Category Archives: Article

Dealing with the Doubts of Thomas, our Twin (Article)


Doubting Thomas might have a twin … in us

Published: April 24, 2013

The Island Packet, Bluffton Edition


Since moving to the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton area, I’ve noticed something I thought was unique: There are an incredible number of twins in the area.

When I first started as a youth director at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church on Hilton Head, our youth ministry had three groups of twins participating. I even met a family who had adopted twins from Russia. I remember thinking, after meeting quite a few more older sets of twins, that there must be something in the water that natives hadn’t told us about. After some quick Internet research, I became less surprised.

Since the 1980s, twins have become more common and make up about 1 in every 30 births in our country. As is expected, they can be extremely connected to one another, sometimes creating verbal cues and language they alone understand. Despite this, they tend to be very competitive and can push each other pretty hard. And, later in life, it can be hard for the two to separate into adult lives apart.

I mention this because Thomas, the “doubter” of Jesus’ resurrection, has the Greek name, Didymus, which is Greek for “twin.” Twice I’ve read through the story of Thomas, who said he would not believe Jesus had returned until he saw the Lord’s wounds in person. Jesus appears, and Thomas awakens in faith. In the process, this twin has had a lot of bad publicity, but I think he’s gotten a bad deal.

If Thomas was a twin, the Scriptures do not mention the other. It is possible he had lost his twin earlier in his life. In a literary sense, many interpreters speculate that we (as in the readers as individuals) may be the “twin” of Thomas, facing our own doubts as we hear and weigh the gospel. A Gnostic Gospel (written long after the gospels) attributes the twin to be Jesus himself. I read one article that humorously remarked how surprised Mary and Jesus himself would have been to hear that. The first explanation resonates with me, and this has colored my view of Thomas in a totally different hue.

If Didymus was a twin who was separated from someone with whom he’d been so close, his connection to Jesus would have been different from that of the other disciples. Churches sometimes talk today about having a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. Who would understand this more than a twin? Who would have a natural understanding of having a deep and intimate friendship and bond with someone they love and respect? And who would have had the hardest time dealing with the death of their Lord and the relationship with the master?

Previously, Thomas was stout in faith and courage. In John chapter 11, he told the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” as Jesus deals with the death of Lazarus. He then seems to experience some separation anxiety in John chapter 14, “Thomas said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’” when Jesus begins mentioning his own demise in the progression toward Jerusalem and the cross. I’ve read that this also explains why Thomas may not have been with the other disciples when they saw Jesus the first time. Was he in intense grief, unable to bear company or comfort, dealing with the death of his hopes and dreams that had previously been invested in Jesus?

Then Christ appears to him, and he is once again awakened. The connection is unbroken, and the source of life is returned to a broken and hurting spirit. He believes, and from that moment Thomas’s life has a clear direction. He is recorded to have ministered as far as present-day Iran and he died preaching and teaching the good news of his lord, Jesus Christ.

If I were to “go” like Thomas did, and believe with the passion of a committed twin, what could we accomplish? Who would receive the hope that emanates from the light of belief in our hearts? We could turn the love we have received into a tangible expression of goodness for our world. Let’s tell the stories of how moving from brokenness and doubt toward the moment belief transforms everything.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at Read his blog at


Interesting Article: Youth ministry at Clemson UMC: more than fun and games (repost from the SC Advocate)

Revolution Bracelets

Youth ministry at Clemson UMC: more than fun and games

By Ken Garfield

(reposted here)

This was first published in Faith & Leadership, http://www.faithand, and The Advocate Newspaper for the SC UMC.

The youth ministries room at Clem- son United Methodist Church in Clem- son, S.C., still has an old sofa, the type that teenagers typically occupy on Sunday evenings far and wide across the faith landscape.But that’s one of the few vestiges of the past in a youth ministry work-ing to educate young Christians in a deeper way. Believing that the role of the church is to mold young people into serious students and devoted disciples, the 1,000-member congregation, located a mile from Clemson University, has shifted the focus of its work with youth.Leading that effort is a Duke Divinity School student who is convinced that his charges are capable of more than fun and games.“It’s about giving students credit for being able to be theologians,” said Jad Taylor, Clemson UMC’s director of youth ministries. “It’s helping students understand their part in this wonderful story.”Taylor, 26, is part of the first class in the Master of Arts in Christian Practice program, a two-year degree track at Duke Divinity School with an emphasis on educating youth pastors and other lay professional ministers serving local congregations.Jeff Conklin-Miller, assistant profes- sor of the practice of Christian formation and director of the MACP program, said the idea is to share this model of pas- toring with youth ministers who aren’t theologically trained so that they, in turn, can help youth understand their role in the broader Christian story.

