Tag: Ministry Strategy

Big Thinking Can Lead To Even Bigger Doing

Big thinking can lead to even bigger doing


Published Monday, December 27, 2010

At a recent youth ministry convention in Nashville, I had the opportunity to attend a small group led by a man I had never met before, Shaun King. I went to hear King’s talk on how social media can change the world. I was interested in hearing more about this topic because I see Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare and other similar sites as potential resources for ministry.

Our youth group, for example, has its own page on Facebook and a profile on Twitter. I wanted to find out how we could use these sites for the greater good. Instead of simply learning, though, I became inspired by King’s stories. What struck me most wasn’t just that he had started the site http://www.twitchange.com, which used celebrity endorsements to raise money to purchase tents for people in Haiti, or that he has raised tons of money for causes in urban Atlanta — both of which are awesome achievements, of course; it was his almost pathological ability to think BIG that blew me away the most.

Big ideas, regardless of practicality or available resources, have the potential to change the world. Without big ideas, we wouldn’t have mass distribution or massive poverty relief agencies like World Vision. Shaun King, like other big thinkers, basically asks, “What is the need?” and then begins the process of coming up with unique and creative ways to provide for that need. As humanity becomes more globally aware, big dreams become more and more necessary, and we need to talk about how these ideas come about.

Big ideas often start in small places. There was a time when the billionaires behind the computer revolution were garage hobbyists on the fringe of mainstream ideas. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were once eccentrics with a vision for something new — and their dreams are what fuel our “Tron”-like lifestyles. Because of big thinkers like them (and electrons), grandparents can talk to their progeny across the world through Skype and Facebook.

Big ideas come from unexpected places. Plato’s “Myth of Metals” speaks about how everyone has a sort of metal mixed in their soul. Some, fit for ruling, are mixed with gold. Others, the warriors, are mixed with silver; and the last, the producers, are mixed with iron or bronze. The philosopher pointed out that no one knows which metal a person has until they have been observed. While the myth seems classist, it is quite revolutionary in ancient paternal societies, in that it emphasizes the potential of every person to prove his or her worth by quality and merit. The takeaway is that the lowliest person, even those living in abject poverty with no attributed merit or rank, can rise above and bring about the transformation of the immediate community, and, through time, the entire world.

A final thought on big ideas: All big ideas mean sacrifice. If something is worth anything to a person, it has to become a passion to spread to others. When changers of the future tell stories, you hear in their voices that they have given up much for what they believe in. I sometimes wonder how the president feels when he wakes up and realizes he can’t play with his daughters as often as he likes because he has to build relations in Asia. And I’m going to guess Shaun King would probably like to spend more time with his wife, but tents need to find their way to Haiti. In the gospel of Luke 14:33, Jesus says, “Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” If that seems tough, one must ask, “Do I believe in the cause?”

Missionaries and aid workers around the globe sleep in bags rather than on a mattress in solidarity with those they care about. And from sacrifice, wells are built, food is delivered and young people are educated. All these things help build a foundation for a better world for future generations. At last we ask ourselves: What are the Big Ideas for us? Who will dream them up? And how much are we willing to sacrifice in order to transform the world?

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

Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.

A New Kind of Sacred – Contemplating Cultural Religion

Prelude: There is a new term out there for the up and coming Generation, and its “Millenial”.  Basically anyone born after 1980.  We are people who have watched it grow, or have always known of the internet.  I’ve read in the book “Me, Myspace, and I” that in contrast to other generations, we are very different.  I suppose because the greatest technological advance ever (more people on earth), tech and symbol and communication, and everything are changing more rapidly than ever before.  “Change” is the “stability” in my opinion.  While people will want more things not to change, culture is leaving those people behind.  These same people realize it, and then adapt as well, and they enter the Millenials world.  Our technology is people, our stability is change, and our expectations on society and culture are huge.  The whole world must change for us, by us, and our energy produces little in tangible goods.  Since machines do most of the labor, our generation does not produce warriors, or food, or product on the whole.  We consume these things.  We produce thoughts, songs, entertainments, and endless ways to escape.  That transcendence that we are looking for, produces its own religion.  Its not even materialism anymore.  That was a scary thing and we are surrounded by its effects.  But our religion is “Creation-ism”.  We have been told we can do anything, and so we are trying to accomplish the impossible.  The impossible to us, is not doing regular work – it is being a star.  So we have religious leaders.

