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Jeremy Steele

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As the entire world takes measures to limit the spread of this modern pandemic, the youth in your church may be the last thing on the minds of your community leaders.  Though your church may  choose not to meet and may cancel your in-person youth gatherings (or not), there are a range of options for you to continue in ministry with your students.  

Texting devotions

Consider using a service like Remind.com (free) to allow students to sign up for a text list where you can send out reassuring thoughts and devotions to students who may be stuck at home for a while.  It may seem simple, but in a world that is gripped with fear, the familiar voice of a youth worker who cares encouraging them with the words of Isaiah 43:1 (Do not be afraid) can be like a cup of cool water in the desert.

If you enable the response function in Remind it will allow students to respond to you and offer their prayers and concerns without responding to the entire group. The ability to push out a group wide text without having group-wide responses can take a group text from oppressive to genuinely helpful.

Create a Playlist Youth Gathering

You may not be able to gather physically, but you could offer a worship experience for youth to participate in online at their own convenience.  Start by recording a simple message or devotion of your own and uploading it to YouTube.  Once you have the message finished, the rest is a snap.  Pull up some of your group’s favorite worship songs and create a playlist with a couple of songs, followed by your message and then another song or two.  Once the playlist is complete, share the link and invite students to engage in your virtual youth worship service.

Get Face-to-Face on Zoom

Though you might not be able to be in the same room, invite everyone into a video conference call using a service like Zoom. Though you can pay for an account, Zoom is free for 100 participants and 40 minutes which is sure to serve almost every youth group’s needs. Simply sign up for a free account and let everyone dial in or connect using their webcam or smartphone and check in face-to-face.

Use All of the Above when Kids Can’t Come

Your church may not cancel youth group because students are at a lower risk or because your community has avoided confirmed cases.  When that happens, remember that you will have students whose parents will keep them out anyway.  Don’t let them fall through the cracks.  Whenever possible use texting, Zoom, or YouTube to let them participate from home.

Whether it’s Remind or Zoom or something else, we don’t have to let in-person cancellation hamper our ministry.  Keep ministering.  Keep checking on your students, and for heavens sake wash your hands!

The legislation that many agree will be the framework for creating a new Methodist denomination has been released.  What does this mean for your church? What does this mean for your job?  And most importantly, what does it mean for the students in your youth ministry?  We’ll answer all of that but first, let’s catch you up on what happened so far.

How did we get here?

For 47 years the United Methodist Church has been in some level of argument around human sexuality.  Through those years the church has made it illegal for ministers to perform same-sex weddings and for “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” to be ordained.  It all came to a head in May 2019 when the church called a special General Conference to address the issue. That conference ended with the passage of a block of legislation known as the Traditional Plan that took the church in a more traditional direction and aded things like mandatory minimum punishments, etc. for those that violated the rules around human sexuality.  Because of the way the General Conference played out there was not time spent on revising the entire block of legislation resulting in passage of pieces that had previously been ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council (the Supreme Court of the UMC).

After that disappointing end with neither side getting what they wanted, a group of caucus leaders and Bishops hired a mediator to help them resolve the issue.  On January 3rd that group released the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation that outlined the major points of how a new traditionalist denomination would be created and how churches and annual conferences could choose to become part of it. The protocol was not legislation, but a set of values that would need to be put into the formal legislation to be voted on by General Conference this May. 

That legislation has now been written and released filling in details on how this group is proposing the church moves through this season of separation. To be clear, this is not finished.  It is not church law.  It must be debated and voted on by General Conference this May; however, with leaders from every major caucus group signing the protocol and agreeing to abandon their own legislation and put their energy and influence behind getting this passed, it’s as close to a done deal as there has been in the 47 year argument.

What are the basics again?

Basically this legislation allows for the creation of a traditionalist denomination that maintains the church’s current stance on human sexuality.  That denomination will receive $25 million to begin and will agree to release the UMC from any future claims on general church assets. An interesting twist in the final legislation is that there could be multiple traditionalist denominations created; however, it seems to be bent toward ensuring there is only one. The legislation also allows for other non-traditionalist denominations to form and allocates $2 million for those.