The old youth ministry model? Order pepperoni pizzas, update the kids on the ski trip, bring up a sensitive topic like dating, toss out a few applicable Bible verses, then repeat, with a different topic, the following Sunday evening.The new (actually, quite ancient) model that MACP is teaching Taylor and the 25 other students in the program?“What is the Christian church about?” Conklin-Miller said. “What is discipleship? What is baptism? This is an invitation for youth to see themselves as part of the narrative of God’s redemptive work in creation.“Suddenly, they have a different way of thinking about what it means to be youth in the church. What’s most important in youth ministry isn’t someone who’s, quote unquote, good with kids but someone who is deeply committed to the church’s ministry of formation.”
Insights from the Youth AcademyThe MACP program and the vision of youth ministry that it seeks to foster draws heavily on insights gleaned by the Divinity School over 12 years of operating the Duke Youth Academy. There, each summer, high school students and counselors gather on the Duke campus for two weeks of worship, classes and dialogue aimed at helping youth appreciate their role in the Christian story. Launched with a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the youth academy It’s about giving students credit for being able to be theologians.– Jad Taylor Clemson UMC’s director of youth ministries“embodies the philosophy at the heart of the MACP program. The academy’s vi- sion statement puts it this way:“Authentic Christian communities do not isolate or ghettoize youth in a hodgepodge of lock-ins and pool par- ties. Instead they welcome youth into their very center as they seek to embody faithful life and worship before God.“The same graceful means that have sustained God’s people historically – worship, sacrament, serious study of Scripture and theology, prayer, service with the poor, hospitality, self-denial, spiritual direction and accountability – are what youth hunger for today.”In this spirit, Conklin-Miller said, the youth of the church belong in the sanctuary pews on Sunday mornings, and not on those old sofas in the youth room.At Clemson UMC, the young people in the youth ministry sit up front in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, just below the pulpit, said the Rev. Keith Ray, the church’s senior pastor.“It means they are integrated into the whole of the congregation,” he said. “It’s one of the things we value at Clemson. We feel the youth learn a lot by being with the older folks, and the older folks learn a lot from them.”
Taylor, a native of Columbia, graduated from Clemson in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biosystems en- gineering. The son of an optometrist and a nurse, he was planning on becoming an eye doctor like his father – until the first summer he spent as a counselor at a Christian camp in Colorado changed everything. There in the Rocky Mountains, he fell in love with the idea of shaping youth and being shaped by youth.“I felt like my gifts and talents and passions were all being used,” he said. “That’s a hard feeling to shake.”The spring of his senior year, a few weeks before graduation, the Rev. Lane Glaze, director of the Clemson Wesley Foundation and campus minister for Clemson UMC, told him that the church was looking for a youth pastor.‘Where I need to be’That very moment Taylor told him- self, “That’s where I need to be.”After another summer at the camp in Colorado, he went to work at the church, in August 2008, and started in the MACP program three years later, intent on infusing his passion with scholar- ship. Clemson UMC is paying his way in return for Taylor’s commitment thathe’ll remain there for at least three years after he graduates this summer, until 2016. This is how a self-confessed “crazy-haired” youth pastor has come to devote himself to Clemson UMC youth in grades 6-12. With his blue jeans and sandals and a mop of curly hair, Taylor looks the part. Conklin-Miller talked about Taylor’s outgoing personality and how he ends his emails with “much love.”
The kids at Clemson UMC clearly embrace him. Charles Withington, 16, mentioned the fall retreat when the entire youth group came together to explore God’s story in some out-of-the- box ways. To express the joy of Palm Sunday, they danced. To ponder Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, they spent time quietly in a garden. At night, they gazed at the stars. Whether at a retreat or the Sunday night gathering, or whenever he needs someone to talk to, Charles always knows where to turn.“I can tell Jad anything,” he said. Another Clemson youth, 18-year-old Hunter Smith, offered similar praise.“Jad is really accepting of any person he comes into contact with,” he said. “To me, his faith is overwhelming.”His ever-present smile notwithstanding, youth ministry is serious business for Taylor. On a rainy evening, the final Sunday before Lent, his upbeat purposefulness came across in a gathering devoted to Jesus’ 40 days in the desert and what that means to teens navigating life in the complicated 21st century.Following a dinner of red beans and rice, church member and New Orleans native Jill Evans talked about Mardi Gras traditions as the youth devoured a king cake, the colorful pastry identified with pre-Lenten revelry.
