Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How To Use Social Networking Tools More Effectively In Your Ministry. . . .

Social Networking. . . good or bad? It depends on the person using it. Like everything in life, we can use things to the glory of God, or we can use them to the glory of the world, the flesh, and the devil. With our default setting locked in on sinful self-promotion and narcissism, we really need to be careful. . . . and our kids are watching. We must be very, very intentional about modeling healthy and redemptive social networking habits, thereby nurturing kids into faithful use of these potentially great and potentially destructive tools.

It's these realities and a host of horrible stories that have prompted us to launch our Digital Kids Initiative here at CPYU. As we've been spreading the word, we've had some youth workers step up and share with us some ways that they've been intentionally redemptive about their use of social networking in their ministries. Kevin Vinay is one of those youth workers. Kevin's been very intentional and careful about how he integrates this stuff into his youth ministry at Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. In fact, Kevin stepped up and sent us some great stuff that I want to share with you today. Here's what Kevin's come up with. At the end, you'll find a link to a pdf Kevin put together that you can download and reference as you seek to integrate social networking into your youth ministry redemptively. Thanks Kevin!

The vast majority of teenagers in our ministry (and across our nation) use Facebook and text messaging as their primary forms of communication with peers. Because of this, our youth ministry staff makes great efforts to reach teenagers from our community by using these popular communication tools to their fullest potential. Here are few basic ideas to begin using Facebook and text messaging more effectively in order to proclaim the gospel to a greater number of students:

First, create a Ministry “Like” Page. Tell students from your ministry to “LIKE” your page (do this at every major event!), and continually remind them to invite their Facebook friends to do the same. As the number of students who LIKE your ministry’s page grows, the more free on-screen advertising you’ll have.

Second, post with purpose! Consider the specific reason for each post. Right now, our ministry has committed to two scheduled posts each week. We post an “I Am Second” video at the beginning of each week (purpose: evangelism) and we post pictures and videos directly after our weekly youth group event in the middle of the week (purpose: outreach). “I Am Second” videos share the gospel. The pictures and videos entice students to TAG, LIKE, or COMMENT on our content. This makes our ministry more visible to all of their Facebook friends. We do create posts outside of the weekly plan for special events. But, even these posts have specific purpose and plan, and are high-quality.

Third, post routinely at specific times. Develop a schedule for specific weekly posts. This point is crucial to the effectiveness of your Facebook page! Be as consistent as possible with the day and time of your weekly posts. This creates a rhythm for your content. Once students realize that rhythm exists, they may begin looking for the Monday night video (our “I Am Second” video) or Wednesday night photos (our mid-week event content). Create and share your posts at a time when the majority of your students are online – probably later in the evening – so that there’s a better chance they’ll see it in their newsfeed.

Fourth, make sure your posts are high quality. Content should be clear and creative, fun and informative. Attach a picture to the post. Make a short, funny video instead of just typing out a message (flip-cams are a good investment). Catch their attention. It doesn’t have to win an art contest or a Grammy, but it should be worth viewing.

Fifth, tell students to give feedback in your post. Studies show that people will give more feedback on Facebook if they’re told to do so. Tell students to LIKE the video, TAG the photos, COMMENT and/or SHARE the content in their profile. This increases your ministry’s visibility to more of their friends.

First, purchase a group text messaging service. “But it’s expensive,” you say. It’s not too bad, and we’ve found that it’s worth the monthly cost. Plus, if you use texting and Facebook effectively it will reduce the money you spend on postcards and newsletters (and time creating/sending them).

Second, tell your students to sign up (again, at every major event). Our students have signed up for the service, and now we can contact almost ALL of them instantly, and at the same time. We have a sneaking suspicion that students don’t always read their snail-mail (call us crazy!), but we can guarantee they read our text messages!

Third, send event information and reminders. Students are notorious for giving the excuse, “I forgot.” So, remind them about the event just hours – or even minutes – before it begins.

Fourth, consider the timing of your message. Send messages out when you know your students are with friends who aren’t part of your ministry (right after school, during sporting events, etc.). Encourage them to invite those friends to the event that’s coming next.

Lastly, integrate texting with Facebook. So you actually want to spend time with your family on a weeknight instead of sending out a new Facebook message? Fine. Post your info while you’re at work, then schedule a text message for later in the evening that encourages students to check out the Facebook page. Text messaging services should give you the option to schedule future texts.

If a new student comes to an event, inviting them to LIKE the Facebook page or sign up for the text messaging service is easy and it connects them to your ministry faster. Communicating with parents can still be done via snail-mail when necessary, although we do have a growing number of parents who look at the content online as well. But, it seems to us that the best way to reach students is to meet them where they are.

