A guest post by Rev. Harry Heintz, special assistant to the dean at Northeastern Seminary
A year ago I completed a 38-year pastorate. That’s not the longest one on record, but it is far longer than the average one. People often congratulate me for staying such a long course. Then they ask me: “How did you do it?”
My first response is that I didn’t do it by some grand design. Entering as solo pastor of Brunswick Church (Presbyterian Church, U. S. A.) right out of seminary, I knew that I wanted to stay long enough to learn a lot and to give a lot. I had resolved to stay beyond the five-year mark even though the first pastorate commonly lasted three to five years.
At about the seven-year mark I experienced some restlessness. This led me to write and circulate a new resume. Some interviews came, and went well, but they effectively served to confirm my calling to Brunswick. And as time passed I began to realize that I was moving through multiple, roughly-defined pastorates within a single pastorate.
The first pastorate culminated in the addition of a second Sunday morning worship gathering and a modest building project, both in the five to seven year period. These energized me and used some of my gifts that were otherwise underutilized.
As that pastorate ended the second one was marked by the development of staff colleagues, both as associate pastors and niche ministry leaders (music, children’s nurture, youth, office, business, etc.). We added these one by one, often without funding in hand. A second building project added needed Christian education and community space, and toward the end of this pastorate we added a third worship gathering.
My third pastorate was marked by studying for a Doctor of Ministry degree. The class work, spread over half a decade, along with writing a dissertation on an aspect of preaching, sharpened my pastoring skills and affirmed my sense of the kind of pastor I had been and intended to continue being.
The final decade featured growing global outreach, our largest—and by far most challenging—building addition, and the planning for my retirement and a healthy transition for the church and for me. The administrative load had grown considerably and, frankly, tired me at times. I had to work to keep my visionary posture clear and prominent; I didn’t always succeed. In this fourth pastorate I found myself returning to some aspects of pastoral care that had dropped off in my second and third pastorate, and returning with greater joy than I had previously known in them.
A casual observer likely wouldn’t have noticed these pastorates, but those closest to me, chiefly my wife and my associate pastors, could see changes in me and in my work—four pastorates emerged, each lasting seven to 10 years, all while staying with one congregation that was also changing and experiencing different seasons.
In each pastorate, continuing education events, major conferences, and opportunities to serve beyond the parish enriched me and kept me fresh. With thanks to the Lord of the Church, my long pastorate was filled with great joy and satisfaction and, for the most part, I think stayed fresh and vital.
How long have you been in ministry and have you seen pastorates like this emerge?
Rev. Harry Heintz, retired pastor of the Brunswick Church in Troy, N.Y., serves as special assistant to the dean at Northeastern Seminary.
A guest post by Jonathan Bratt, a presenter at the New Creation conference
The 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey reveals a great majority of Americans pray. Among some Christian groups, the percentage is over 90 percent, many self-reporting at least once a day.  Yet, when we peel back the thin veneer of prayer, we discover a more complex reality. There is a great range in how we approach and practice prayer.
The substance of much prayer is an expression of personal desire and willfulness. Many prayers reflect blatant self-interest. Good health, money, and good things commonly dominate our requests. True prayer, however, forms us. Christian prayer purposes not simply to facilitate conversation between God and his people, but to orient us or reorient us toward God’s intention for our lives.
To choose not to pray consigns us to be formed by our own desires and current cultural norms. Both, of course, have been corrupted by the fall (Gen. 3:1-24; 6:5-6 NRSV). Christians praying without direction are no better off. As followers of Jesus, in process, our will and wants are often in conflict with the will of God. We cannot trust our natural inclinations.
Over against these influences, Jesus defines the purposes, attitudes, and content of prayer that orients us toward God’s kingdom and transforms us in thought and action. In Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), Jesus guides his followers toward God’s original intention for human life on earth.
