Wednesday, March 23, 2016

SPOTLIGHT on Christina, Urban Outreach and Youth Ministry

I spent some time recently chatting with my friend Christina who does outreach and youth ministry (as well as many other things) in a struggling urban Lutheran church.  Some of the things she’s trying are worth sharing.

Christina arrived and was introduced to a large, but well-worn facility, a community that is a myriad of cultures with low incomes, and an aging congregation that was unsure of what to do, as was Christina. The first thing she told me was, “There’s no job description for this!” So, she started reading… a lot. The first book she recommended was Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom S. Rainer. This book may help point out areas that are in need of attention.

It didn’t take but a moment for her to realize that her congregation did not resemble the community in which it resides. Perhaps they have been so focused on hanging on to what is done inside the church that they didn’t see what was going on outside of it. This is one way a congregation dies in the middle of a populated area.
We, as a church, have fallen into a habit of keeping the gospel to ourselves. It is not only intended for us to go to church and study the Bible, but to share the message with those who have not yet heard.]

Keeping in mind that Jesus is the center of everything and that prayer, devotion, and Bible study are key components, Christina started a few things.

1) She started by cleaning up the facility and inviting volunteers to help. Nobody is interested in a church that looks run down, as if nobody cares about it or has a lot of junk or broken furniture sitting around. It’s amazing what a little elbow grease and a coat of paint will do. A building is not a sacred cow. Create boundaries where necessary. Lock the doors of rooms people shouldn’t be going into and lock up valuables, but open the building up to the community for appropriate use. Spend a little money for basketball hoops and other sports equipment. Start allowing the church to be a place in the community where kids go after school, but make sure activities are structured and monitored. Nobody can do it all on their own. Volunteers are necessary.

2) She started developing relationships and, more importantly, partnerships in the community. Her first task was to talk to people and ask questions. She visited with administrators in the schools and asked what their most common problematic issues were. She partnered with Timber Bay – Mentor for Life and started weekly mentoring groups where the kids could meet in the church. They are also planning on beginning TheVirtues Campus – Church Based College Education at their church. Along with preschools, daycares, and before/after school care, another option would be to start a homework club where kids can come, have a snack, and do their homework in a positive environment.

3) She started showing up with groups from the church consistently in the community whether helping or playing. Every city has events. Don’t just go to them, participate in them. Make a float, have a booth, provide a service. Make sure people know what church you’re from and step out into the community. Participate!
Integrating good deeds and good news into the life of the church in order to be a valuable impact and/or influence in the community to the point where people would notice if they no longer participated.]

4) She stopped making culture the issue. Poverty is the issue. Poverty is a lack of resources and support. Find out what people really need and find out where those resources can be found in your neighborhood. People used to go to the local church for help. Help is not always money, it’s support, a listening ear, knowing what’s available and where.
Gain an understanding of the complexity of poverty and how simply giving people money and handouts does more harm than good.]

 There were a few other things she highlighted.
  • Be sure your infrastructure is in place before you bring kids in for sports or mentoring.  The two biggest issues are behavior and safety.  Love = discipline.  Lock the rooms you aren’t using or things will be stolen.  It’s part of the culture of poverty so remind yourself that it’s not because they’re bad people and it’s not because they don’t like you.
  • Make sure you have enough volunteers.
  • Train your volunteers!! They need to understand that LOVE = DISCIPLINE. It’s not about feeling sorry for their cute little faces when they’ve broken a rule. You’re welcome in this building if you follow the rules.
  • When students check in for an event, stamp their hand for that event so you know where they belong.  Hand stamps don’t tell stories. Kids do.
  • Don’t expect consistent attendance.  Welcome anybody who shows up and encourage them to return, but don’t define success by the numbers.
  • Choose activities or events that build relationships.  For example, going to an amusement park. Sure, it’s fun, but does running around in small groups and riding rides build the kind of relationships you’re hoping to build?  
Christina’s greatest asset is how she laughed about not knowing what she’s doing. We were taught to “do” ministry in a certain way, but there is no playbook for what she’s doing. She’s doing it anyway. Her heart is full of Jesus and she’s trying. She’s reaching out. She’s opening God’s house to the community and letting them know that He loves them. Things that don’t work will end and new things will be tried. You may not be able to do ministry the way Christina does because every urban congregation and every community is different, but you can try too.

Below are some books Christina read and recommends for doing youth ministry in an urban community:

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

YOUTH: A Few Fun Night Games!

It's getting to the point where we'll be having the kids run around outside again. Here are a couple of fun night activities I stumbled upon.