We are very cautious about what goes on our page, and several leaders are automatically notified by email as soon as a comment is posted on our page. This helps us delete negative comments very soon after they're posted. I've also followed up with students who have posted negative comments (in person) as a way to foster discussion about online integrity.

You can download Kevin's pdf here.

You can see how Kevin's integrating Facebook into his ministry here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Blessed Christmas to You All! . . . Listen and Ponder. . .

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Christmas Story. . . Narrated by Kids. . . Nice. . .

Thanks Mike Flavin, for sending me a link to this. Done by the kids at St. Paul's Church, Auckland, New Zealand. To the rest of you, enjoy. . .

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Is Dead. . . How Did You Respond? . . .

In today's fast-paced media-driven world, the news about atheist Christopher Hitchens' death is old. He died last week. We mentioned it in the CPYU office. Then yesterday, Derek Melleby - director of our College Transition Initiative - blogged on Hitchens' death and how atheists have been helpful to him over the years. Derek's blog post is worth a read.

I've been thinking today about Derek's post. Very thoughtful and challenging. In fact, it challenged me in a roundabout way. Just Derek's mention of Hitchens' death reminded me of what I said in the office when I heard that Hitchens died. I remember saying something like, "I wonder what Hitchens believes now?" Fair question. But I'm trying to remember what kind of tone I used when I wondered out loud. Was it a sober and inquisitive tone that reflected grief over the death of someone who as far as we know died without coming to faith in Jesus Christ? Or, was it the more arrogant, proud, and compassion-less tone we so often use when someone who is not for us but against us breaths their last breath? In other words, was I saddened as I pondered the fact that Christopher Hitchens may have gotten what we all deserve? Or, was I gloating in the fact that I believed Christopher Hitchens got what he deserved? I hope it was the former.

We might not talk much anymore about the culture wars. Personally, I think that's a very good thing. But the years so many Christians spent fighting the culture wars (or paying mercenaries to fight the culture wars for them!) have indeed left some remnants that leave us looking less like Christ than what our calling requires. Perhaps that kind of response to Hitchens' death leaves Jesus grieving twice. . . one for Hitchens, and then for us.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Messing With The NHL. . . Or, How I Could Have Screwed Up The Winter Classic. . .

We took a little trip to Philly yesterday. Our humble and small CPYU staff loaded up for a road trip that included lunch and a tour of Citizen's Bank Park. That's the home of the Phillies in case you didn't know. It's also the home of the NHL Winter Classic, the new hockey tradition that's turned into a marketing bonanza for hockey and for all kinds of merchandise. In fact, it was the Winter Classic that made the tour even more interesting.

The field was buzzing with workers assembling the rink. Fascinating to watch. On prior Winter Classic telecasts we've been treated to a time lapse view of the rink assembly process. I can guarantee right now that if you tune in, you'll get to see it again this year. I know because as part of the tour, I went into the Phillies radio broadcast booth. Gone were Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen. They'll be back once the season starts. Sitting on Andersen's desk spot was a TV camera positioned to record what was happening on the field. . . and it was recording. On the camera was a note. You can read the note for yourself. . .

Now, you have to understand that our tour guide was already way down the hallway. Out of sight. I was in the booth with Chris and Derek. Then, something crazy happened. I was magically transported in a moral maturity time machine back to my college days. Once there, all sorts of devious thoughts went through my mind. I even wondered if sticking a small handwritten note of my own in front of the camera for a few seconds would yield some powerful subliminal messaging for the millions of folks who watch the Winter Classic in a little over a week. Don't worry. . . we kept our hands off.

When I got home, I posted this little ditty on Facebook with the picture of the camera: Oh man. . . this was far too tempting!!!! First, the NHL places an unsupervised camera in the Phillies radio broadcast booth to film the construction of the rink for the Winter Classic. Second, they put that sign on it. (It's like saying, "Don't eat the cookies that are in this cookie jar.") Third, they let me into the booth unsupervised! Are you kidding me?!?! I guess you'll just have to watch the time-lapse of the rink setup that the NHL broadcasts on the day of the game. . . .

Ron, a buddy of mine from college, was one of the first to respond. . . with this: You are a man of integrity. I'm sure you would not disobey the sign. Of course, if you need to be reminded that you're a man of integrity you might have some integrity issues! Good call Ron. The two of us exchanged a few more posts, some of them recalling felonious behaviors (felonious now, not then. . . of course!) from those college days.

Ron's little reminder got me thinking about integrity. . . especially in light of everything else I posted this week (Abercrombie&Fitch, Ellen, Sophia Grace, etc.). God made us as complete human beings. The Shalom he built into "all things" (including us) at Creation is the most perfect picture of integrity one could imagine. Now, in the midst of our brokenness and undoneness, we are called to pursue integrity in all things. The dictionary defines integrity as "the quality or state of being complete and undivided."