Watch this video and read on:

Radiohead and Experience: My friend posted this on facebook today.  Its of the band “Radiohead”, an incredibly influential band in my generation.  Like many bands, they have symbols to be known by.  The dim lights, the technology surrounding them, the sounds that they make which are unique to the experience they provide.  And they work hard to create a space that people can experience in their presence.  It is an incredibly serious task.  It involves who they are (in the lyrics and the sounds their instruments make), it involves the sacred space (the place between the artist and the consumer (where the symbols are given and received and interpreted and appreciated), and there is a transcendence that elevates a person beyond normal existence (one does not experience the world like a concert in normal life).  In a world that is less and less religious, Radiohead, and countless other bands, provide a religious experience that changes peoples lives.  They leave the concert saying to themselves, “Something” happened here.  And they never forget whatever happened to them.  They process it and it stays with them for the rest of their life.  It becomes a marker, and they try to re-experience it over and over, but nothing is like the real thing- Radiohead, in person.

Religions Ferver All Over: Religion is popping up everywhere.  The passion that people used to direct toward God is now focused in other realms.  Politics, War Strategy, Patriotism, Charity Work, Entertainment, Celebrity, Family, and many other parts of living as a human in community.

A few hundred years ago, one would have had to go to a John Edward’s sermon to have a life altering experience, or a sermon by Whitfield, or Wesley, or Finney, or whatever missionary roved about.  Now the bands move from city to city, popular culture gives meaning to my fellow millenials.  There is no pulpit, but there are microphones and synthesizers. And they are listening to the sounds, whether the artists know whats moving through them or not.

I wonder what God is doing with all this?  I wonder how much of this is healthy?

The Church and a Response: Some churches are looking at this and making worship services that reach the Gen-X crowd (who were anti-program and institution in nature – think X-Files), and some are moving beyond and seeing that millennials are different and seek more intense transcendent experiences involving light and sound, that convey a moment where they are completely open to receive the Gospel.  But their quest isn’t always a healthy one considering how expensive the experiences they demand cost.  Think how much a concert ticket costs, and wonder a bit about how much you are willing to pay to go and experience worship of God.  Interesting, no?

Conclusion: All things are ultimately in the hands of a great God who will rule over all people with justice and love – and I wonder how it will all mix when Radiohead fans meet up with the peoples of ancient cultures, and all make some show of their appreciation to God for the gift of music in our lives.

New world, new symbols, but humans are still the same.  We always need a few basics, even when we want alot of things that distract us.

A Thought on Youth Group Names/Logos

Here are some Youth Group Names/Logos I’ve been involved in:

(1) Gravity

(website) – Gravity was a student chosen name, the tag line is “Experience the Pull” and the Logo represents all the values of the Youth Ministry.  The Logo is always in the background reminding the students of the values each time its explained.

(2) Surf (website) – Surf was in place at my current youth ministry as an Acronym, but it matched the ethos of the Island that we live on, full of beaches.

Here is the blog post I’m responding to: Why I am Sorta Against Youth Group Names by Architecht

I recently read this article on Youth Group names and I didn’t think it was a big deal to me until I realized as I wrote my response that I didn’t agree.  That perhaps it was a matter of perspective, and seeing a name and logo in its proper context, you might be able to utilize it well.  (I’ve included two Logo/Names I’ve worked on developing, and then added the link to the blog I’m responding to, and then my response.)

Here is my response:

For branding purposes, it isn’t an issue of whether you have a name, or don’t have a name.  The key is to have a vital ministry that meets needs.  If you are doing a great job, the name won’t matter, people will call it what they want to call it.  It may be called “An awesome place” or High School Ministry, or “Powerhouse” – whatever.  As long as your space is a place where students feel comfortable, your ministry has stable leadership, and the purposes of youth ministry are being met, does it really matter?

In the long run though, youth ministry names sometimes do make a difference.  After about four years of a stable youth ministry, it is good to have a brand presence so that students who are thinking about their discipleship (and especially for creative/visual) students, to have an anchor point in their mind as to what is the place they are working out their identity.  Say your youth ministry is called “Refresh” and the logo is the word, with a symbol of water (for baptism or the holy spirit or being refreshed experientially), and it is effectively utilized on letterhead to parents and students, it is on tshirts for trips, on calendars and informational packets, it is on posters around the youth room, and on web presence (facebook, youth website, and downloadable images).