In his prayer, Jesus models true prayer for those choosing to live under God’s rule in contrast to those who pray with other motives. In Jesus’ teaching, not all prayer is equal. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites” (Matt. 6:5). “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentile do” (Matt. 6:7). He critiques the prayer of the hypocrites as false because it misses, manipulates, or uses prayer for improper purposes or unrighteous motives; namely, to draw attention to self. Jesus critiques the prayer of the Gentiles as false because it reveals an inadequate view of God and a desire to obtain God’s power to achieve selfish ends. When Jesus says, “Pray then in this way” (Matt. 6:9), he is saying that in contrast to false beliefs, motives and practices of prayer, there is a way that is distinctively Christian. True prayer reflects an accurate belief in God, a right motivation of the heart, and a particular content that orients us to God’s intention for humanity and a hope for the new creation. To pray in Jesus’ way conforms our longings and desires to the will of God for all he has created.
Jonathan Bratt serves as Chaplain at Roberts Wesleyan College and is a D.Min. student at Northeastern Seminary. He presented a scholarly paper on this topic at the New Creation: Scripture, Theology and Praxis Symposium hosted by Northeastern Seminary, October 2013. He blogs at http://jonathanbratt.wordpress.com/.
U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Affiliation: Diverse and Dynamic, (Washington: Pew Research Center, February 2008), 177.
Szegedy-Maszak and Hsu, passim.
A guest post by Leah D. Schade, a presenter at the New Creation conference
For preachers, eschatological themes are anticipated with nearly as much enthusiasm as dental check-ups. “The end of the world . . . again,” quipped one pastor at a pericope study I once attended as we tackled once more the images of the end-times that proliferate in the last Sundays of Pentecost and the first Sundays of Advent. This sarcasm perhaps masks a deeper unease about the real fears alluded to in passages such as Revelation 21:1-5 whose warnings of impending cosmic upheavals ricochet sharply off contemporary headlines about war, natural disasters, and strange “signs” that warn of dire days ahead.
Add to this the disconcerting news about species extinctions, the climate crisis, football-field-lengths of forests disappearing by the hour, and extreme forms of energy extraction, and the task of preaching “good news” in the face of seemingly immanent ecological doom can feel overwhelming to pastor and congregation alike. Especially for the preacher, the dual temptations to either legalistically preach about “saving the earth” or to irresponsibly encourage waiting passively for a messianic solution can lead to an “apocalyptic either/or logic—if we can’t save the world, then to hell with it. Either salvation or damnation,” as Catherine Keller observes.
Consider this: one possible approach to eschatological preaching that is sensitive to ecological issues is to preach passages that promise “a new heaven and earth” and “a new creation” through Keller’s ecofeminist theological lens. Her “third way” for understanding beginnings, endings, and the apocalyptic revealing of Christ’s redemption for all Creation may provide an antidote for counteracting eco-eschatological gloom-and-doom. Keller’s tehomic theology yields insights and heuristic possibilities for ecologically-oriented proclamation that engenders hope and invites deep and joyful engagement with God’s New Creation.
With the Lutheran ecotheology of preaching as a base we can compare and contrast the approaches to eschatology offered by H. Paul Santmire and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Moreover, in the spirit of contextualizing our preaching, one can attend to the secular voices of environmentalists and their views on the future of our planet. This allows us to explore Keller’s work as a method for preaching an eco-eschatological sermon. And, keeping an eye toward practical theology, suggestions for how preachers may craft ecologically-oriented eschatological sermons begin to emerge.
Leah D. Schade is pursuing a Ph.D. at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and presented a scholarly paper on this topic at the New Creation: Scripture, Theology and Praxis Symposium hosted by Northeastern Seminary, October 2013. She blogs at http://ecopreacher.blogspot.com/.
 Catherine Keller, Apocalypse Now and Then : A Feminist Guide to the End of the World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 14.
A guest post by David Ketter, presenter at the New Creation conference
In the 21st century, many take for granted the notion that Christian faith is at its most fundamental level a story. Whether we encountered it in Donald Miller, Michael Horton, or N. T. Wright, we are all enchanted with this idea that we are so naturally storytellers that we would need to be saved by a story. As Tolkien wrote, “Man the story-teller [is] redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story.”