Divided. . . that's what we are amongst ourselves and within ourselves. It needs to stop. Jesus came into the world to make it stop. That's what we celebrate on Sunday. As His followers, we should do all we can to make it stop. One day, He'll make it stop for good. Until then, we need to humbly and gracefully expose and deal with the lack of integrity. . . without and within.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cultural Hypocrisy. . . and Abercrombie. . .

Yesterday I blogged about Ellen Degeneres, Nicki Minaj, and the appropriateness of encouraging and celebrating the "Super Bass" worldview among eight and five-year-old kids. I question the appropriateness of the "Super Bass" worldview for anybody.

Yesterday long-time Philly sportswriter, Bill Conlin, stepped down from his job after being accused of sexually abusing children back in the 1970s. The accusations against Conlin are serious - very serious - and so they should be. Sadly, law enforcement agencies across our country are burdened with sexual abuse cases involving children. . . . and it's getting worse.

And yesterday my adult daughter texted me this photo. She took it in an Abercrombie & Fitch store while shopping near Philadelphia. It's a photo of a photo that sits on a fragrance display in the store.

This all got me thinking about just how mixed up and messed up we are as a culture. We stand up and intervene - as we should! - when children are violated and taken advantage of by sexual predators. But then we joyfully and without batting an eye let others prey on children's hearts and minds through imagery, art, song, film, etc. At times, we even applaud it and call it "cute" (see yesterday's blog). I wonder too, if a steady diet of this stuff during the "wonder years" doesn't socialize, nurture, and even create the kind of stuff that law enforcement has to deal with when those children become adults.

The A&F ad should make us think. Kids of all ages paraded through that store the other day. Some were with their parents. Some weren't. Who knows how many glanced at that photo. It's become so common that few, if any (I'm guessing) even stopped to stare. Did anybody even care? But what would have happened if - let's say - a man my age was sitting alone on a bench in the mall just a few feet from the entrance to the A&F store. . . and that man was holding a small copy of that photo in his hand. . . and that man was calling children and teenagers over to the bench to take a peek at his photo? See what I mean?

Perhaps the greatest irony of it all is that A&F has been filled of-late with scores of people buying gifts for others in celebration of the coming of Christ. . . the one who came to undo this mess and bring Shalom.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Crossing The Line With Ellen Degeneres. . . .

I've been thinking about and processing this since October. That's when I first saw the YouTube clips from earlier in the month. Initially, we gathered around our family computer and laughed at the viral clip of little eight-year-old Sophia Grace Brownlee and her five-year-old cousin Rosie. After all, they're cute. . . really cute. But the more I watched the more I squirmed. I kept watching. . . over and over again. . . and the squirming got even worse.

The effervescent little Sophia Grace wound up on The Ellen Degeneres Show after Ellen caught a YouTube clip of Sophia Grace singing away to Nicki Minaj's hit song "Super Bass." Ellen had the two girls perform live on her stage. Hmmmm. . . isn't that song a little naughty??? In true Ellen fashion, Nicki Minaj showed up, sending the little girls into a hysterical fit of joy. Their parents - in the audience - cried tears of joy as well. Then, the trio sang "Super Bass" together. You can watch it all below.

To be honest, you feel like a killjoy when you start to question stuff like this. But we still need to stand back and ask the hard questions. Did Ellen cross a line? Did the parents cross a line? Do we cross a line when we ignore what's really going on to enjoy the cuteness of a couple of little kids, justifying it all by saying, "Come on, they're only little kids"? Do we allow our emotions to trump responsible thinking and critique? I'm afraid we're losing our ability to think critically and Christianly about all of life, a reality which requires us to recapture and relearn skills that evidence discipleship of the mind.

I took some time to think more intentionally about this whole thing. I wrote up a 2-page 3(D) review of these videos of Sophia Grace with Nicki Minaj for our latest edition of ENGAGE. You can download the pdf of my review here. Use it to provoke your own thought. If you're a parent, talk about it with your kids. If you're a youth worker, spend an entire evening looking at, talking about, and thinking through the video clips.

After you read it, I want to know. . . Am I over-reacting? Should we be concerned? Is this evidence of deeper issues in our culture? If so, what are those issues? What do you think?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tim Tebow Lost. . . . Phew!

I'm glad Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos lost yesterday. I know. I know. How dare me attack a Christian brother. . . especially when that Christian brother is St. Tim. Please. . . hear me out first.

Am I alone in thinking that Tebow-mania was getting out of hand? Am I the only one that wanted it to stop? How can I say that? What's wrong with me?

I've been watching and listening as the media world and the church have been obsessing over Tim Tebow and his last-minute heroics over the course of the last few weeks. With each victory, the frenzy grew. As I've watched, I've tried to process what I've been seeing through theological and cultural lenses. I've come to a few scattered conclusions that I'd love to develop further in the coming weeks, but let me pass on some observations.