Several teenagers then read aloud the story from Matthew 4:1-11, how Jesus rejected the temptations of the devil and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus’ wilderness experience, Taylor told the youth as they fiddled with their Mardi Gras beads, reminds us that we are not alone, no matter the temptations and pitfalls we face. He shared what he called his own desert experience, the death of his grandmother and having to see his mother suffer.“The deserts we’re going through, Jesus has been there,” he said. “It’s OK for us to enter into deserts together.”Later, in small groups, the high school boys talked about what they could give up for Lent. Some suggested video games and speeding.Taylor again gently turned the con- versation inward. Our earthly pursuits, he suggested aloud, turn us into some- thing we’re not. They hide what’s really in our souls. By giving up something, during Lent and beyond, perhaps we reveal our vulnerabilities in a way that strengthens us. “Weakness is not un- cool,” he told the boys before the group of 35 came back together to sing a final song. “Being vulnerable is good.”
Intense at the DYAThe MACP program combines intensive, on-campus seminars and Web-based distance learning that allows the students to remain in full-time youth ministry in their home churches. One of the most intense of those intensive on-campus sessions happens at the Duke Youth Academy each summer. During two weeks in June, 45 rising high school juniors and seniors from across the nation unite at Duke to worship, pray, serve, and share meals and conversation. The students participate in service projects, hear faculty speakers from Duke Divinity School and meet daily in small reflection groups. It is all meant to inspire teens to take a fresh look at God, the church and themselves.The experience must be compelling, since youth flock to the DYA, even with the 7:30 a.m. wake-up call each day.The MACP students also attend the youth academy, but not as “campers,” counselors or other staff.“We are intentional about that,” Conklin-Miller said. “They are ‘participant-observers’ and members of the worshipping-learning-serving commu- nity of DYA.”Last summer, Taylor and two youth from Clemson UMC were part of the youth academy. Raven Howard, 18, a senior at Daniel High School in Central, S.C., remembers focusing on the story of God as seen through the five C’s – Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church and Coming Reign.“You learn a lot about how the story of God relates to our story,” he said. “I think it is our story.”Howard loved how they were encouraged to view the youth academy’s daily communion as a thanksgiving dinner filled with conversation and laughter.
Less laugh-producing was the worship service his group was asked to plan.“It was interesting but kind of stress- ful,” he said.Through it all, Howard said, Taylor was there, just as he is each Sunday evening, stirring conversation, listening and, most of all, accepting.“Jad doesn’t force what he thinks on people,” Howard said.‘What ministry will it be?’What’s next? Taylor is committed to Clemson UMC through 2016. Knowing that part of his vocation is working with teenagers, he’s thinking through whether or not to seek ordination. The MACP would qualify him to seek ordination as a deacon in the UMC, but he would have to go back to school and get an M.Div. to pursue ordination as an elder.“The entire question of ordination is new and still unfolding for me,” he said. “Five years ago, I did not suspect that I would be working in a local church, much less considering a call to lifelong, full-time parish ministry.”
For now, Taylor is content to walk beside youth as he works toward his MACP degree online and on campus. He frames his future around a question that Fred Edie, the youth academy’s founding director and now an associate professor of the practice of Christian education, likes to share at the academy, where he still serves as a faculty adviser.“The question is not, ‘Will it be ministry?’” says Edie, “but, ‘What ministry will it be?’”“His words stay at the front of my heart, mind and soul each and every day,” Taylor said. 