This is by no means a new idea, however. Christian theology is ripe with many plot structures and character profiles for this storied understanding of the Faith. Some popular tropes are the classic German heilsgeshichte of the critics, the covenantal narrative favored by our Presbyterian brethren (i.e., Williams’ Far as the Curse is Found), and the many-charted dispensational readings. All of these narratives do generally follow the same basic narrative, concisely articulated by Wolters: creation, fall, redemption, consummation.
Of course, the Wolters plot, which I (unjustly) use to represent the traditional reformed narrative, is largely focused on the past. It rightly hinges on redemption: the once-for-all death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It draws us to consider that Jesus did not come to redeem mere souls or some disembodied consciousness, but a whole creation that has fallen and is groaning, as recounted in Romans 8. Even the final plot point, consummation, calls us to recognize that there is a cosmic scope to God’s redemptive work that spans from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. The big picture really is a thing of beauty.
But friends of other Christian traditions, especially those who are rooted in the Radical Reformation, would be quick to remind us that the cosmos is not God’s only agenda. “What about the Kingdom of God?” After all, the Gospels are written to display the coming of the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus heals, teaches, restores broken lives, and ultimately sacrifices himself on the cross and overcomes death to take all authority on heaven and earth. The heart of this Christian spirituality takes its cue from the Lord’s Prayer, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The reign of God perfectly accomplished in the midst of all his creatures is a portrait of harmony that appeals to our hunger for peace in troubled times.
Which story is right? Our intuitive sense is that we cannot deny either the cosmos or the Kingdom. Rather than redirect or reject that intuition, I believe that the Scriptures call us to affirm it. The Christian faith does not hinge ultimately on our story of cosmic redemption or Kingdom inauguration. Rather, it is sustained entirely by its “author and finisher,” Jesus Christ, who did not come in the flesh in order to end creation’s bondage to decay (Rom. 8:21) or to announce his unquestioned authority over all things (Mt. 28:18). Creation is redeemed and the Kingdom is inaugurated for a much larger purpose in the redemptive plan of God.
At some point, however, the honest pastor has to ask: so what? As long as we have a framework that helps read and understand the Scriptures, and as long as it depends on the death and resurrection of Jesus, is it not enough? The problem with any hermeneutic, any story through which we understand the faith, is that if it is only a story and only a lens, then we face the issue of having no pastoral purpose. Any Christian theology, if it truly has a burden for rightly dividing the Scriptures, properly serves those who hear the Word. And unless that story aligns with the realities men and women encounter every day, what hope can be offered and what sort of faith can be maintained in the face of such a disconnect?
 Tolkien, J.R.R. 2000. Ed. by Humphrey Carpenter. “Letter 88.” Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, p. 101.
 Wolters, A. M. 2005. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Co., p. 12.
 Mk. 1:14-15; Lk. 4:43.
David Ketter is an M.Div. student at Trinity School for Ministry (www.tsm.edu) and presented a scholarly paper on this topic at the New Creation: Scripture, Theology and Praxis Symposium hosted by Northeastern Seminary, October 2013.
A guest post by Howard Snyder, presenter at the New Creation conference on October 19
“Holy, holy, holy!” The words resound in praise to the hymned Trinity. Surprisingly, this phrase occurs only twice in Scripture—once in Isaiah; once in Revelation:
Isaiah 6:3 – “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Revelation 4:8 – “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”
Verses so similar that we should mark the differences!
Both passages picture glorious scenes of the Sovereign Lord upon his throne. In Isaiah, six seraphs (seraphim, “burning ones”) call to each other, proclaiming God’s holiness.
Revelation 4 is similar: Four “living creatures” unceasingly sing “day and night.” “Holy, holy, holy, [is] the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” The seraphs of Isaiah 6 and also the “living creatures” of Revelation 4 have six wings. Pictured here are the glorious angelic beings who ever attend God’s throne.