1. Tim Tebow is an incredibly gifted athlete. No clarifier or explanation needed here.

2. Tim Tebow is a gifted leader. He's proven that at a variety of levels. You have to be a good leader to be an NFL quarterback and to get your team behind you in the way that Tebow has. Right now, those leadership abilities have combined with his athleticism and talent in a combination that has him right where God wants him to be. . . for right now. Who knows where the journey will end for Tim Tebow.

3. Tim Tebow has been fun to watch. We all love the "Rocky" stories, don't we? This has been a little bit like that. I, for one, have enjoyed it.

4. Tim Tebow may not be a conventional NFL quarterback, but for now, he's the Denver Bronco's quarterback. The critics need to leave the guy alone and let him play. Just because he doesn't play the way others who have gone before have played, doesn't mean he can't play the way he can and does play. Make sense?

5. Tim Tebow got his talent from God. . . just like every other professional athlete out there. Tim Tebow's athleticism is no more and no less a gift from God than the athleticism of a guy like T.O. . . . really. Just because one guy is more of a gentleman, good sport, and role model than the other. . . well. . . that doesn't make his athleticism more of a gift than the athleticism of the other. I say that because many of my Christian brothers and sisters seem to have forgotten that. Watching either (or all for that matter) run, jump, tackle, catch, pass, etc. . . . any and all athletic ability "sings" praises to the Creator of athletic ability.

6. Tim Tebow verbally and consciously gives glory to God. That's the way it should be. We can celebrate and learn from that.

7. Tim Tebow has become the Christian celebrity du jour. . . and that's not a good thing. Sure, it's nice to have followers of Jesus talk about their faith in ways that the world can see. But I'm always afraid that we church people latch on to stuff like this too much, too soon, too loudly, and with way too much enthusiasm. That's why I'm glad Tim Tebow lost yesterday. We need to stop the Christian celebrity thing. We need to stop wearing the Christian celebrity as "our guy." We typically do that with a chip on our shoulder and it's really not very attractive. Not only that, but when we adopt all the lingo ("tebowing," etc.) I think it tends to trivialize and cheapen our faith.

8. God doesn't need Tim Tebow, he doesn't need me, he doesn't need any of us. Really. God is the sovereign Lord of the universe. He is in control. He is working out His will. We need to know that will and humbly ask Him to use us as He sees fit as He reveals His Kingdom in us and through us. But let's never forget. . . we are flawed human beings. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. That keeps us in our place.

Tim Tebow. Let's not think too lowly of him. Let's not think too highly of him either. But by all means, keep watching and enjoying the remainder of the NFL season. Make sense?

Friday, December 16, 2011

OK Boys. . . We're Burning Your Trophies. . . .

So my nephew - who was a pretty decent football player himself a few years ago - texted me this morning. "Google new canaan football team burns trophies." My nephew lives in Connecticut near New Canaan, which is how he caught wind of this crazy little story that's a sign of the times.

Here's the story. . . . It seems that the New Canaan Black 8th grade football team made the playoffs. They reached the semi-finals but lost. That left them in third place. A few weeks after season's end, the team had a little party at one player's home. The players' parents decided to celebrate the team's season and success by presenting their boys with trophies. . . third place trophies. The coaches then gathered the boys up and took them and their trophies to a local park, where the coaches then proceeded to have the boys burn the trophies. All three coaches lost their jobs after the incident went public. One coach apologized, saying the message they intended to send was positive one. Residents of the town are concerned that the message that was sent was all wrong - that not finishing first is the same as failure.

As I think about this story, there are a couple of things to ponder here. As a parent of kids who were athletes and as someone who coached for years, I value a positive athletic experience. Athletics is about learning, putting forth an effort, cooperation, and having fun. I never believed that "winning is the only thing." I know there are coaches that scream, yell, and coach for nobody but themselves. Not good.

On the other hand, we live in a world where kids are coddled, hovered over, and buffered from consequences by parents who are far too child-centered. Everybody needs to get a trophy, a pat on the back, and a "you're awesome!" even when the effort is mediocre or sub-par. Not good as well.

So, while I don't fault the parents in this story (I don't really know. . . I wasn't there nor do I know the families), it does serve as a reminder that 1)we've placed too high a premium on winning, and 2) we coddle our kids way too much. Both are threads running through the fabric of today's youth culture. In this story the threads cross. . . and look what happened.

What do you think?

Next week I'll blog a little "show and tell" on the trophy that I proudly display on my desk.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Youth Ministry Hero. . . .

Ever get asked about who your youth ministry hero is? I've been asked, and I've asked. When asked, I've had a standard answer since the day I graduated from high school. It's not one hero, but three. They happen to be the three youth workers who invested in my life during high school. I know God used each of them to lead me to the point where I'm at today, vocationally and spiritually.