Hide and Seek /Tapping Sticks
Choose 4 or 5 people to hide somewhere outside. It helps if there are trees around. Every minute or two s/he taps two sticks together to draw attention to themselves so they can be found. (Don't tap a stick on a tree trunk. It's not good for the tree.)

Capture the Glow-in-the-Dark Flag
Use large glow sticks (two different colors) for the flags.

Firefly Tag
For maximum effect, this game should be played with a small pocket torch so that the beam is not too easy to spot. One person is selected to be the firefly and hides outside in the dark, away from the rest of the players. After counting to 20 everyone goes in search of the firefly, who is constantly moving around from hiding spot to hiding spot. Every 60 seconds, the firefly must quickly flick her flashlight on and off. When she is caught the game is over and a new firefly is appointed. Add extra excitement to the game by giving all players a flashlight to flick on and off, but cover the firefly’s light with a layer of coloured cellophane. There will be lots of beautiful twinkling lights, but the trick will be to find the coloured light of the daring firefly before anyone else.

This game is better played at dusk when you can still see each other. One person is it and everyone goes off to hide. “It” counts to 50 and then goes and tries to find the hiding kids. The hiding kids can move spots as they sneak away from the person who’s “it”. If “it” finds someone he calls out their name. The person who’s name was called has to follow the person who’s “it”. While they are walking around looking for other kids, if the person who following “it” secretly gets waved to by another hiding child, they can sneak away from the person who’s “it” and go and hide again. Once someone’s name is called 3 times, they are “it” and the game continues.

Monday, March 14, 2016

LEADERSHIP: Bible Study Tools

I recently heard of a few Bible study tools that some of my pastor friends are using. Here's the deal though. They are resources, but they don't put your Bible study together. The provide information, but don't show you how to organize a study logically, ask significant questions to challenge students or pull it all together in a meaningful way to change lives. Information doesn't always impact lives, in fact, it rarely does.

Glo Bible
I've used the GLO Bible for a few years now and it's a great tool. I put it up on the screen and students can read along, I can use the images, maps, videos, virtual tours, the timeline, etc.  I've enjoyed it as a resource and it's very affordable.  It appears they're in the middle of an upgrade for mobile use which will be released Easter 2016.

Another one that will help with Bible study preparation (Bible history, culture, translation, etc.) called Logos. They have different products for different denominations. The Lutheran starter is $265.46 and it has any number of helpful sources including a library of 200 book resources specifically chosen for Lutherans. The program can be upgraded to the platinum level for $1934.96. It's got a lot of great resources, but you need to use it a lot for that price!

The other one I've seen mentioned is Accordance. It is also a massive collection of interactive resources. The starter program costs $59.90 but comes with very limited resources. The Bible Study version costs $199.00 and for many more resources, the Ultimate version tops out at a cost of $1999.00. Try a free Accordance demo.

Sword Searcher
Sword Searcher is a downloadable application that costs $59.95.  It seems to be a nice tool, though, while it is a reasonable price, I'm not sure if it's the one I would choose because it doesn't have the resource books I prefer. Check out the features and screenshots.

Of course, you can use those or the one that's extremely reasonable in cost, TheWord. The basic version is FREE!! It doesn't have everything the other programs have, but it has the basics. Check the library for books that can be added on at a reasonable price, of course, if you add on too many you may be paying the price of one of the other programs.

Another free Bible study resources is e-Sword. This application also has a parallel Bible, an integrated editor, graphics, powerful searches, etc. It all depends on what you need and the level of your study.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

YOUTH: How do you plan a devotion?

As with my last post on prayer, while I was doing youth counselor training we talked about the importance of ending events with a brief devotion. Along with prayer, you always want to take time to be in the Word when you get kids together. It helps create good habits and teaches them to connect it with their lives.

The leaders at this church wanted their youth to take responsibility for that task, but were at a loss as to how to help them. Of course, they could always just buy a book, but why not help them be a little more creative and personal? I created a short devotion lesson plan and form to help in planning.

Here's my sample devo using the outline from the simple lesson plan:

Opening - Turn to face the person on your right. As we say the invocation, put the sign of the cross on their back. (In the name of the Father, who created us, the Son, who redeemed us, and the Spirit, who strengthens us.

Bible Verse - James 1:22-24
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

Topic or Theme of the Verse - Let your faith show in what you do!

Something to Think About

Describe the life or actions of a hearer and a doer. How are they different?
What does it mean to be someone who looks at your their in a mirror and immediately forgets it?

Describe the life of somebody who lives like they don't care?

Look at the lyrics of the song. It's not about the world, it's about YOUR world. We can let our faith shine on one person at a time. How?