But the passages are different, and the difference teaches us a lesson. In Isaiah: “The whole earth is full of his glory.” In Revelation: The Lord “was and is and is to come.” Here is the Lord of both space and time. The whole earth (space); all of history (time). Jointly the two passages embrace heaven and earth; space and time! Holy is the Lord.
So in our discipleship, we remember this: The whole earth is full of God’s glory, and all time is God’s context. Through the promises of God, we see a story here. We know that more and more, as God’s plan of salvation unfolds, God’s glory will be seen in the whole earth. “The earth will be full with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9; cf. Hab. 2:14).
God’s Glory in the Earth
Psalm 33:5 reminds us that the Lord “loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.” Psalm 104 sings movingly of God’s presence and acts in the earth. “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Ps. 104:24).
Our news channels are full of pain and problems and disasters—not of God’s glory. We get blinded; we forget that the whole earth is full of God’s glory.
The earth shows God’s glory in at least six ways.
1. The beauty, color, and splendor of the creation reflect God’s glory. See a horse run, or stately storks walk, or graceful birds fly! The last chapters of Job say it over and over. The poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer caught the scent: “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.”
2. Each God-imaged man and woman reflects God’s glory. Every person is a God-glory-bearer—in fact, or in potential. God’s glory shines in human uniqueness and diversity. Humanity created male and female shows God’s glory more than would genderless beings.
3. The glory of the Lord is seen most fully in Jesus Christ–incarnation, life, death, resurrection, reign. “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
4. God’s glory is seen in the church when it is filled with the Spirit. His glory shines in the faithful expansion of the church worldwide. Faithful community, vital worship, and diversity of the Spirit’s gifts all reveal God’s glory. Unfaithful churches tarnish the brightness of God’s glory.
5. God’s glory glistens in every act of love, kindness, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Acting justly and enacting justice shows the glory of the Lord. As God’s glory is shown in all his works, so all our works in fidelity to God display his glory.
6. God’s glory appears when we practice creation care, demonstrating God’s care for the earth. Creation care is glorious, for it first and foremost honors the Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit. Honoring God in this way, we bless others now and into future generations.
God’s Glory Now and Evermore
Despite the fall and all the problems of sin, the whole earth is still full of the glory of the Lord! Not just will be, but is! For the One who created us and the whole creation to reflect his glory is still working in the world through his Holy Spirit.
This then is a fact we can rejoice in and meditate upon: The whole earth is full of God’s glory.
Scripture nowhere says explicitly, “Heaven and earth are full of God’s glory.” Yet that truth shines from nearly every page. The seraphs emphasize in Isaiah 6:3 that “the whole earth is full” of God’s glory. How easily we forget; fail to see. So easily we feel that heaven is glorious, but the earth is full only of death and disease, evil and woe.
God is the Lord of space and time, of spacetime. Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of history. The Holy Spirit worked in creation, in Jesus’ incarnation and full history, and is working still. God the Father is, was, and always shall be. Jesus came and is yet to come.
O God, by your Holy Spirit give us eyes to see your glory in all the earth, and grace to manifest your glory in every sphere of our own influence. May we see and reflect and extend your glory. Help us trust your promises for the future as fully as we celebrate your past acts and the resurrection of Jesus, the guarantee and firstfruit of your kingdom in fullness. May your will be done on earth, as in heaven. Amen.
I wonder — Are there other ways in which it is literally, visibly true that “the whole earth is full of God’s glory”?
We could reflect as well on the full biblical meaning of fullness! — an important New Testament word.
This article was reposted with permission of the author.
Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); now engaged in research and writing in Wilmore, Kentucky. Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Formerly taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Snyder's main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. Works include The Problem of Wineskins, Community of the King, and most recently, Salvation Means Creation Healed.
A guest post by Diane Stephens, a keynote speaker at the McCown Symposium on September 23
Since this last economic downturn, the number of men and women panhandling on the streets of Chicago seems to have increased. Sometimes I offer a dollar or spare change—my pastor friend Anita who was once homeless encourages me to do so—and sometimes I simply smile, shake my head as if to say "not today" and keep on walking. Why do I respond compassionately one day and not the next?