First there was Phil Douglass, a Tennessee boy who as a seminary student came to the Philly suburbs every weekend to lead a rambunctious group of teenagers at Supplee Presbyterian Church. I was in ninth grade. I quickly decided I wanted to spend time with Phil and to be like Phil. I also liked Phil's Firebird! Today, Phil is on the faculty at Covenant Theological Seminary, influencing young people like he did forty years ago.

Then there was Mike Barbera, another seminary student who spent loads of time with me during my sophomore year. Mike is now pastoring at Church of The Good Shepherd in New Orleans. I love Mike as I loved Phil. Oh, did I mention that Mike drove a dark green Kahrmann Ghia convertible?

Finally, there was Chuck Wiggins, another Philly boy who was with us for two years! Same thing . . . loved being with this guy who loved being with me. Chuck brought along an extra benefit to our youth group. . . his wife Kathy. Together, they made a great team. Both are now pastoring in Florida. And Chuck drove a VW Beetle. . . I guess you have to when you have a wife!

There they are. . . my three youth ministry heroes. They loved Jesus and they loved me. In recent years, I've added a fourth. I blogged about her a couple of weeks ago. She loves Jesus, she loves kids, and she's 81-years-old! Today, I want to share with you why she's my youth ministry hero. I don't have to write anything. You'll know why she's my hero when you watch the video of the little surprise Tic Long threw on her in Atlanta. Thanks Verna. . . for being a hero to us all!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cohabitation. . . 14-Fold Since 1970. . . .

The latest edition of ByFaith Magazine includes an article by Susan Fiske on "The Spiritual Costs of the Missing Family." It's an article about marriage and its demise in our culture, citing the fact that marriage is now occurring less frequently and much later in life. At the same time, there's been an increase in cohabitation, also known as "living together." The article reports that children today are far more likely to spend part or all of their childhood in a cohabitating household, than they are to see their parents divorce. Makes sense since cohabitation has increased 14-fold since 1970. (Amazing fact to ponder, isn't it?)

Researchers have been busy crunching the numbers to see just how many people are choosing to cohabitate in today's culture. All we need is a set of eyes to know that marriage continues to decline and more and more young adults and older adults are choosing to live together. As Christians, we must remember that while "it's not good for man to be alone," God's intention was for a committed and exclusive monogamous relationship between a married man and woman. A "marriage" without the commitment is really not a marriage at all.

Susan Fiske looks at just how wrong and dangerous the cohabitation alternative really is. In a sidebar in the article, she cites a report from the Institute for American Values and the National Marriage Project and five themes that illustrate current trends. Here they are:

1. Children are less likely to thrive in cohabitating households, compare to intact, married families.

2. Family instability is generally bad for children.

3. American family life is becoming increasingly unstable for children.

4. The growing instability of American family life also means that contemporary adults and children are more likely to live in what scholars call "complex households."

5. The nation's retreat from marriage has hit poor and working-class communities with particular force.

There are deep implications here for our families and for youth ministry. Are we building our marriages? Are we spending too much time focusing on things other than our children? Are we communicating a Biblical vision for marriage and trumpeting it's great mystery, wonder, and blessings? Are we challenging cultural conventions - like cohabitation - from a Biblical perspective? Are we calling sin "sin?" Are we preparing our students to honor and glorify God in every area of their lives as they move into adulthood?

Friday, December 9, 2011

You Write My Blog. . . .

When I saw this very creative yet sobering Christmas card that's been circulating through the world of social media, I sat in silence. . . just staring at it. I'm curious about what the rest of you think. I've taken some time to think about the card and what it says about us as individuals and a culture, but I've decided to hold back until hearing from you. So, go at it. . . write my blog. . . what do you think?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I'm Too Sexy For An . . . iPad?

Thanks to a very generous friend of CPYU, now I've got a dilemma. While making a point about the speed of technological advances, I mentioned publicly during a seminar that the iPad 2 is out and I don't even have an iPad 1. A couple of days later I get an email from this friend who was at the seminar announcing a donation to our ministry that is to go towards the purchase of two. . . count them. . . TWO! . . . iPads for use at CPYU. Wow!

Since we never had the funds for an iPad, I never took the time to research them or to look at how to best utilize one here at CPYU. After all, why feed info to a covetous nature?!? But now that the money's there, it's time to get to work. So I start to research. Apple versus Android. iPad versus Galaxy. Oh man. . . this is getting complex.

At this point, I know my "Jobite" friends are going to come at me full steam ahead. "Why are you even taking the time to ask the question?", they'll tell me. (Go ahead. . . post your comments!). I know I'm setting myself up here as most of my friends in the youth ministry world have volunteered. . .no, paid! . . . to be spokespersons for Apple. Why in the world would I ever even consider anything but an iPad? Sounds a little bit like iDolatry to me.