Pastor’s Corner: Hope and Reconnecting in Lenten Season


Take a moment to reconnect with God — and hope — this Lenten season

Published: February 25, 2013 


Our church has a wonderful basketball program for children called Upward. Each year it has grown, and I love being in the midst of so many kids learning teamwork, respect and the skills they need to play like pros. The coaches are great role models, and I’m proud of their hard work and humility.

Usually Coach Bob gets to do the devotion, but a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak on the definition of “hope.” Upward defined it simply as “the ability to see the positive even when bad things happen.” I spoke about puzzle pieces given each day by God and how we don’t always see the big picture, but that God sees it all — he has the box; he made it. We learned that we can trust in God and that he is going to bring about good things, even though bad things do happen.

I used a simple illustration: My wife, Amanda, and I had been searching for a miniature Schnauzer to fall in love with as we celebrate 10 years of marriage. We felt it was time, but whenever tried to set up appointments to meet with a possible adoptee, something went wrong or the puppy was given away. I kept getting my hopes up, and then it would all be over that evening. It was very sad, and my hopes sagged.

Then one day Amanda told me a family was coming to visit and they had a 3-year-old named Bella. I once again became excited, and that Thursday evening we officially adopted Isa-bella, the fluffiest, cutest, most amazing mini-Schnauzer to have ever lived (in our opinion, of course). My heart was happy, and she instantly became a part of our family. So much so that I have a hard time not talking about her all the time. We even set up a Facebook page devoted to her She’s incredibly adorable.

The big picture of that puzzle certainly wasn’t apparent to me, and I had lost hope. I tried to bury my optimism because if I hoped too much I’d feel disappointed. In the back of my mind, though, in a small corner of my heart, hope grew. That small part of me celebrated when we met her. It was like when the angels celebrate as a person comes to God and begins to trust in him.

Yes, I felt very glad when it all came together.

Now that we have entered the season of Lent, I have even more reason to feel hope and gladness. As we retrace the horrible events that led to Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross, we’re getting closer to the annual celebration of Easter — the day Christians remember Jesus’ victory over sin and death. It all looked so grim, and suddenly there was a win.

In this time, we look inward and try to remove anything that hinders our spiritual walk, and add things that will bring us closer to walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

In my case, that means I’ll be turning off NPR — “fasting” for portions of my car ride — and I’ll be listening to God’s quiet voice (through prayer). It means I’ll try to rearrange my life into patterns that help me love all people (alms/doing good), which means I really need to give a little more of myself to more good things. Less “me” and more “us.” And I’ll be doing this in thankfulness for what God has given me, because when it comes down to it, everything I have belongs to God — including you, including me … and, of course, Bella.

Lent is a good time to resync with the one who created us; to plug into the source and feel his goodness. My hope is that no matter what darkness is in your life, you’ll see the dots of light surrounding you and that you’ll find in yourself a flame that will never die.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at Read his blog

Are You The Leader God is Calling?


Are You The Leader God is Calling

For three years, Jesus poured himself into a core group of 12 people. These guys had lived ordinary lives, but, after being called, became greater through faith and service, proclaiming a new era through the gospel. Young King David lived as a sheep herder, but was anointed (blessed by God) by the priest and Judge Samuel, and through God’s calling, he became the renowned and beloved king of Israel. His son was considered the wisest man in the world.

Going further back in time, after the time of Moses and Joshua had passed, and judges would rule over Israel, there was a time of warfare and oppression with no one able to bring about victory over their enemies. A young man named Gideon received a messenger from God and soon he would lead his people to major military victories. He mentioned how he was a weak part of a clan that was least of his tribe, and yet he was used to lead a great campaign for God’s work.

Leadership is a hard thing, and Christian leadership even more so. Leadership in the faith community means putting on the mind of Christ, having vision, and being able to take a group of people with you toward a deeper and more holy discipleship in God’s ways.

If we relied on the news to tell us what leaders of faith are up to, it would seem that the bar for faith leadership is very low. That’s unfortunate, because for the myriad people who have given their lives to their calling, whether it is as a pastor, missionary, theologian, worship leader, youth pastor or whatever, the majority have lived up to the high standards held up in the third chapter of 1 Timothy, telling us that overseers of the church are not to be greedy; they are to be self-controlled, hospitable, able to teach and be mature in faith. They are to be bold and dignified in their calling of faith in manner and conduct. Those who fail but are humble are not bad people, though it is regrettable that so many have used ministry as a way to lord their own plans and visions. But the ideal is set high, so when we see a person who is false, they can be confronted.