Witnessing the pain of hunger and who knows what else is, well, painful. It could be compassion fatigue—that feeling of being overwhelmed by devastating situations and the attention we want to pay to suffering in the world. It is a hazard for those of us in the caring professions. After a steady diet of personal pain, we start to recoil from it, knowing there's a limit to how much suffering we can take in.
Resisting the sight of pain, or looking away is a natural response. But I remain unsatisfied and disappointed in myself.
For eons, we have thought empathy and compassion were matters of the heart. But recent research suggests they are matters of the brain. Our brains, it turns out, are wired with an intricate empathy circuit that starts with the eyes. The physiological components of our visual system take whatever we're looking at and send it to the brain where instantaneously, the brain begins interpreting what we're seeing. Some things have emotional valence; some do not.
Neurons get involved. So do biochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin. Before you know it, we're feeling empathy—automatically, rapidly and unconsciously.
So now I remember my banker friend Mark who, one Christmas, gave his 12-year-old son Sam 20 five-dollar-bills and walked the streets of Chicago with him. Sam was to give out all the fives, each to a different person who likely had no place to go for Christmas dinner. Sam could choose who to give the money to. After he gave away the first five, Mark called his son aside and instructed him to go back, look the man in the eye and give him another $5. And to do the same when giving away the rest of the fives. Mark stressed the importance of "seeing" the person.
Next time I'm in the city, I'll remember Mark as well as Anita. I think I'll take a moment to look and really see. And make sure I have several ones.
Diane Stephens is a spiritual director, retreat leader and Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church USA. She also serves as affiliate faculty in spiritual formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and as faculty of the CREDO program of spiritual renewal for Presbyterian pastors.
Diane Stephens and her husband, David Hogue, are the keynote speakers for the McCown Symposium at Northeastern Seminary on Monday, September 23. They will offer a thoughtful,
heartfelt analysis of the vital intersections of classic Christian spirituality, emerging discoveries in the neurosciences and spiritual practices that have become hallmarks of the Wesleyan movement. For more information and to register, visit www.nes.edu/mccown.
Three individuals highly influenced my spiritual growth from 7th-12th grade: Steve Bellavia, Craig Riportella, and Dan Schmidt. These youth pastors did far more than play games or pull pranks. Each one left an indelible mark on who I am today. As NES focuses on aspects of youth ministry, I wanted to share a few lessons I gleaned from these mentors.
1. Youth ministry is about time.
I remember having lunch and coffee with each one of these pastors. They invited me to come to the church office and intern with them. I had the chance to plan events and organize the sheet music for worship, and they gave me opportunities to preach as well. They allowed me to use and develop my gifts and this came from spending time with me. While youth ministry has changes over the last 50 yeras, one things that still remains is students' need for quality mentors.
2. Cast a vision worth following.
Steve pioneered a new junior ministry. Craig led an effort to remodel a whole building floor for youth. Dan empowered student leadership. In each case their vision was captivating and I can remember thinking, "I am all in." It was not about the size of the project, but the heart and character they had. They were willing to listen to input from others. Each one of them sought God for direction on the vision.
3. Model and teach spiritual formation.
For a semester of Sunday nights, Craig took time to teach what a devotional life looks like. What did this include? He gave us a starting point for the basics like reading the Bible and praying. But he also worked with our youth group on taking notes during a sermon—which later assisted me in high school and college as well. We learned how to journal in ways that reflected our personality. It went beyond telling us what to do, to showing us how God is present in our lives.
4. Welcome creativity within your context.
Steve, to this day, is one of the most creative people I know. His messages included illustrations and stories which connected to Scripture. Far beyond his preaching, he allowed for brainstorming and invited people to use their creativity without squashing it. Creativity requires people to leave their own mindset and welcome the input of of others. I learned not only how to give ideas, but how to listen to ideas.
