Organic Youth Ministry

The pandemic as shifted ministry all together. As churches made the difficult decision to not meet in person in order to protect their most vulnerable members, many lost the connections with one another. We have discussed this in podcasts in the last few months. While we can grieve for what is lost, we need to find ways to move forward. In this podcast, I talk with a pastor/dad/youth leader about what youth ministry looks like in his church and home.

Joe and his wife have seven children that range in age from eight to twenty one. I admire their approach to ministry. They just do life and welcome those around them into their daily routine. They are open and welcoming to everyone and share their faith when conversation arises during meals or video games. I believe this the future of ministry. For years, we have been so caught up worrying about programs that we have lost the importance of relationships. Jesus modeled this for us as he traveled with his disciples and others. They sat together, ate together, walked together and prayed together. Somehow in the midst of “doing church,” we all began to focus on the craft, the game, what food to serve or even the best curriculum and compartmentalized life, faith, and ministry.

These are sweeping generalizations. There are some churches, some pastors, some youth groups that made sure relationships remained at the forefront; however, I continue to chat with youth leaders who are struggling to find committed adults to build relationships with our young people. If we do not take responsibility to pass on our faith and our story, then who? Organic ministry is simplified ministry.

Take a listen as Joe and I talk about how he has forged these relationships with teens of all different walks of life right in his own home. It’s an amazing testimony of life and faith converging into one.

TikTok Challenges: Being In The Know

During the pandemic, young people were stuck in their homes, unable to go to school or socialize face to face with friends. However, they did find a place to “gather” that gave them a common bond. Tik Tok, a video-sharing app owned by a Chinese company launched worldwide in 2018 according to Wikipedia. It existed a couple years before the pandemic shutdown; however, Tik Tok launched into a frenzy of popularity, especially for those of us outside of Gen Z, after March 2020. In fact, if you ask a young person, they can reminisce about all the trends that happened each month of the pandemic. One of those trends since so many families were spending all day together, all ages began working together to create dance moves and other content for the app. Celebrities got in on the fun as well. Even though we were stuck at home without new movie releases or live concerts, we did get a peek into the lives of stars like Justin and Hailey Bieber and JLo through their personal Tik Tok accounts. There are a number of people who rose to Tik Tok fame in the last two years. Here are a few with the number of followers, in millions: Charli D’Amelio (126.8), Khabane Lame (117.2), Addison Rae (85.2), Bella Poarch (83.8), Zach King (66). For a comparison of stars: Justin Bieber (22.9), JLo (14.1), Will Smith (63.4). (Please note these numbers were at the time of publishing this, they go up by the thousands daily.)

Why should we, adults who live and work with young people, care about TikTok? We barely have time to be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, why add another app? We need to be aware of the “world” where our young people are spending their time. While we do not have to live there with them, and be careful because TikTok can be a bit of a rabbit hole this is difficult to get out of, we do need to be aware of what they are watching and to whom they are giving their time.

By now, you hopefully have heard about the Devious Licks challenges that were going around in schools this fall. If not, Google it and take a look. It started as vandalizing bathrooms, and next was supposed to move to slapping teachers, video recording these and posting them on social media. Schools came down hard on offenders and hopefully, have put and end to the trend. A positive trend that start in response was Angelic Yields where students began putting items such as lotions, soaps and even a coffee pot into the bathrooms as their schools to oppose the vandalism trend.

A word of advice as well. TikTok, like other social media, uses an algorithm and will show you videos that match your habits. So, for instance I see videos about cooking, crafts, devotions and general soccer mom stuff. So, you will need to have a conversation with and possibly sit down next to your young person to watch their TikTok in order to be in their world. You may think that they will not want to share or will shy away from you being in their business, but the opposite is quite true. Many times, you will surprise them with your interest in their lives. Just watch and ask questions, do not criticize. If you view something you do not like or disagree with, ask the young person their thoughts or opinions and then respond with your feelings using “I” statements.

Take a listen to this podcast where a pastor, youth leader and I talk about all of this and respond to this growing social media application.

Living in Groundhogs Day

As October comes to an end, and we contemplate ministry this fall/winter, we are still faced with the difficulties of living during this pandemic in a very devasive political climate. For many church leaders, especially youth leaders, not much has changed in twelve months except the number of children and teens who are suffering from this virus. So, where does that leave us? How do we navigate a ministry when so many factors are in play?