In testing leadership, there is a trinity of calling that can illuminate the path. 1. Is a person feeling the call to leadership and feeling they have the gifts for it? 2. Has God placed a burden on the heart for others so they give of themselves to the work? 3. Has the community called them and confirmed the gifts of the leader, and that these gifts are needed and affirmed? The community can care for and test the leader, building a bond together as the work of God is done, and the good news is spread.

In our own youth group there are those who are beginning to feel the pangs toward Christian leadership. Each summer we have college aged interns and volunteers who explore ministry and test whether God is really giving them a passion to appeal to the hearts of people and care for the spirit. I am praying for them as they step out in faith and begin to serve. We are in a time of great transition, and many are searching for good leaders to do the work of ministry together.

As the world contemplates the future of faith and its place in society, as the Catholic church prays and convenes in the selection of a new Holy See, as our conferences and denominations appoint pastors, and as each local church calls leaders to shepherd and teach, let us be full of prayer for the spirit of all leadership in all places. God’s spirit is moving, faith is not stagnant, and leadership refreshes itself for each generation. Are your eyes open for new works of grace? Are you the leader God is calling? How will your work find purpose and bring life? How will you respond?

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at Read his blog at

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Being Human: Meditation and the Art of Silence and Presence

The Sound of Silence by Samantha Muscaria

God’s presence can be found in sound of silence

Published: February 11, 2013


Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain Still remains
Within the sound of silence
– Simon and Garfunkel, “Sounds of Silence”

Many people struggle with silence. When it arrives, anxiety grips us, and the first instinct is to say something — anything. As long as something is being said, there is comfort. Often we fill the void with words that have no meaning. Introverts know silence as a good friend and find energy wrapped in the quietness. The pauses allow thought and the basic experience of existence. Quiet time is purposefully created to re-energize the soul and nourish the spirit.

I’ve struggled with silence all my life, especially when not allowing it is disrespectful. When I was a child, my mom played a quiet game, in which my brothers and sisters would always break with giggles. We tended to yell when we could not be quiet. Later, while in seminary in New England, I experienced a new kind of quiet. I studied with a rather large South Korean population at the school, and I noticed the frequency of pauses in the conversation. Being myself, I filled the gaps. I noticed this caused a conversational disturbance. It wasn’t until two years in that I read about a conversational trait I’d never considered. In some Asian cultures, a thought in conversations starts with a first part. A pause happens, as the speaker thinks through the second part, and the listeners may be respectful to continue to listen in silence. Soon, the most profound part of the conversations starts and completes. I had been cutting off the conversation by interrupting silence that was purposeful and planned.

My prayer life had been similarly disjointed because I had not realized how important meditative moments — being in the presence of our creator and listening. The monk Thomas Merton called it “darkness, which is beyond logic or reason”. The communication ceases to be words, and it is replaced by the presence of love. For me, prayers were always requests of God and conversations relaying my own thoughts. In 2 Corinthians 4:7 it says that we are like jars of clay and potentially full of the power of God, but I often was not refreshed or recharged because I didn’t push through our loud world, nor through the busyness of my loud heart, and God just wasn’t my priority. I was.

Now I find myself with my spiritual eyes open late at night. If I look around, I do not see anything. I am unable to speak because I would wake up my wife and our new dog. I open up my being to God’s presence and I listen to the silence. I remember Scriptures like Psalm 46:10a: “Be still and know that I am God.” I remember when Jesus himself was healing and preaching, surrounded by multitudes and yet the Gospel of Mark says he went to a quiet place to pray. If Jesus needed to recharge his spiritual batteries and seek the will of his father, so do I.

Whether it is silent listening, the art of speaking Scripture as prayers in Lectio Divina, or just quieting the soul in the midst of a loud culture, there is strength and refuge, peace and grace for all people who recognize God’s presence.

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” — Psalm 46:11

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church.

Follow him at

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A Word on Temple Run, Vision and Hope

Temple Run 2

Temple Run app shows we have the power to make things better in life

Published Friday, February 1, 2013
in “The Island Packet” Bluffton ed.