When you hit that saturation point, students can draw the logo on their book covers at school and it fulfills two good purposes.  (1) They remember the goodness and fullness of your program.  They know they belong somewhere and that symbol denotes that relationship.  (2) It advertises to others the fact that your ministry exists.  When another student asks what the logo means, the student (if you’ve spent the time to explain the name and logo to the kids) can tell the other what the ministry means to them.  “It is my youth group.  It is where I have people that care about me.  It is where I meet Jesus.  It is where I grow as a person.”  All these things can be associated with a visual element to your ministry – and denoted in a name.

I believe that is very important, and if stuck out, becomes a vital part of a ministry.  If your logo gets used by the church in promos for youth group, the youth see that they are part of the overall church, and that their presence matters.  All because of a name and a logo tagged to an experience.  Then again, if your group is not a good experience at all, then why promo it at all?

Don’t rely on a logo or a name – make it part of the whole – the good – and let it be associated under the banner of Christ.

Pass It On: Happy Birthday Jesus (I would Bounce Jump w u)

Despite this being really really sad, I thought this might hit a nerve.  Personally, I think that if someone held a Birthday for Jesus, more people would show up.  Perhaps Santa was having a Party down the street, but w 2,000,000,000 or so worshipers, you’d think he’d get two or three of the kids out.

Happy 2007 or so birthday!

Should Youth Ministers Do Seminary?

I read the same tweet that Walt Meuller read, which was sent by the highly influential pastor Rick Warren, which said:   “It takes about 10 yrs of local church pastoring to lose the arrogance u pick up in seminary, otherwise u likely won’t lose it.”  Walt blogged on his thoughts on the possible link between seminary and arrogance here: http://learningmylines.blogspot.com/2009/10/rick-warren-and-seminary.html – it is a very good blog for those thinking about going to seminary.  Walt really breaks with Rick’s notion that arrogance comes from the knowledge of Seminary, and rather states that pride and arrogance, already embedded in the heart of the seminarian, merely comes out as they are propped (or puffed) up by all the data flowing into and often out of the brain.

But I want to tackle the question for those in youth ministry who are struggling with the decision of whether or not to do seminary.  It is a harder decision for the youth worker, because most churches do not require us to have a Master of Theology/Divinity or even a Masters at all.  Because the bias is towards younger ministers, often youth ministry comes directly out of the undergrad experience, with fresh blood constantly flowing into and unfortunately quickly out of the field of professional youth ministry.  But if youth ministry is to be a Profession, we need to take a serious  look into the pros and cons of the Seminary experience, and whether or not it benefits more than detracts from the practical aspect of youth ministry.

Trying to play the devil’s advocate, why would seminary be a bad thing for the youth worker?

(1) A common complaint is that seminary can burn one out spiritually, and steer the potential youth worker towards scholarly work rather than practical ministry. Especially in highly academic schools like Gordon-Conwell, where I attended and graduated, it is intimidating to tell someone that you’re life’s purpose is to work with youth – your whole life – when a good portion of your peers are talking Ph’D’s and trying to emulate the professors.  As the practical theologian, you really have to hold your ground and have great discipline, as you balance your work load with the relationships and shepherding of yourself and your flock of youth.  But that is a matter of wrestling with your own identity and pride, and the professional youth worker will end up refined and more determined despite the sometimes lonely path of seminary.  If anything, the continued force of praxis (working out your theology and studies in the context of ministry) will thrust your insights and theology further along than those who have not stepped out of the books.  You live your theology and are testing the faults, working through the inconsistencies.  You will be stronger.

(2) Another complaint is that by incurring Seminary debt and taking the next three to four years, you will not be able to support yourself in youth ministry after seminary. Though it is true of youth ministry as a field, that you are competing with young and often less debt burdened men and women, who can take lower salaries, it is not true that you won’t be able to find a church that will be able to support your ministry.  There are churches all across the country that are somewhat burned by young ministers who were testing their theories without proper hind or forsight as to the implications theologically and practically. These same ministers who only stay less than two years at a ministry, leaving students who have an 8 year cycle at a church, off balance spiritually, and hungry for stability that perhaps a more experienced and tested youth minister/director might bring.  When families desire to invest in their children spiritually after a time of trouble, they often put pressure on their church boards, committees, ministers, and congregations to bring on a fully supported, educated, and identity stable minister who will be able to provide vision and stability for 10 – 20 years.  They realize that this person will likely have a higher debt burden, perhaps have a family, and will need a higher living wage.  By careful research and going through proper channels, and a proper dependence on God for provision, the education is a worthy expense.  As you bring your wisdom to the youth of the congregation and equip whole families, you can convince the people of the churches that Professional youth ministers are worthy of their wages.   Just make sure to reinvest heavily when a congregation invests in you.