What can we change this week to let our faith shine a little brighter?

Prayer (ACTS form)
(Go around the circle. Squeeze the hand of the person on your left when you are done praying.)

Dear Heavenly Father, you are almighty and awesome!!
We are sorry, Lord, that we do not use the gifts you gave us to your glory. We are sorry that we wait for others to do the work you have called us to do. We confess that we are sinful and what we wish we could do, we cannot and do not do. Thank you so much for forgiving our sin through your son, Jesus Christ. Thank you for our friends and family and all the others you put in our lives to remind and help us keep our focus on you. Father, we ask that you give us wisdom and courage to be hearers and doers so that we can show your love to those around us every day. And we pray you hear our requests......
All this we ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.

Closing Blessing - Numbers 6:24-26
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his face upon you and give you peace.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

YOUTH: I don't know how to pray!

I was recently asked to train some volunteer youth counselors and they said they really wanted their youth to start being responsible for prayer and devotions. The young man who is currently the President of the youth group was super open and said he wanted to pray and do devotions, but didn't know how. I created these forms for him and thought there might be somebody else who might want to use them too.

This simple form has an explanation of the ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) typically used in prayer, but it's in language teenagers will be comfortable using and a basic form on back that can be printed out and shared. Don't forget to remind them that prayer time is a time for focus on communicating with God and not goofing around.

  • Use simple words. You don't need to sound like the pastor. Sound like you.
  • Each prayer leader can use the form to make the prayer that night their own. 
  • Have the whole group write a basic prayer they'll use every week, but have a place for personal petitions. 
  • Start a prayer tradition for the group. When I was in high school our youth group would stand in a circle with arms crossed, we would do a popcorn prayer (squeeze the hand of the person next to you when you're done) and then we had a song we sang. 
  • Another tradition might be to have everyone put their hands in the center as they pray or sit facing out of the group and holding hands so they aren't distracted by each other. 
It's very important for us to make sure children grow up being comfortable praying out loud. I hope this simple tool helps.

YOUTH: Helpful Video Explanations

I love it when I stumble on an unexpected resource!!  I found a video channel on YouTube that takes short topics and explains some concepts to teens. These very short videos called ON TEENS are created by a middle school teacher (Kevin Spaans) and aren't necessarily from a Christian perspective, but most of the concepts are pretty nicely explained.  They might be a nice warm-up for a Bible study.  Some of the titles are:  Demonstrating Self Confidence, Depression, Divorce, Losing, Apologizing, etc. Check them out! Below are the videos about forgiveness and respect.

Friday, March 4, 2016

YOUTH: Tic-Tac-Toe Relay

Here's a cool game for your children or youth that can be done almost anywhere with large or small groups.

Das vielleicht beste Aufwärmspiel für Körper UND Geist ! (nach Fußball) Maybe the best warm-up ever for body and brain ! (except Soccer)Peut-être le meilleur jeu d'échauffement pour le corps et aussi pour la tête ! (après le foot)Merci á mes jeunes gardiens d'Istres Provence Handball !
Posted by Thomas Bauer on Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Thursday, March 3, 2016


I have a passion for Lutheran education in schools and churches. I've been going on and on and on about it for years now hoping somebody will take themselves out of the proverbial box and start thinking differently. I've posted on it many times, been frustrated, wanted to give up, and wrote again. God, for some reason, has put this upon my heart and given me the passion to keep going. We must not be done yet.

The Experiment
The truth is... we're never going to get students into our Lutheran schools unless we are out there continuously working to make them excellent and talking about them. So, I recently performed a little social media experiment. I created a generic ad for Lutheran education and I put it on social media. I wanted to know how many people would share it. Mind you, I didn't put SHARE THIS anywhere on it. I wanted to know if my Lutheran friends who say they support Lutheran education would share it. I wanted to see if they would at least support it on social media. Guess what? On Facebook it got 9 likes and 26 shares on my personal page and 15 views on my Carpenter's Ministry Toolbox page. On LinkedIn it got 51 views. It was liked on Twitter once. It's only been a week, but I admit I was hoping for more.

For me it mirrors how we are inside our congregations. We LIKE everything we're doing and within the congregation we'll equip and encourage, but when we step out the door we leave it all behind. We'll LIKE, but not SHARE. So... when do we put our money where our mouth is? When do we value and support Lutheran education outloud to the public and not just inside our congregations or inside our larger church body? We talk and talk and talk, but don't DO. Schools keep closing. When, my friends, when will we step up? When will you?

If we don't value a Lutheran education, 
why should anybody else?

Lutheran School Locator