While being out talking with youth leaders, many are struggling with similar roadblocks. Here are just a few:

  • It is difficult to know who is even a part of the youth group.
  • Volunteers are gone or those around do not want to give of their time anymore
  • Feeling weary and tired. Being creative and finding new ways to reach teens is exhausting
  • There has not been a break in 18 months
  • Do we meet face to face? Outside or inside? Wear masks or not? Social distance at youth group?
  • What does the future look like for youth ministry?

Here is one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give right now. Through all of these questions, exhaustion and uneasiness. Keep the main thing the main thing. Work on relationships. Reach out to teens, their parents and volunteers. Do not worry about how many are showing up for face to face events at the church, keep track of how many interactions (text, social media, phone calls, cards and conversations in the community) you have in a week. Use your time to reach out to them and even meet them where they are (if policies and health permits). Do not keep the expectations we had prior to March of 2020 that our “youth group” happens at the church. It is time we move away from the old model for ministry and start to shape what discipleship with young people will look like post-pandemic.

We address some of these questions in this podcast. But I will continue to address these complications in this blog as we move forward into 2022. Please subscribe and check back.

Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

Chasity and I discuss the book we are currently reading in our book club this month. It’s a great one! John Mark Comer takes us through his own struggle in finding quiet, peace and sabbath in his own life. He talks about hurry is not from God and how it can in face separate us from God. Take a listen, even if you haven’t read the book. You may be inspired to reflect on this hurried life we all lead and actually do something different.

We have monthly book clubs that meet the last week of the month. You do not need to read the book to be a part of the conversation. There are four different options and can be found here: https://www.eocumc.com/youngpeople/yln.html

You kind find the book on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Ruthless-Elimination-Hurry-emotionally-spiritually/dp/1529308380/ref=sxts_b2b_sx_reorder_v3_customer?crid=2HVY059J268NZ&cv_ct_cx=the+ruthless+elimination+of+hurry&dchild=1&keywords=the+ruthless+elimination+of+hurry&pd_rd_i=1529308380&pd_rd_r=1be43837-fe3b-44e6-b14e-0697baaa612a&pd_rd_w=pCz2X&pd_rd_wg=bq6Qr&pf_rd_p=957bd7e3-74ac-4a2b-82e1-84ce13da595b&pf_rd_r=453QKFKMJ8J9321A3DQW&qid=1634746497&sprefix=ruthless%2Caps%2C331&sr=1-1-722db4e4-77fc-4fb6-8cee-654ad16ce1d5

Podcast: (Can be found on iTunes as well.)

Who Is Your Eli?

The story of Eli and Samuel has been on my heart a lot lately. If you don’t know it, you can find it below. But the gist of it is about Eli, who is a priest, who is taking care of Samuel, who is the son of Hannah. They are asleep (in different rooms, following Safe Sanctuary policies!) and young Samuel keeps coming in and waking Eli up because he thinks Eli is speaking to him. He does this three times before Eli says, maybe it’s God speak to him and to go back and ask God what He has to say to Samuel. By the way, I play this out in my head like a typical youth leader. After all, how many times have we been woken up by a youth? The first time, ok, the second time I hear Eli, “For the love of God, go back to sleep!” And the third time, I seriously wonder if Eli just makes up the whole God thing to shut up Samuel and keep him in his bed? Whatever the case, it works and God does speak to Samuel. This was the beginning of Samuel, the prophet, listening to God for the rest of his life.

So, what does Eli and Samuel have to do with you? Well, I bet that you can think of a time in your teenage life when an adult that you did not live with, took time to talk to you, listen to you and spend time with you. If you grew up in a church, this person may have even shared the love of God with you, taught you about Jesus and prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide you. If you are lucky, you can think of more than one adult who poured into your life. I bet you have a name and a face in your mind as you read this blog. These people are very special to us and helped shaped who we become as adults. Our “Eli (s)” are people we hold close to our hearts for our entire lives.

