our children’s ministry who goes out of her way to tell my wife how much she loves our daughter. These short statements often have the power to make my wife’s not-so-great day look a whole lot brighter.

2. Ask, Don’t Tell

Since you are not a parent, you have no pressure to act like one. I wish I would have asked way more questions of parents when I wasn’t a parent. I could have used the insight. For instance, start with a student that you know the best. Go ask their parent how they could imagine you (the youth worker) supporting their child and family in a more effective way. Don’t let them give you an answer on the spot. Ask them to think about it for a day or so and circle back to them to see what they say. I promise you, this will floor, encourage, and earn trust from many parents. If you are more on the introverted side, you could always ask by email, or send out a short parent survey asking some of the same questions of all the parents in your ministry.

3. Leverage Other Leaders

There are many great parent whisperers out there, and you probably have some in your community. Parenting seminars are often a financial investment for a church, yet they can be an even larger investment in the lives of parents. Create a gathering that is easy to attend, full of tools for their tool belts and encouragement for their souls. You don’t have to BE the expert; you just have to know a few.

A Closing Thought or Two

1. It has been my experience that the chasm between the youth minister (of any age) without kids and the parents of teenagers is not as far as we have made it in our minds. I actually believe that a healthy relationship between parents and youth ministry leaders is simply one invitation to coffee away. Try it, and let me know how it turns out.

2. I’m not sure how this thought seeped into our culture, but many folks believe they can only lead those who are younger than they are. In contrast, the Bible is full of young kings, leaders, and influencers like Samuel, Jeremiah, Ruth, and Timothy. You can lead up. Those adults who are older than you often crave your ideas, passion, and optimism.

PS: Here’s a free webcast with three ministry leaders on partnering with parents in youth ministry!