(3) There are probably some in the midst of ministry saying, “I am too busy in ministry to stop and take classes.” I think that this can be just as prideful as those who go to Seminary to puff themselves up with knowledge.  I know that Americans take great pride in what they are “doing” and we often have to discover the ability to just  Be with people, just listen, to stop and be silent, to build a hospitable environment, or to realize that sacred space occurs often randomly for human beings.  Work, for many of different generations, is where we find meaning, and often quality takes a bystander role when there are numbers to produce, and vision to sell, volunteers to train, sermons to preach, and music to be practiced and made.  There is always a retreat to plan for, and there are always emails to write, but this busyness becomes an idol.  God doesn’t like idols, even if that idol is our ministry.  If you are too busy to even take one Seminary class, you may be in a dangerous zone.  I’ve known quite a few people who didn’t finish their seminary degrees in the allotted 3 years of full time studying.  Many have taken 12-15 years to complete the work all while doing full time ministry.  Like any discipline, you make the time.

(4) Lastly, it seems logical to say that Youth Ministers will be come less relevant in their time in seminary, and thus, less effective in reaching out to youth.  But is this really true? It is my inclination, and doing a quick think through of my acquaintances during seminary, to respond that whether one goes to seminary or not, some people are just “Cool” to youth, and some people are “Uncool.”  Long before one goes to seminary, one has been formed in their identity, and will either continue in their “Coolness” or “Uncoolness”.  The problem with this thinking in general, however, is that one does not need to be Cool to do youth ministry.  One can be completely effective as a youth director by coordinating a team of adult leaders who are all on different points in the scales of Relevance.  We would think that everyone on the youth team needs to be young and Cool, but that’s not true.  Why?  Because most students in your schools are not “Cool” either.  You need Uncool leaders (perhaps yourself) to relate and lead those in all castes of your youth.  In my past I’ve seen Grandfather figures give wisdom to those seeking wisdom, I’ve seen business execs impart courage and confidence in games of basketball, I’ve seen complete oddballs rounding up the strange youth among us for impromptu games of hilarity and fun.  All these things are contagious and Seminary doesn’t change who we are, nor should it.  If anything, Seminary should test you and further affirm who you are.  It is refining.

So what is the positive side to this?  Pondering this can be overwhelming at times.  But we can remind ourselves that all youth ministers should be life long learners, always finding out our dead zones and deciding to fill them up with the life of God’s wisdom and the learned experience of the community. Seminary does something that often we find hard to do in our own lives, and that is creating a learned pause for deep thought and study.  It forces us to put aside a sacred space/time with people devoted to your development, to discipline ourselves in contemplation and adoration of the God who made us.  Like all disciplines in life, Seminary needs to be done in Faith, despite the cost analysis of taking on the experience.  You cannot put a value to the experience of being completely worn out, pushed to your limits, and being placed prostrate before your Creator, crying, like Job: “You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I – and  I was talking about things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!  I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.  I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.’”  Like Walt Meuller mentions in his blog: You learn what you do not know, and are humbled by that.

So back to the original question that titles this blog: “Should Youth Ministers Do Seminary?”  Absolutely, but more than just doing Seminary, we are free to experience what God has for us in that sacred space.

“Better Than Good” – Surf Youth Group Series

Last Sunday I started a series at Surf Youth Groups called “Better Than Good”. The premise being that being Good is the baseline.  We are supposed to do our chores, our jobs, our schoolwork, and keep ourselves presentable for other people (hygiene for those of you who didn’t pick up on that).  But that eventually becomes tiresome.  We stop growing after we’ve mastered how to routinize our everyday responsibilities.  We can be doing “Good” but somehow we know that in order to grow, we need to be and do something “Better”.  This is why its titled Better Than Good.