The next question I must ask is, “Who is your Samuel?” As adults, our story does not end with us. We have a legacy to pass on. As Christians, that legacy is our faith, and it is up to us to share our story and God’s story with another generation. As parents, it is easy to share with our own children. But that is not enough. Studies show that in order for young people to stick with their faith into adulthood, they need five adults in their lives leaving a positive impact.*(See note below.) I’m not a mathematician, but I think I can handle this equation. If there happens to be two parents in a teen’s life, it doesn’t add up. They need teachers, coaches, neighbors, friends and yes, congregational members who are engaged in their lives. And these adults need to be of all ages and stages of life. Teens today do not need us for information, they have Google. But they do need us to share our life experiences and to give them a listening ear. How will they know if the messages that are coming at them from all around are of God? Are true? Are valuable? So, again, I ask, “Who is your Samuel?”

I get the question all the time, “How do we get young people into our church?” The answer is complex and takes more than this blog to answer. But step one, if every member doesn’t have a Samuel, it won’t happen. I am sure you are asking yourself, where do I find a young person and will they want to talk to me? Start in your family. How many actual conversations have you had with a young person in your extended family lately? Especially beyond a text? What about your neighborhood? Even the young person who checks you out at WalMart or Wendy’s. Do you take time to engage them in conversation? This is the starting point. Be aware of those around and allow the Spirit to open doors for the relationship.

In the podcast today, I talk with one of my Eli’s, my Jr. High youth pastor who just happens to be my father-in-law. I was fortunate enough to have several Christian adults in my life to help shape and mold me. They are the reason I serve in the capacity I do now. These adults talked with me, listened to me, allowed me grace when I messed up and even let me cry on their shoulder when I thought my world was falling apart. Take a listen, be inspired and comment below about your Eli. Then, challenge yourself to think about your Samuel(s).

1 Samuel 3: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel%203&version=NLT

Sticky Faith research: https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/stickyfaith

Listen to “Practically_Honest_Who’s_Your_Eli” on Spreaker.

Leading Into New Territory

Change is hard. We love the safety of the familiar. When we do things the same way, week after week, month after month, year after year, we know how to prepare and what to expect. But what happens when the world changes around us, even when we continue in the safety of our routine?

Our children are growing up in a very different world than we did, and it is time we develop new maps for them. I remember days of getting up in the morning, jumping on my bike, without a helmet, and taking off with my friends. I came home when I got hungry for my bologna sandwich only to take off again until the street lights came on. Adults talk about “the good ol’ days” all the time. But yet, we have created a world that is both expanding and shrinking where our maps and methods are antiquated.

Tim Elmore talks about the need for new maps in his book, “Marching Off the Map.” Ironically, he wrote this prior to the pandemic; however, it speaks even more into our situation today. Elmore does an outstanding job laying out the “Why, What, and How” for educators, coaches, youth leaders, parents and employers of the younger generations. With all the research and insight in this book, those of us leading young people are hard pressed not to change the approach we take to connect with those we seek to lead.

You can find the podcast where we talk about our responses and highlights of the book here. Do yourself, and the young people in your life a favor and read this outstanding book. It will open your eyes.

Reframing Ministry Post-Pandemic

The past year has been challenging to say the least.  The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives and our ministries, but we have also learned some lessons about what is truly important in youth ministry. Many of us are looking towards a relaunch of our youth ministry, because we cannot just go back to doing what we have always done. Leaders from Holston, East Ohio and South Carolina Annual Conferences have come together to create a coaching program to help youth leaders rethink, refocus, reimagine and relaunch ministries. The cohort is set up to include four group coaching sessions and in between the group meetings there will also be individual coaching sessions.  This podcast shares some insight into our thoughts on reframing ministry post pandemic as we discuss rethinking, refocusing, reimagining and relaunching ministry.

Please fill out this form if you are interested in joining a cohort:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1_G_8jsnH7vsc04w7MRMY4hN1v6gxb0JGenCiCJQbfjw/edit

Podcast:

One Year Later

On the anniversary of the day our world began to shut down, I invited some of my crew to talk about what we have learned, how we survived and who we have become during this past year. We also begin the discussion about moving forward. The other lesson we share in this podcast is the importance of finding your “crew” to journey with you. No matter your profession, we have all been called. You crew shares in the call and supports you through it. Find your crew! It makes things like a pandemic way easier!