5. In conversations, be fully present.
Dan has the unique ability to not only listen to a person, but to allow them to feel heard. After church and youth group, he remained as the last person just listening to people. Not only about their problems, but he had the ability to celebrate their wins. In one of the most difficult seasons of my life as a student, I knew I could share anything with him and sense his understanding. To this day, I still aspire to model my life after his heart to care for people.
Currently Steve Bellavia serves as an Executive Pastor at 3 in 1 Church in Suffolk, Virginia. Craig Riportella serves as lead pastor at CenterPoint Community Church in Waterville, ME. Dan Schmidt serves as lead pastor of Batavia Assembly of God in Batavia, N.Y.
What was one of the lasting lessons you learned from your youth pastor?
Director of Admissions
A guest post by Doug Milne (M.Div. '10, Northeastern Seminary)
It was the final night of teen camp and, as is the norm, we were seated around a bonfire sharing laughs, stories and snacks. Campers often take this time to unpack all that they have learned during the week. Typically, teenagers (and adults) will share how God has touched them during camp, recounting stories of a repentant heart describing how they found themselves living contrary to a righteous lifestyle.
Toward the end of the time, a graduating senior decided to share. Personally, I was looking forward to what he had to say because this involved student usually attended for the social aspect of events, not necessarily the spiritual.
He stood, captured the audience’s attention, and said the following: “I’ve been coming to camp for a long time now. I’ve met some great friends and now I’m going off to college. For those younger kids here, make sure you always come to camp. Keep coming to camp. Keep this camp going by attending.” I sat there thinking, “That’s it? Come to camp?” Of all the things to say with a captivated, impressionable audience, he said, “Just keep coming to camp.”
Clearly, I do not want to sound judgmental in any way nor am I looking to trivialize this scenario. I will assume this teenager had the best intentions sharing these words with his peers. However, after listening to him, I asked myself, “How does this represent spiritual formation in adolescents? What have I done, as a district leader, to aid in helping this student grow spiritually?”
Above all else, youth workers must have teenagers’ hearts and souls in mind—whether planning a Bible lesson or planning an amusement park trip. Spiritual formation is not some lofty theological exercise. It is the theological exercise. Believers must be formed spiritually on a constant basis. When Christ called believers to be his disciples, he meant for them to learn from him continually. Spiritual formation is the life lived in Jesus Christ. Spiritual formation encompasses all of the worship services, the Bible reading, the prayer times, the Christian fellowshipping, and the reading of inspirational and devotional books. We must practice and nurture our spiritual formation for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Spiritual formation is for all believers; it is not simply for adults. Our students are in desperate need of foundational, experiential spiritual formation and God has entrusted youth pastors and youth workers alike to assist in this process.
What is your church’s youth ministry like? How does the youth ministry blend itself into the vision and mission of the church as a whole? When teens leave your youth ministry and head into the workplace or into college, what does their testimony sound like? Does it sound like the opening story—keep things going for the sake of keeping things going?
Doug Milne (M.Div. '10) is adjunct professor at Roberts Wesleyan College and associate pastor at Grace Church of the Nazarene in North Chili, N.Y.
A guest post by Larry Petry, M.Div. student, youth pastor, Gerry Free Methodist Church, Gerry, NY
Recently, there were some statements made by the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch that raised no small reaction. I share the following paragraphs from Robin Abcarian's LA Times article, "Attention Abercrombie shoppers: Walk Away." (http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/14/local/la-me-0514-abcarian-abercrombie-20130514)
Last week, the website Business Insider had a story about Abercrombie's refusal to make plus-sizes, unlike its competitors H&M and American Eagle. Abercrombie Chief Executive Mike Jeffries wants "thin and beautiful" people shopping in his store, explained retail analyst Robin Lewis. "He doesn't want his core customers to see people who aren't as hot as them wearing his clothing."
The Business Insider story also linked to a 2006 profile of Jeffries that detailed the executive's rancid retail philosophy, which has touched a dormant nerve.