Once the General Conference is over Annual Conferences will have the ability to vote to become part of a new traditionalist denomination (or one of the others created). If the Annual Conference chooses to vote, they will need 57%  to move into a new denomination.  If that happens all the churches within an annual conference (and all their property) will move by default into the new denomination.  If the vote fails the conference remains in the Post Separation UMC.

But what if a church disagrees? If a church wants to go in a different direction than their annual conference, they can choose to vote as a local church.  That vote will require either a simple majority (50% plus one vote) or two thirds.  We’ll explain that in a minute. If a church votes to do the opposite of their Annual Conference, they will move (with all their property) into their chosen denomination.

What does this mean for your job as a youth minister?

Whether you are ordained or not and whether you are paid or not, this has important implications for your job. If you aren’t ordained, there is nothing specific in the legislation about the lay people who are employed at a church, but don’t be fooled. You will be in the crosshairs for a bit. This is going to be contentious, especially if it gets to the point where your local church is voting.  Ultimately your role will be to minister to students who may want to have a voice in the process (more on that in the next section). Whether you agree with your students or not, people will feel like you have had an input into whatever they say.  If you end up debating homosexuality in your church it will be heated and your actions will be scrutinized.

That means you need to be careful.  Make sure that you run everything you are doing by your pastor and possibly your SPR chair. At the end of the day you may be faced with ultimate-level job decisions.  Don’t take them lightly, and remember that your students are likely not of one mind.  You need to minister to all your students.

What if you have considered ordination or are in the ordination process?  This legislation fills in some major holes around this area that were not clear from the rough outline released in January. If you are staying in the UMC, it should have not affect on where you are in the process.  You will simply indicate to your District Superintendent and Bishop that you want to stay in the UMC and you will continue within the post-separation system.  If you are wanting to leave for one of the new denominations that are being created, the UMC is asking that you be grandfathered in but obviously has no ability to direct those independent bodies.

What does it mean for your students?

This is where it gets interesting because any student that has completed confirmation is a full voting member of your church and has the right to voice their opinion and vote on what happens.  Yes, the twelve year-olds are just as able to vote as the sixty year-olds.

Youth art part of annual conference, but most churches have few if any delegates there.  We will vote another process to how they can be present there.  For most youth ministries it will come down to what happens at the local level.  

If your annual conference has a vote and your church chooses to not vote, there’s nothing to be done unless they want to make a presentation to the church council or pastor. But if your church is going to vote, youth have a consequential role to play.

The local church voting actually has two stages. The first stage happens at the church council level (often called the administrative board). That group will be the group to set the threshold for the vote.  They can choose whether it will require a simple majority or two thirds to move in a direction different than your annual conference. If your students are represented on that board, they will have a vote on that.  If they don’t have a vote, they can still come to the meeting and ask to be heard.

The second stage of the voting is the church-wide vote. In that vote every single youth that has gone through confirmation has an equal vote and voice to every adult member there.  It will be your job to try to make sure they know that they can vote and to work with the church leaders to ensure the vote is scheduled for a time when students can attend.

That’s a lot, I know. And don’t worry,  we are going to be releasing more resources around this to help you in all these areas.  For now, we need to pray.

Lord, hear our prayers.

Over the years when we have tried to get people to volunteer on a retreat we would be met with the classic “I really want to go, but Johnny really doesn’t want me to.”  After knocking my heads against the wall one too many times I realized what was needed:  a legalish agreement for the parent to release their parental duties (agree to not parent their child) during said retreat.  After the brainstorm hit, I worked up this legalish sounding document and every time we reviewed that excuse we offered to broker a deal wherein the parent agreed to not parent for the weekend and the child agreed to be not horrible.  If you want a fancy pdf, you can download it here.  If you want to make your own, here’s the wording we used:

Release of Parental Duties

We the undersigned agree to the following:

____________________________ as legal guardian in all other situations and circumstances I hereby relinquish my parental duties to correct, discipline, pester, tease, and parent in general during the retreat. I give all the aforementioned parental duties to the other adult leaders on the retreat and commit to hold harmless my child for any lapses in manners and other non life-threatening misbehavior.