Last year a young person borrowed my phone and when she returned it, I noticed I had a new app.It was called Temple Run. This game came to mind because recently its sequel came out, and it has the same premise. You take a precious artifact, Indiana Jones style, and a giant apelike creature chases you through all sorts of traps from fire to holes. If you trip, you’re caught, and you must try again, and again … and again. I found it addicting, and as I played, I pondered the premise a bit.In the game, I am holding something that is precious. I cradle it to protect it and I have to exert all my mental and physical attributes to bring it into society for anthropology, for admiration, for the arts or for the common good.

It seems to fit into the old Protestant ethos: “If I work hard enough, good things will happen.”

With 6 million downloads in the first 24 hours of this game’s release, it seems to have struck something within us. Perhaps it is a need to have a purpose, to have an adventure, to do something good.

Do you remember in social studies class, when the class talked about the great voyages that circumnavigated the globe and the people who had to contemplate the cost of these voyages? The risk takers often had to convince the wealthy that the risks of adventure would pay off the debts the adventure would incur. Lives may be lost, great ships may be sunk, and fortunes lost.

To grow, eventually one has to take a leap of faith that goes beyond reason — because there are always reasons for and against all good things. Imagine if we had not made it to the moon, or if no one were willing to try out the first vaccinations.

So what risks are we supposed to take now? How cautious must we be as we look around the corner of the future? How big are we going to dream? How hard are we going to work to achieve these goals?

I want to see a cure for AIDS and the odd possibility of space colonies. I’d also like to see more understanding and nurturing for special needs people, as well as more cooperation among the peoples of various nations. I’d like to see children born into a world that wants them, and that gives all of them a chance for success and the support they need to achieve their own dreams. What are you reaching for?

True happiness and contentment does not come from more leisure and new games and gadgets. Even the pursuit of knowledge and all the work we do to earn a living — while these are good things — they ultimately do not fill us with hope.

Only by experiencing something bigger than ourselves, and accomplishing something that we once thought was impossible, are we going to shout with the joy we desire. I like to step outside of myself and seek the perspective of someone greater to guide me. I pray for a future that does not stagnate in what could have been, what isn’t or what can’t happen. I struggle but remember the words of the Apostle Paul, when he said: “I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the one who makes me who I am.”

Sometimes we get tired. It is good to rest for a while, but eventually we have to get up and do new things. With the confidence of knowing we are put in motion by the one who created each of us with purpose; start something new or continue to work toward the possible impossibility that good things still happen because we were made to make them so.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at Read his blog at

Temple Run 2

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Beginning in Youth Ministry: The Art of Perseverance

never give up churchill

Foundations for Youth Ministry: Perseverance

Albert Einstein is quoted often, saying “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results”  He may have been a physicist but it seems that he knew a bit about youth ministry too.  Youth Ministry is cyclical and many elements remain the same: our core truths and teachings, the liturgical calendar and the repetition of the cycles of middle and high school and then graduations.  We are often doing the same things over and over (though in varying and extremely creative ways).  Case in point: I’m so sick of pizza, but each generation of young people seem to gravitate towards it.  It blows my mind!

Here is a modification: “Youth Ministry: doing the same things over and over again, expecting wildly different results.”  Each person ministered to, whether part of a large or small youth group, over time will own their faith in sometimes extreme variations. I’m always surprised by the energy that explodes from empowered young people, and I love (absolutely LOVE) seeing their ideas become reality.

But the hard part of that same principle is the “doing the same things over and over.”  There is a repetition to ministry, and to relationships in general.  How many times do you ask “How are you doing this week?”  “What’s up?”  “How’s the family”  “What are your plans for the holidays?” “Who are you going to be?”  “How can I help you make your dreams reality?”  “Where is my phone?”  “Seriously! Who took my phone? …and my backpack …with my laptop?!”

Monotony and the ordinary challenges of this ministry (the almost parental worry; safety during events; the many awkward conversations; walking with the teen who has thrown off their faith), means that there is a serious burn out risk in the first year to 18 months of ministry.  Notice earlier that I made a correlation between insanity and youth ministry.  You don’t necessarily have to be insane to jump in, but over time, your heart has to be radically oriented towards care and love of those who so desperately need it.  You will need to constantly refresh your God orientation.  Otherwise, you’ll burn out.