"In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids," Jeffries told reporter Benoit Denizet-Lewis of Salon. "Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny." (Emphasis mine)
This led me to ponder a whole series of questions:
Does Jeffries' attitude sometimes seep into the culture of our youth groups?
Is everyone really welcome?
Is there a certain "type" or "brand" of student that is valued, appreciated more than others?
In what ways do we see this played out in youth ministry?
What things do we overtly or covertly lift up or celebrate in our gatherings?
Can the youth leaders' personal preferences become the litmus test for a student to be "accepted?"
And for the youth leaders: are we tempted to fit into some stereotype of "the ideal youth leader?"
As youth leaders, we proclaim the grandeur of being created in God's image (Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139) and the thrill of living as God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). But when push comes to shove, how often do we struggle to be comfortable in our own God-given skin?
Ministry is often about asking these questions. We ought to develop habits of healthy self-reflection. As leaders in the church, we must be characterized by a fierce desire for our identity to be formed solely by "Jesus-is-with-me." (Christ in us is the hope of glory, isn't it?)
Our youth group communities must also be characterized as places where students are similarly encouraged and equipped to discover their God-given identities, to be comfortable in that skin. There is no room in youth ministry for a cookie-cutter production line nor Abercrombie-like exclusion. Developing this Christ-centered identity in ourselves and in our students is an intentional process. It will require persistent evaluation, question asking and re-alignment of ministry and personal habits.
What practices do you have for forming genuine Christ-centered identity in each of your students? And in yourself? Let's continue to pray, ponder, and collaborate toward effective practices in our ministries.
Larry Petry, M.Div. student
Youth pastor, Gerry Free Methodist Church, Gerry, NY
A post by guest blogger, Niki Brodeur, M.Div. '11, youth ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford, N.Y.
When I was younger I remember seeing a commercial for Staples office supplies. You might have seen it too. Chris Marquette dances around the aisles with two moping children while “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” plays overhead. I used to despise that commercial. Not anymore. Back to school time for our ministry equals kids returning from summer camps, family vacations, and cottages. And although the church program year gets crazy-busy pretty quickly for all of us in ministry, there are a few things that I believe we can all keep in mind and be doing before it goes into full-on excitement.
I take a day each week to pray for a particular grade of youth in our church, including their families. On the seventh day, I pray for our adult volunteers. It keeps your ministry in focus on the people God has called you to serve.
2. Use mid-late August to your advantage.
Many families tend to go away in the beginning of August because most camps/mission trips are over by then; which means that by mid-August, you have a bunch of bored teenagers sitting around at home. Plan an event to culminate the end of summer and get kids geared up for the start of the school year! And tell them to invite their friends! Need a few ideas? Trip to an amusement park, scavenger hunt, head to one of the lakes, laser tag, a picnic in the park … you get the idea!
3. Put a lot of effort into September events/Sunday school/youth group.
We should be putting forth our best efforts for ministry all year, but September is pretty important. For all of those kids who are just showing up at youth group for the first time ever, teens transitioning into high school, and new kids on the block, this is where we make our first impressions. If what they get is lackluster, has the appearance of “just thrown together,” or doesn’t ring of honesty, those kids will sniff out the falseness within moments of entering your youth room. And probably won’t return.
4. Clean House.
This goes for everything. Take some of your “down time” to go through old youth group plans, games, Sunday school lessons, and events. What isn’t working? What’s not helping to accomplish the goals of your ministry? Toss it. Go through your Sunday school rooms and youth
rooms. Clean out the old stuff. Put new stuff on the bulletin boards. Add some pizzazz with paint, glittery borders, and pictures of your group being together. Check your roster and update it. Who’s moved? Who’s graduated? Start the year with a clean feeling.
5. Pray some more.
I think as ministers, it can be easy for us to forget the importance of prayer in our daily lives. Prayer is how we stay connected in our relationship to Jesus Christ. If we aren’t connected, then we’re not allowing God to fully use us in ministry to others. So pray. A lot.
Youth ministry leaders, what are some of your back-to-school tips?