____________________________ as child of the above legal guardian I grant my full permission for them to attend as a full retreat leader and will not express general disgust when I see them and will interact as a normal, kind student when I see them during the retreat.  I recognize that they may be forced to intervene in life threatening situations, and will grant an occasional moment to share something good that has happened during the retreat.

As kids and adults come back from break, they will be armed with questions about a new protocol that was released that seeks to end the decades-long disagreements in the UMC that have centered around human sexuality.  Avoiding the questions will likely be impossible. These tips will help:

1. Know what did NOT happen

News of this story broke in every major secular and christian news outlet from the New York Times to Christianity Today, and most led with some headline announcing that the UMC had split, had agreed to split or had announced that it was going to split.  Let’s make it clear:  the UMC has not split and has not announced it would.

The only body able to speak for the United Methodist Church is General Conference.  In this crazy time, it is important to reiterate that. For those of you that need a refresher, the General Conference is a global legislative gathering that happens once every four years unless a special session is called as happened in 2019. They speak by voting on proposals to amend or change the UMC Book of Discipline which is our denomination’s guiding rule book. The next General Conference will meet in Minneapolis from May 5-15 this year.

2. Know What did Happen

If the United Methodist church didn’t split, then what happened?  A group that seems to represent every major lobbying group on every end of the spectrum in the Methodist Church comprised of pastors, Bishops, and lay people met with a professional mediator to come to an agreement on how to finally deal with this problem. Through those meetings they created the protocol that was released on Jan 3 that spells out how they agreed to peacefully end the 47 year fight.

What may be the most important piece of the protocol is that every leader in the group agreed to abandon their group’s own General Conference legislation (often referred to as a “plan” and instead support the legislation that will be created around the principles in the protocol. 

What are some of the principles?  Well, you can read them yourself, but in the most over-generalized terms, the protocol allows for the creation of a new, traditionalist denomination (and possibly other denominations as well). Whole annual conferences will be able to vote to join those denominations.  If a specific church doesn’t like the way their annual conference votes, they can vote to go the other way.  If no vote happens at either an annual conference or local church level, the church will stay within the existing UMC.

That’s the basics. It’s an overgeneralization, but if you don’t have time to read eight pages, it should help give you the lay of the land.

3. Know the Process

Basically, this is far from a done deal; though, it is the closest to a done deal the UMC has ever seen around this issue.  From this point a group of the leaders that created the protocol with the mediator will draft legislation.  That legislation will be reviewed by the Judicial Council (the  Supreme Court of the UMC) to see if it is constitutional.  It will then likely be edited again based on their feedback and brought to that General Conference gathering in May.

The General Conference will edit the legislation and vote on it deciding whether the process will be made into church law. 

From this point everything is based on the protocol and may change based on all that happened above.  But, according to the protocol, the new denomination(s) will have until May of 2021 to register as a new denomination.  Annual conferences will have until July 1, 2021 to vote and local churches until December 31, 2024.

4. Touch Base with Your Senior Pastor

With any sort of major church issue like this, you absolutely have tot talk to your senior pastor to get guidance on how they want you to deal with it.  You won’t be able to ignore the questions, but they will likely have a general answer they are hoping you will offer to most people.

One thing to discuss with them is how they are going to talk about it.  Students (and adults) struggle with this sort of complicated procedure and are helped in that understanding by tying it to things they have heard before. Your pastor may choose like many to use the metaphor of a family that is splitting or of a company that is merging or breaking into multiple smaller companies.  However they are talking about it, it would help if you used the same terms so that it is easier for your people to process it.

5. Keep the Doors Wide Open

Some of the students and/or adults will feel feel hurt, afraid, or excluded based on whatever news outlet they read. Your job is to love them in the name of Jesus and to keep the doors of your youth group open as wide as possible so that they can experience the grace and love of God that is available to them there.  

This is far from the last news story that will break about this, but it can be an opportunity to continue underlining the United Methodist slogan: Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.

It’s not all about you, but for a second it is going to be.  We need to get to know each other so we are going to start by unloading some of the interesting and not so interesting details of who we are.  