Some might say I'm asking all the wrong questions in preparation to make a decision. Which platform meshes better with a PC? . . . after all, that's what we run here at CPYU. Which device has the most versatility? Which device can we best employ for our research, presentation, and travel purposes? Which one is less likely to break when - not if - I drop it? I've got lots of questions.

So, the other day a young computer wizard comes in to our office to talk about some other tech issues with Chris Wagner. I walk through the room and notice he's clicking away on an iPad. He obviously knows scads more than I do about technology so I ask him if he would be willing to stick around when he was done so that I could ask him a question. The question? . . . "Why should I get one of those (as I point to said iPad) as opposed to. . . let's say. . . a Samsung Galaxy?"

He responded by thinking out loud and offering an objective comparison of the two devices. Then he smiled and giggled a little a bit. That was before he said something like this. . . "If you walk into a Starbucks holding this (as he pointed to said iPad), more people are going to notice." In other words, my "sexy cool" factor would increase exponentially. . . which in my case really doesn't matter that much at all. . . since 10 times zero is still. . . well. . . you get the point.

The fact of the matter is that I'm way beyond worrying about amping up the sex appeal and cool factors. . . at least I hope I am. If I'm not, I should be. Which got me thinking again about the constant battle our culture throws us into over pursuing style rather than pursuing substance. It's happening big time in the church. It's happening big time in youth ministry. It's happening in our very lives. And, we wear sometimes pursue and choose brands/technology not based on what it will do for us, but on what it will do for us in the eyes of others. Make sense? Come on. . . we all do this at some level.

A few years ago my buddy Jay Delp said something that opened my eyes to this stuff. We were standing on a Denver street outside our hotel at the National Youth Workers Convention. Jay had his ever-present video camera hoisted onto his shoulder as he walked towards us. "Hey Jay," I said. "We've got some money to buy a nice high-quality video camera at CPYU. Why would I need that big thing you've got as compared to the smaller camera we're looking at?" After hearing about the camera we were considering, Jay simply said, "They're almost identical. Cameramen, however, think this one will make you look more important when you walk into the room."

OK. . . so this is not intended to be an indictment of the iPad and those who use them. Not at all. It is intended, however, to be an indictment of our lust for style at the expense of substance. . . no matter what brand we choose to adopt as our own in any aspect of our lives.

Still. . . I have a decision to make. iPad or Galaxy? How about a little help here. . .

And while you're thinking, this commercial captures a little bit of what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Priority #1 - She Must Be Hot! . . . .

There it is! That's the Zits comic I saw in Monday's paper. Zits is my favorite comic strip. It follows the adventures of a teenager named Jeremy as he finds his way through the maze of adolescence in contemporary youth culture. His clueless parents try to "find" him while he's immersed in his own journey. It bothers me just a little bit that his clueless father is named. . . Walter.

Every now and then Zits gets me thinking about cultural realities that deserve our attention. Things like trends that we should notice, respond to, and perhaps even work to reverse. Our growing obsession with "hot" as the central goal of personal identity and as a prerequisite for relationship. . . that's a big issue these days. Ever notice those Facebook photos? The self-obsessed self-portraits? The attempts to not only be "hot," but to be seen and liked and commented on as "hot"? It's pervasive.

"Hotness" is so destructive. For one, the standard for "hot" is so high that no human being is able to achieve it. We're always trying to get there, but always left wanting. "Hotness" leads us to objectify others and ourselves. People are not people. They are commodified. "Hotness" is killing marriage. When a person's "hotness" is what draws us to them, the inevitable forthcoming "cool down" period makes marriages go cold. If all we're committed to is having a "hot" spouse. . . well, time and gravity will some day ruin it all for us. . . and for our spouse as well. On the upside, it just might be our commitment to "hot" that saves our economy. We spend billions of dollars every year to remain "hot" in the eyes of ourselves and others. And when we start to "chill," we spend even more money to cover it up and fool the world into thinking that we're still "hot."

Could it be that a powerful apologetic for the truth and reliability of God's Word is found in I Samuel 16:7? "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." Wow. . . that sure tells the truth, doesn't it?

How'd we get here? One of my heroes is Jean Kilbourne. She's been unpacking, explaining, and challenging our obsession with "hotness" for years. Her book Deadly Persuasion: Why Women and Girls Must Fight the Addictive Power of Advertising rocked me when I first read it years ago. It's worth a look.

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends posted this video clip of Kilbourne speaking on a college campus. She does that quite a bit. Students need to hear her message. Maybe this is a clip you should show to the kids you know and love.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is Jonah Telling the Truth? . . . .

Over the course of the last couple of days, the video I've embedded below has been spread far and wide courtesy of YouTube. I watched it a few times yesterday. Yep. . . it's been there for awhile. I know the song - Sia's "Breath Me" - a song that has quite a compelling video itself. Give Jonah's video a look. . .