So my last week, our first week in this series, I read portions of Philippians 4, where Paul is commending the Philippian church for their support of him.  He was sure that he was able to bear his challenges in life in Poverty and in Wealth, but his load was made lighter by this church who had given to him to alleviate some of Paul’s resume (which in his previous writings, are all instances of suffering for the Gospel). Paul was content to suffer for Christ, and the Philippians did not have to help Paul.  Yet they did. They were Better Than Good.

Then, I challenged them to get around tables and talk about how they could be “Better Than Good” in four areas and the results were quite fruitful.

(1) Home – The results primarily dealt with attitudes.  They do what they have to, but students don’t always like to do what they have to.  Attitude and doing work with joy was a primary gift to help out families.

(2) Church – Here, participation in church worship, and volunteering more in the church community (acolytes, ushering, reading scripture, service, etc.) was highest on the list to help out.

(3) Community – The response to this element was overwhelming.  It is obvious that youth are heavily involved in their communities, and they love to think up new ways to serve those who have need around them.  From serving those with certain disabilities to doing random community service projects, this category was as infused with thought and energy as you’d imagine.  Young idealism is the best kind, and we plan on making these ideas become reality at a Service Oriented Lock-In early October.

(4) Globe – Here, many students mentioned becoming missionaries (short and long term), and primarily thought about poverty relief in other nations.  I’m thinking of partnering with a UMC Advance project, and we hope to begin taking an offering soon that would support that adopted project somewhere in the Globe.

So all in all, it was a very successful beginning to the series.  Next week we’ll be talking about being “Better Than Good” in our individual lives, so that when we help others, we are giving them a vessel filled with God’s Holy Spirit, and doing God’s will rather than just leading our own (sometimes destructive) paths.

Let me know if you have any questions or have any ideas for me to include in the series (comment below).

Should We Give Money to the Church? (A Letter on Tithing)

On Tithing: This is a response to a friend of mine, who was expounding on Tithing after hearing of a girl’s worshipful experience in giving to the church, and did not see a New Testament mandate to do so.  I thought it was an interesting statement, but I saw it from a different perspective which I present here for you to read. If you need any more context, feel free to ask questions in the comment section below.  Now, on Tithing.

Thanks for your thoughts, Friend. I come down on the issue very differently, and for several reasons. The “tithe” is a concept that runs throughout the course of human history and doesn’t merely come as a church/law sponsored act. Anytime a group of people decide that they would like to set aside a portion of the people for special tasks (building a government building, providing food for the poor, paying for teachers for children), some portion of the profit (be it food, product, services, or coin representing labor) is given to what the community deems as “the good”. The Babylonians had a form of tithing before Abraham came from Chaldea.

Also before the law, Abraham gives a portion of the spoils, which he gained saving Lot in a massive battle of City Kings, to Melchizedek (The Priest of the God Most High). Before that, both Cain and Abel were giving a portion of their labor to God as an act of worship/thankfulness.

The New Testament in Acts shows the early believers in Christ, in an act of idealism, selling all their possessions and giving them for the redistribution to the poor, and they began living communally. The church didn’t remain in this practice, but it was a gesture of their thankfulness to God for bringing such amazing peace and coming from the Heavens and legitimizing the flesh by becoming one of us. Reminding us of our dignity in the Imago Dei (God’s Image within us). In Christ, we are made free to serve God and not evil. Thankfulness shows many and varied responses, and people through the centuries have shown their thankfulness in many ways – and giving of our labor (represented in coin and paper) should not be looked down upon. It is an honorable act of faith and good will.

Though building projects, and pastors salaries, budgets to provide teaching supplies, and food for celebration – all these things – they don’t hold up well against the amazing thought that Christ will reign over a New City (Isaiah, Revelations) that we do not have to build. In the meantime, we are allowed to decide whether we want to meet in a field, in a home, or in a basilica. If it is done with a right heart, as an act of worship, it should not be placed low or ridiculed.

All the universe is God’s creation, and in all things we do we can worship and love Him passionately. Without being too critical, I would like to say that I’m on the side of the girl who felt worshipful in the act of giving. It is not easy to give. To argue against her response would be like keeping Mary from using her prized perfume on Jesus’ feet. If it is in her heart, let her do it legitimately, and lets not make her feel ashamed of her love for God.

Thanks again. Your passion always impresses me.