How does one do youth ministry day after day, year after year, and dare I say decade after decade?  The easy answer is “Just do it.”  We all have to.  Young people are everywhere and they need adult guidance.  That helps me, but a more theological response is that ministry to the young is a sacred responsibility given to all of us.  No one can say, “I’m not made for this,” or “I’m too old.”  God has made us the stewards of not only the earth, but of the cultivation of future generations.

Deuteronomy Ch. 6:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

If the love of God is on your heart, share it continually and meticulously with those who are young.  The potential is great, and the results of your perseverance will change lives.  Don’t look at the short-term challenges (just face them).  The real rewards come at the back end.


(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)

Beginning in Youth Ministry: Making a Proper Foundation, Planning, and Philosophy

Philosophy Definition

Building a Philosophy of Youth Ministry

Khufu’s pyramid in Egypt was a limestone masterpiece that originally stood 488 ft, towering on the skyline and impressing people with the weight of its magnificence.  A people do not undertake such a massive project without knowing a few things about how to build or without a guiding philosophy about what needs to be accomplished.  Obviously there needs to be a strong foundation for such a heavy structure.  As the tower of Pisa highlights, when you build on soft ground, eventually what you build will be in danger of falling over.  If the structure is too top-heavy, it will collapse under its own weight.  Not to mention that you have to have access to stone and the relationships and leadership and labor to pull off such a massive scale project.

So what makes us think that we can go into such an important construction project like Youth Ministry without having a strong foundation and a vision for its growth?  Many have walked in with the mantra “Fake it ‘til you make it,” though that’s hardly ever a formula for true success in ministry.  There has to be clear guidelines for your leadership, your team, your students and the destiny of your ministry.  Remember that you are building for eternity in the hearts of young people.  Their lives will continue on in an everlasting line, and the trajectory of your ministry will be a strong parallel in their spiritual growth.  Like a good football coach or architect, you have to have a game plan to execute.

Take a few moments and vision out the goals of your ministry and build a framework based on biblical principles for how you’re going to accomplish your goals.   I begin with a simple purpose statement (see Doug Fields, “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry”), and ours is simply “Saint Andrew By-The-Sea’s youth ministry exists to create lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.”  It gets to the “Why” of what we are doing together.  Next, I dug into the scriptures, studied youth ministry a bit, and prayed through my passion to reach families and youth and discovered five principles that would guide our ministry.

A Short Youth Ministry Philosophy:

(1) Our ministry is Theological and Discipling in nature (Matthew 28:8-20). We need to encourage reflection on God’s work in the world (past, present, and future) and help students to live engulfed in God’s Word.  (2) We are a relational/incarnational presence in youth’s everyday lives (John 1:14).  (3) We are a family centered, equipping ministry (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16).  Parents are important to us, and by ministering to the whole family system, youth are better off and equipped to be strong and succeed in their faith journey.  (4) We are a life enabling and counseling as a community (John 13:34-35).  By connecting youth and families to one another, and by listening to the needs and concerns of all, we gain a glimpse of the Kingdom of God here and now.  (5) We are a team based ministry (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). Love is spelled T-I-M-E, and it takes a lot of it to build a relationship with a student and more to walk with them in faith.  Because of this, it is impossible for one Youth Worker/Leader/Pastor to reach out to all the students deeply, and simultaneously.

So what does your youth ministry foundation look like?  It may look a bit different.  Take some time and seriously consider what heights can stand on the foundation of God’s glory.

(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)

Beginning in Youth Ministry: Dealing with your Self (Identity and Remembrance)

Remembering The Past

“I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”  (Leviticus 26:12)

So far we have dealt with boldness and context.  Boldness being a necessary step in the endeavor of youth ministry, and is dependent on the working of the Holy Spirit.  Then an understanding of context gives us vision for whom we are reaching and how we are to go about it.  Meeting specific needs in a community makes sparks, bonding groups together and models servant ministry.  As a group begins to form, our greatest obstacle is often our own “self”.  Understanding our own growth as a young person is critical in ministry to youth today, and lets explore why.

Either read this, or have someone read this to you while you close your eyes, this will aid the memory:

Take a moment and imagine yourself as an adolescent, about the age of 13, perhaps 14 years old.  You wake up in your bed and look around.  What do you see? What color are the walls?  Is there a window?  Are they decorated with posters? Artwork? Is anyone else there?  School is starting soon.  What kind of clothes did you like and how do you wear them?  Are you trying to have a certain look?  You walk through your house grabbing what you need.  Who do you talk to?  Who do you tell “I love you,” to?  How do they reply?