After watching, I had some questions and responses that are indicative of what it means to be alive, living, and growing up in today's culture.

First, I wondered if this is real. With social media allowing anyone and everyone to jockey for an audience and their 15 minutes of fame, I'm always wondering if this kind of stuff isn't just a ploy concocted by a real or self-made-online persona starved for attention. I hope it's real because I don't want to believe that there are people out there who would try to fool us on this kind of stuff. I hope it's not real because I don't want to believe that there are people out there who are getting hammered like this. Who can know for sure?

Second, real or not in this case, the story is all-too-real in all-too-many real cases. Jonah speaks for a growing percentage of our population. Granted, his story may be nuanced. But his very real pain is increasingly generic. Identity formation is a battle-field. Kids feel abandoned and alone. Bullying is real. The support systems that should be holding kids up are largely absent on non-functional. Being fourteen in today's world isn't at all like it used to be. Jonah is telling the truth. . . if not for himself, for somebody(s).

Third, I wonder if we're listening. Whether we realize it or not, we all have Jonah(s) living in our midst. And if we're hearing and seeing, we can't be like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan. Instead, we need to be like the Samaritan, willing to give of ourselves in every possible way to meet the needs of others, regardless of the cost we might incur personally. When we see him or her, we should take pity on him or her. We must be people who "go and do the same."

As I watched Jonah in his video, I couldn't help but think about my dear friends Marv Penner and Rich Van Pelt. They've devoted their lives to equipping us all to love and minister to kids like Jonah. Today, I want to say thanks to Marv and Rich for all they do to stop, look, listen, and respond as the hands and feet of Jesus. . . and for teaching us to do the same.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Smells Like Christmas. . . Or It Should! . . .

We're late. . . again. Still don't have a tree. No lights up outside. I haven't even gotten them down from the attic yet. Maybe tonight. This all reminds me of something that happened a few years ago when we were late with our Christmas preparations. When my then 19-year-old son arrived home from college, our lack of preparation caught him by surprise and got him a little bit irritated. The fact that the tree wasn’t yet in the house and we hadn’t baked any cookies caused him to verbalize his disappointment in us with this: “It doesn’t smell like Christmas!” He had just come off a difficult finals week and he was looking forward to the comforting sights, sounds, and smells of our family Christmas that he had come to treasure before heading off to college. We had let him down.

His statement got me thinking beyond the scent of pine needles and fresh-baked ginger cookies, to another way so many of us are letting our kids down these days. Not coincidentally, it has to do with Christmas. We’re reminded every year at this time of the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ. As a Christian father, I’ve been entrusted by the Savior who came and who transformed my life, with the awesome privilege to embody the message that He is savior and Lord in all my comings and goings with my kids. That Christmas, with my son just home from college,yet ready to move out of his teenage years, I wondered if my life had served him well, “smelling,” if you will, like Christmas as he grew up under my care.

I often wonder how well we – Christian parents - have lived out this God-given responsibility. Generally speaking, today’s teens are a consciously spiritual bunch. Perhaps more than any other generation in recent time, they are on a deliberate quest to understand and embrace faith. While this is good news, it comes with a set of distinctive issues related to our unique culture and times. Because swimming in the soup of our times is pushing more and more kids away from a belief in absolutes and transcendent truth, orthodox biblical Christianity is not only not embraced, but is often looked down on with scorn. Christianity is rejected because Christians believe they alone have spiritual truth. Consequently, more and more kids struggle with Christianity’s exclusivity. In addition, the emphasis on feelings over and above rationality leads our teens to look for a faith system that is emotional. Globalization and immigration have opened the door for a variety of previously foreign and unfamiliar faith systems, especially various forms of eastern spirituality and mysticism, to find a new home in North American youth culture. All this has combined to create an environment where our kids step up to the spiritual buffet table to load their plates with a personally created faith system that combines a variety of elements into a personal mix put together to satisfy their spiritual palate and hunger. Because each individual has the freedom to choose what they want for themselves, varied day-to-day tastes allows them to change and adapt from day to day. Every plate is custom made by the individual consumer. No two meals are alike. To those observers who are more rational and logical, the ingredients on individual plates are often seen to be incompatible. But to young people, they have been given the freedom to be consistently inconsistent and they see no contradictions.