Podcast:

https://www.spreaker.com/user/practicallyhonest/practically-honest-one-year-later

The History of Black History Month

I do not remember. being a white student in a predominately white small town in Ohio, ever celebrating Black History Month. February was a time to recognize President’s Day when I was growing up. We did not learn much at all about African Americans who had contributed to the history of our country. However, the idea of dedicating a month to celebrating African Americans has been long in the making.

In 1915 historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Dr. Woodson initiated the first Negro History Week in February 1926. He picked this week because it included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Dougalss, two key figures in the history of African Americans.

President Ford, in 1975, issued a message on the Observance of Black History Week urging all Americans to “recognize the important contribution made to our nation’s life and culture by black citizens.” Then in 1976 the commemoration of black history in the United States was expanded by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to the whole month and President Ford issued the first message on the observance of Black History Month.

1986 saw the passage of Public Law 99-244 by Congress which designated February 1986 as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” This law noted that February 1, 1986 would “Mark the beginning of the sixtieth annual public and private salute to Black History.” The law further directed the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe February 1986 as Black History Month with the appropriate ceremonies and activities. President Regan issued Presidential Proclamation 5443 which proclaimed that “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity.” This proclamation stated further that this month was a time “to celebrate the many achievements of African Americans in every field, from science and the arts to politics and religion.”

The 1619 Project was launched in August of 2019, on the 400th year anniversary of slavery in the United States. This initiative, started by The New York Times Magazine, aims to reframe our country’s history by “putting the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. You can find the link to this project here:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html

Why do we need to celebrate Black History Month? This is a question we wrestle with in the podcast. We reference a Morgan Freeman interview on 60 Minutes from 11 years ago. Here is a link to that interview:

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=morgan+freeman+on+black+history+month+full+interview

In response to this question and Freeman’s conversation, is this quote from Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Director of Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture:

“I would suggest that you can tell a great deal about a people, a country by what it deems important
enough to remember, what they built monuments to celebrate, what graces a country’s museums or
what holidays they embrace. Yet I would argue that we learn even more about a country by what it
chooses to forget, what it cloaks in silence. Nowhere is this silence more deafening then when countries
are confronted with the issue of slavery and the slave trade.”

So, the need for Black History Month exists still because we still do not have a true representation in our history books of slavery in our country and all the contributions made by African Americans in this country.

Take a listen to the podcast as we discuss this and much more. Please give us a like, follow and share and leave us your comments.

https://www.spreaker.com/show/practically-honest-with-kaye-wolfinger

The Importance of Diversity

In this podcast we explore the reasons why a diverse representation on any board, company or group is so important. We really stretch ourselves and truly grow when we are able to work with people who are not exactly like us. As we start to expand our circle and learn from others, we gain a deeper understanding of how and why people are who they are which helps us understand ourselves even better. This diversity includes and is not limited to race, socioeconomic, gender and age. In the church, we especially see the lack of diversity in leadership positions. Take a few minutes and really think about who is making the decisions around you, what is on TV, what movies are made, what books get written and promoted, who is teaching your children, etc.

There are a few questions you should be sure you make a part of the conversation of the team when you start to include different voices. Some suggested in the Podcast are:

  • Who are you? (How do you define yourself?)
  • What similarities do you have with others in your group?
  • What differences do you have?
  • How can those similarities and differences define your group?

Once we recognize the need for new, different and diverse people to invite to be a part of the conversation, it becomes a priority to be intentional about invitations. However, it is vital that the invitation is not just for a person(s) to fill a spot, but to have a voice. The hardest part about having new voices is listening to new ideas and being willing to change our thinking and the way we “have always done” things. If the groups does not acknowledge the importance of having an open mind to others’ thoughts, then the inclusive effort will fail. Having open and honest conversations about our own feelings of fear or trepidations of change and new ideas is all a part of inclusivity. The most successful move forward includes partnerships and mentoring relationships and we work to understand one another.

So, take a few minutes and ask yourself where are the places in my life that would benefit from conversations with others that are different from me? How can you reach out to new, diverse and different people in order to invite them into these spaces and places? What will it take for you to listen and grow from these relationships?

Please share your experiences with us and enjoy our podcast. Leave us any thoughts, and like and share this with others.

Book referenced in podcast: https://shop.fulleryouthinstitute.org/products/growing-young

Podcast:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-honest-with-kaye-wolfinger/id1434070440?uo=4