Teenager of the Year

Last week, Time Magazine, selected Greta Thunberg the Swedish teen climate activist as their Person of the Year. Since that announcement, people have been divided (no shocker for our country!) and criticizing the magazine’s decision. I find the banter and debate interesting. I wonder if it has to do with the political divisive topic or is it the fact that she is a teenager?

Let’s take politics out of this for a minute. Whether you agree with the choice, or think she is deserving or not, Greta is the third single female named with this honor. (Other women would be included in “groups” or in a group with men.) So, as far back as 1927, every year but three, men have been named. And now we have a female, and not just any female, but a teenager. This is significant because they have never given a teen the title.

If you live or work with young people, take a few minutes to talk about the impact of Greta’s work. Again, you may not agree with her stance or even that she is deserving, but think about the fact that she is a teenager. We all know, and remember when we were that age, that most teens believe the world resolves around them. So, there is a fine line to walk when engaging in this conversation, but young people need to feel empowered to change their world. Whatever the topic, whatever their passion, they need to know the love and support of the adults in their lives to believe they can do it.

In my vocation, I typically work with “churched” teens and young adults. So, I tend to encourage them to change the way the world sees us as Christians. Break the mold, stand up for what you believe in and let other see what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Or stand up for someone who doesn’t have a voice.

Young people today have an audience. The world does listen. Time Magazine even listens to them! Unlike the teens and young adults who were protesting the Vietnam War, today they have more resources, more money and more technology. They can change their world. Set them free to do just that.

Isaiah & Advent: How Do YOU Fit Into the Story?

This is the third week of Advent, and we continue on in our readings in Isaiah. We have to ask ourselves as we read about Isaiah’s prophecies what is the message God was sending and how is it relevant to us today? Be sure to read the scripture, listen to the podcast and ask yourself, or your small group these important questions as we wait and anticipate the celebration of the Birth of Christ.

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10 (Advent lectionary) and Isaiah 53

Teaching Points:

  • The book of Isaiah has been (and is) tremendously influential in terms of our thinking about prophecy, about Jesus, about the Exilic period, and just in terms of scripture with which we are very familiar. We can start with some basic scholarly information. For example, most scholars understand Isaiah in two (or even three) parts: chapters 1-39 and 40-66 (or 40-55 and 56-66). While there are some unified ideas across the book, there are also distinct “voices” and themes.
  • Isaiah is one of the books most often used to illustrate sort of “magical predictions” about the coming of Jesus. We need to acknowledge that passages in Isaiah referred to more contemporary events and figures, and it has been in retrospect that we have chosen to interpret certain passages as predicting attributes of Jesus. (This does not deny that many of the attributes described are wonderful and certainly turned out to be aspects of Jesus’ character.) Isaiah 53 is a familiar passage, read often and rendered in many other forms (ie. Handel’s Messiah). This is a great passage with which to talk about who was originally being discussed in the passage, in what ways we can see parallels to Jesus, and in what ways the passage might be problematic when applied directly to Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  • Where have we seen/heard the use of Isaiah in classical music, art, poetry and pop culture? What are the positives and negatives of using Biblical imagery in these different contexts (think about other pop culture ways we use Biblical references…music, plays, TV shows)? Does it ever send unintended messages? Or, might it suggest new ways of approaching contemporary issues or problems?
  • One of the common themes we hear during the Advent season is the notion that God sent Jesus specifically to die for our sins. How do passages like Isaiah 53 seem to support this thinking? Is there anything of concern about this way of thinking (like the notion that God needs sacrifice or violence in order to forgive people)? Are there other, equally valid ways to talk about Jesus coming into the world?
  • We have looked at the Isaiah’s prophecy and images the last two weeks. What is added to those here in these passages? Is there a new or different type of message he is sending here?
  • The Third Sunday of Advent is a day on which we typically talk about joy. The lectionary passage imagines a very idealistic future in which certain forms of suffering and opposition are eliminated. How do we hold onto this kind of joyful outlook in the midst of a world that clearly still contains both suffering and oppression?
  • “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” ~Saint Augustine. In your own words, what do you think this quote means?
  • As we talk about joy this week in advent, how can you play a part in God’s intent to spread joy to the world today? How can your family?How can we as a small group? How can our church? Do you think it is our “job” to be a part of God’s story?

Podcast

Moses and the Exodus

Scripture: Exodus 1-12, specifically Exodus 2:1-10 and 7-12

Intro: As we continue on through this Bible exploration, we will explore Moses and be reminded of the story of his extraordinary life and how his experiences are meaningful even for us today.

Teaching Points

  • These chapters in Exodus very quickly transition from a scenario in which the tribes of Israel (all of Jacob’s progeny) are rich and powerful and possess huge territory and assets to a situation in which they are subjugated under the rules of Egypt and subjected to hard labor and slave-like conditions. Even so, we see that certain strengths are attributed to the Hebrew people: strength in childbirth, cleverness, and resourcefulness.
  • The exodus becomes one of the great liberation narratives of the Jewish tradition and remains powerful today. However, most scholars accept that it is not anchored in history, primarily because we have substantial historical records from Egypt at this time and there is no record that makes reference to these events or people. There is also a lack of archaeological evidence that such a huge group of people actually traveled this part of the world during this period. We might consider that the events of the exodus may have happened in some way but on a much smaller scale than is described.