This individualized spiritual journey has had a profound effect on the faith adopted by our self-described Christian teens. Christian Smith’s groundbreaking research on teenage spirituality reports that 84 percent of teenagers in the United States believe in God. At first-glance, that encouraging number seems to indicate that our efforts to lead our kids to faith in Christ have been working. But a closer and more careful look at the study’s data indicates we should stop congratulating ourselves, and start getting concerned. Shouldn’t we be thrilled that more than 8 out of 10 teenagers believe in God? Not after reading the results of Smith’s research. The real question is who or what is the God they believe in? The research concludes that their God and their faith isn’t in the God and faith of the Bible, the one who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world. Rather, it is what Smith labels as “Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism.” In other words, kids believe that to be a Christian means that they are to be good people. They believe that God exists to serve them by helping them to feel good, happy, secure, and at peace. And, they believe that even though God made the world, he’s only active and involved in our lives when we need him to resolve a problem. In reality, only 8 percent of teenagers “believe in God, attend religious services weekly or more often,” hold faith to be “important in their lives,” regularly “participate in religious groups,” and “pray and read the Bible regularly.”

The reality of emerging teen spirituality is that “the majority of American teenagers appear to espouse rather inclusive, pluralistic, and individualistic views about religious truth, identity boundaries, and the need for religious congregation.” This explains the rise of teenage interest in New Age mysticism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Kabbalah, Wicca, and other spiritualities. When it comes to those who claim to be “Christian,” that brand of Christianity is becoming distorted and secularized. Smith says that “Christianity is either denigrating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.” More and more teens who have been raised in Christian homes or who have embraced Christianity are adding other spiritual elements to their plates. It’s not uncommon to encounter a teen who believes that Jesus was the son of God, believes in the virgin birth of Christ, believes the Bible is the word of God, and also believes in reincarnation, reads and follow their horoscope, and sees no contradictions between any of these beliefs. In addition, many who hold to a more orthodox and biblical Christian faith have embraced it as something they do from time to time, rather than someone they are all the time. Instead of integrating their faith into all of life, they live a dis-integrated faith that only touches select parts of who they are. Consequently, their stated beliefs may be separated from how they view and respond to authority, how they conduct themselves in dating relationships, who they are as a student or athlete, etc.

Why is all this so important for us to know? For the simple reason that we are getting ready to celebrate the coming of the Savior, and because our greatest responsibility to our teens and the surrounding culture is to consistently talk about and live out the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. They were made to follow Him. Are you spending time each day in God’s Word, building your relationship with Him? Are you spending time every day in prayer, asking God to change you and your teens into His image and likeness? And, are you prayerfully living out the will and way of God in every area of your life with dependence on God’s Spirit? If you are, then your house “smells” like Christmas all year long.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hey Central Pennsylvania Youth Workers! . . . Host A College Transition Seminar. . .

“A few summers ago I was roasting a marshmallow at a family picnic. Seated next to me was my wife’s younger cousin, David. David was about to head off to college, and at one point in our conversation he said, ‘All the advice I was given at graduation only told me what not to do: don’t get drunk, don’t have sex! I need to know what to do.’ I took a bite out of my s’more and thought, He’s right.”

These words from my friend and co-worker Derek Melleby’s amazing book, Make College Count, capture the essence of the horribly negative and way-too-minimal message most kids get from the adults in their lives before heading off to college. That short conversation has played a significant role in Derek’s mission to equip young people to make the most of the college years to the Glory of God. That mission is at the heart of Derek’s ministry with our College Transition Initiative here at CPYU. I love what Derek’s doing. I love what Derek’s saying. I love seeing the fruit of his work.

While I believe that every youth worker I know should be addressing this issue and inviting Derek in to speak to their students, CPYU is offering an exciting opportunity for youth workers here in the Central Pennsylvania area to host a College Transition Seminar. The College Transition Seminar provides a great opportunity to bring families together to have meaningful conversations about college life, and to equip students to live out their Christian faith during the college years. Dozens of churches that have already hosted the College Transition Seminar have found it to be a great event to invite community members to attend.

In the coming few days, we are seeking venues here in Central PA to host a 2-hour College Transition Seminar on the following dates:
-March 22 (Thursday evening)
-March 27 (Tuesday evening)
-March 31 (Saturday morning)
-April 12 (Thursday evening)
-April 14 (Saturday morning)
-April 17 (Tuesday evening)

Here’s how it works. . . CPYU will waive the normal $800 honorarium. CPYU will handle all registrations online through our website.

What we’d like the host to do is. . .
-Provide a room that holds at least 100 people
-Provide AV support
-Provide light refreshments (if possible)
-Welcome guests and introduce Derek before he speaks
-Assist in marketing the event at your church and with other local youth workers/churches (we provide the materials)
-In addition, the host will receive a nice thank you pack of CPYU resources ($100 value)

If you’re at all interested or would like more information/clarification, please get in touch with Derek as soon as possible.

Thanks for considering partnering with us to serve future college students and their families!

Watch a clip of Derek Melleby speaking.
Read an overview of the College Transition Seminar.
Hear what others are saying about the College Transition Seminar.
Learn more about CPYU’s College Transition Initiative.