Now you are on your way to school.  How do you get there? Is it a bus? If so, who do you sit with?  Who do you avoid?  What is important to know in this place?  As you arrive at school, what buildings surround you?  Where do you go and where do you want to go?  What colors are the hallways? Is there a teacher you remember and care about?  What classes do you like, or do not like at all?  Do you stand around or walk with a group you belong in?  What clothes do your friends wear?  What do they talk about?  Do they make you laugh? Or cry?  Or both?  How do you feel as you go from class to class?  Where do you want to be, and what will you do after school?

As you open your eyes, what did you experience? What memories that flooded to you; are there any faces that flash before your mind?  We all were young once, and remembering ourselves is important as we minister.  If we have a false sense of what it was like, and often we can impose our adult notions of reality on the young.  Their world isn’t much different than your world was, especially in how relationships work and how confusing life is in the years we discover our own identity.  Learning to be a grown up takes years of practice, and the transition from childhood is tumultuous as well as exciting!

God made this as a special phase, and understanding how you came to be “you”, will help as you reach out with compassion.  Always remember to remain an adult with safety and rules.  But also remember that as Christ walked among us and knew how we felt, we can bring the good news as we walk among them and transparently glow with Christ’s love to those we love.

(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)

Beginning in Youth Ministry: The Art of Pioneering

As a boy, I took part in a group called “Royal Rangers” which operated much like the Boy Scouts but with different colors and awards. Each year that I participated I was invited to attend the big camping event in Maine.  Hundreds of kids like myself would learn basic survival involving making fires, tying knots, lashing together huts, canoeing, and lots and lots of cooking. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the whole roasted pig we would later enjoy as a meal.  In these events, I would imagine myself as a wilderness pioneer exploring new territory.  Surely I wasn’t the best camper, but I had a huge imagination.  I enjoyed stories about pioneers like Daniel Boone, and the danger tales of the adult campers.  I realized that in leaving the concrete and painted world of civilization for the wilderness, there were challenges that one must overcome.  There were also processes and disciplines that kept oneself alive.

This paradigm of imagination remained with me as I began my studies in youth ministry.  Very early in my internships I realized that I was not in safe territory as I entered the world of young people.  Even as a college student, new culture was already being created and I had to ask what some simple exchanges between youth meant.  I felt uncomfortable in that period of time when I was charged with starting a small group Bible Study for Middle School students, which would then intensify in the first few awkward silences that occur when people of different age groups come together.  So I taught my lessons, I took attendance, I ran events and listened and learned.  It was a growing process involving sacrifice of my pride and giving in to the possibility of personal pain.

The same wilderness principles that I had learned from the rangers were applicable to this “survival” situation.  The goal was to create a meaningful series of relationships and programs that would strengthen young people’s faith.  To accomplish this task, I had to admit that I knew very little about this world, and I would have to observe, be patient, and hear the breathing of this particular community.   A process evolved of brainstorming and proclaiming solutions to problems (lack of excitement, lack of interest, lack of connection, lack of kindness, lack of Biblical appreciation and understanding), practicing the idea of the solution in the life of the youth community (being excited and contagiously so, hanging in the hallways and listening and responding to connect others together, being kind and teaching goodness, loving the Bible and teaching God’s ways through study, service and practice), and lastly reflecting on how the solutions fared and returning to brainstorming for the next big thing.  Many call this praxis, and in the beginnings of your ministry, I call this Pioneering.

You are the adventurers who have decided that young people are worthy of discomfort.  You leave you’re civilization and age group for periods of time to build bridges in youth culture to God and make a way.  Like a missionary (which you really are), you forge forward and patiently build paths that others can follow.  It is this process of Thinking, Acting, Reflecting and Acting again that ensures that you’re pioneering will have an impact.

Like Abraham, a call of God is on your heart and He has said, “Go.”  You respond and begin to act, and the seeds you sow will bring blessing after blessing.  Jesus’ disciples heard the call to “Go” to the world.  So I pray for you, new and veteran pioneers, who seek to be world changers by building paths that others can follow to your God.

(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)


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