Discussion Questions

  • Start the lesson time with this question: Have you ever been talked into something that at first you didn’t want to do, but in the end you were happy you were talked into it? (assuming it was a positive thing)
  • Before you begin to read the scripture, ask students what they remember about Moses’ life.
  • As a legendary story, what is cool (or beautiful) about the story of Moses’ birth and upbringing?
  • When the time comes for Moses to return to Egypt and free the people, it takes about three chapters (Exodus 4-6) for God to convince Moses that he possesses the gifts and speaking ability to be the agent of liberation. What might we make of the fact that Moses is an unwilling participant in the story?
  • Have you ever been hesitant to follow God’s call on your life? (This may simply be someone asking you to serve in some way.)
  • In what ways do we experience God’s “persistence
    in inviting us (repeatedly) to answer our call?
  • Exodus 7-12 is one of the great showdowns of the biblical narrative. What do you think about the repeated times that God “hardens Pharaoh’s heart”?
  • You may have learned about the 10 plagues as children. Is there anything that troubles you now about this story? If you had the opportunity to teach this story to children or new/non-believers, how would you do it?
  • There is enduring internationalist theology anchored in this story. Who needs liberating today? What does it (or would it) look like to be Moses in our own time? Who have been Moses figures in the liberation movements of our more recent history? How were their stories similar (or different) to this legendary story?

Building Relationships with College Students

This week we are talking about now that college students are home, what do we do with them? You might think that since they grew up in your church, they should be comfortable coming back in the summer. But you would be surprised. They have grown, and developed and may not feel like they will be accepted into our congregations again. Even as parents, our own young adults come home and may not think the same way as we do anymore. So, what now? This Podcast addresses these things. It is important for us to start treating young adults as ADULTS, and allow them some brave space to ask hard questions and challenge our way of thinking. Be sure you ask more questions than lecturing them. Share why you believe/feel the way you do rather than demanding them to think the same way. Take them out for coffee, to lunch or on a hike. Engage them in conversation and ask them what they have learned, what questions they have, their passions and what fears they may face. It’s really simple actually. What are you going to do to reach out to a college student this summer? Don’t ignore them!

Moving Forward

Those of us in the United Methodist church have had a hard couple of weeks. In the last week of February delegates traveled from all over the world to meet in St. Louis for a special session of General Conference to decide the church’s stance on LGBTQ+ ordination and marriage. If you have paid any attention to the news/social media, you know by now that the decision was made to adopt the Traditionalist Plan. While it still has to go to the Judicial Council for review, it has left our church numb, confused, and angry (just to name a few emotions). It does’t matter where you opinion is on this matter, things got ugly, people have been hurt. There are a lot of untruths being thrown around and assumptions being made. So, where does this leave us? It’s difficult being a youth leader in this mess. Some of our teens don’t care and haven’t paid any attention, some of our teens are thinking, “You’re arguing about what?” and some of our teens are so overwhelmed with their own lives that even trying to breech this with them would put them over the edge. And then there are the LGBTQ+ teens that we are trying to reach…

This podcast is an open and honest conversation by veteran youth leaders who are struggling together to move forward. We all come from different perspectives and serve in different areas. What we know for sure is, we love Jesus, and we love young people. And sometimes, that is enough.

Here is the link for information about the special session of the General Conference

Here is the link to the post-General Conference gathering that was held in East Ohio.

Hello…Who’s That Calling?

In this podcast, we talk about our own calling, and how to incorporate the terminology and understanding into our young people’s ministries.  I believe God has a purpose for each one of us. Our job is to search for that purpose. This includes our profession, but also just our daily lives, “What is it I need to do today for God?” The more we talk about this with teens, the more they will understand that God does care about us, our lives and our decisions.  Figuring out the future is probably on of the most stressful decisions for many teens, but youth leaders can help!  Give them space to explore, connect them with mentors who can help, and pray for discernment for them. Allow them time to dream and search for God’s purpose in their lives. Also, be sure to share your journey.  I’m not sure any of us knew what we wanted to do at 18 years old!? Help them understand most of us have been there, and are still figuring it out! If they do feel a call to ministry, direct them to your pastor or District Superintendent (if you are United Methodist). What are some of the things  you have done to help students explore their call?

Daring to Empower Teens with Compassionate Leadership Skills

The biggest impact we can have on young people in our communities is through teaching those in our fold leadership development skills.  If we spend our time teaching our young Christian friends how to influence others, our efforts to spread the Gospel will multiply.  As our country slowly lowers the expectations of our leaders, it is up to us to teach teens the importance of character and compassion in leadership.  Let’s be honest, no matter where you fall politically, or if we look at the business sector, or the sports and entertainment world, our young people have plenty examples of inadequate leaders.  I have found it easy to teach lessons on leadership through studying Jesus in the Gospels, but there is also plenty of curriculum available.  Tim Elmore is one of my favorite authors on the subject of Growing Leaders. Check out his website. He has done some interesting research and has great curriculum available.  You can also find some of his stuff in our conference Media Center.  I also like the resources from Group.  Don’t shy away from using the adult curriculum for teens.  I have also used Doug Field’s book, “Help, I’m a Student Leader” and The Leadership Lab from Discipleship Ministries.  All good stuff. Just find what works best for your personality as a leader and the personalities of your group.  As we work to walk beside teens and young adults through their faith journey, teaching them leadership skills, in particular SERVANT leadership skills is a MUST.  What has worked in your area to teach these important lessons?

Packing Day