Give each person in the group 3 notecards or pieces of paper and ask them to write down the answer to each of these three questions. After they are done they hand them to the group leader who shuffle them and reads the answer is allowed for the group to guess which student it is describing.

What is something that no one in the group knows about you?

What is the most disgusting thing you have ever eaten?

What is the longest you have ever been awake?

Why did you come to this retreat?

You know that your students need help in discerning their vocation.  And, you want them to see that vocation as part of God’s movement in their life and in the world, but it’s hard to find something that is solidly UMC and also written with everything you need to use it with your teens.

Explore Calling has all you need to host a calling-focused retreat for your youth or do a multi-week series on the same topic.  It even has a retreat schedule, up-front games, and suggested worship songs that go along with the lesson.  And, since each United Methodist Church pays apportionments, it is completely free to use.  Your offering dollars has already paid for the production!

Simply head over to the curriculum section of the Explore Calling site and scroll down to download the package for 6th through 12th grade!  You’re welcome.  

If you’d like some help thinking through the idea of calling in general, check out our great podcast on the subject with Wendy Mohler Seib.

During the Imagine Dragons Communion service at youth. 2019, This original poem was performed by Dale Fredrickson. Its powerful look into the life of Peter would be a welcome addition to your next youth worship service.

The Weight of Love

I.
i am a storm chaser
i am a raging sea of curiosity
i am a strong wind of passion and action

i’ve built my life on the next catch
marketplace profits and
the mysteries of the sea
my net worth
i keep casting nets
my last payload
i’m a half a lake ahead

don’t ask me to make sense
of my feelings
i am my father’s son
i’m okay
i’m okay
i say over and over
especially when
no one is listening

he was the wind
that cut through
the aroma of dead fish
and seaweed
he said to me
“you are a boulder”
i laughed and burst out
“one who sinks”
he smiled and said
“i hope so”
“not today” i threw back

his friendship is a full sail
a snapping wind of discomfort
a smooth breeze of rest
he is the surging waves
unsettling my sailing seas
he called me a ‘rock’
i’m treading water
i’m afraid of drowning
i’m scared of losing
what keeps me afloat
my anchors of small-minded prejudice
my closed fists of comfort and confidence

II.

when they came to sink him
with their snares
their unreflective fears and
raging need for conformity
i raised my voice
‘you are not taking him’
your ear for my heart
my hands shake my sword falls
again and again
i’m caught by the words
of his net
my promises are hot air rising
my words are snagged wings
and my ears have rocks in them

the powers that be shouted
‘sedition’ and ‘blasphemy’
an us versus them blindness
anger and violence
they tore apart his body
they tore apart his body
they tore apart his body

as i watched rubbing my eyes
with trembling lips i said
“i don’t know him
i don’t know him
i don’t know him”
three times leave me alone
i’m just like them
i am a shipwreck
my ears are ringing
i am a coward
i am a castaway
my name is petrified
there’s no time for grieving
i’m going fishing.

III.

on the shoreline
of shattered seashells
and broken starfish
the risen one called
“hey boulder” he said
my heart’s in my sandals
i’m sinking with everyone
who feels the weight
of swords wielded
of promises broken
of mistakes and betrayals
with anointing oil on his lips
over a simple breakfast he asked
“do you love me?
do you love me?
do you love me?”
three times infinity 

Leadership committees in youth ministry (really all ministry) are as tricky as they are important. Gathering people together in the form of some sort of committee or team is one of the quickest ways to get more buy-in and participation from both youth and adult leaders. However, without a bit of thought on the front-end, these teams can quickly derail into gripe groups or stage a coup d’état and steer the ministry off course down one person’s pet project or narrow perspective.

Much of that can be fixed by designing several groups to serve one of the three main functions of ministry leadership teams. By choosing only one function, it allows for a check and balance so that too much of the ministry responsibility is not in a single group. Once the function is chosen, make sure that at least once a year, you go over the three functions (and which one each team serves) to keep the lines between the functions clear.

What are the three functions? Each function has a subset of the overall authority and responsibility for running the ministry. By dividing the authority and responsibility in this way, stakeholders get to participate and have their voices heard without being able to take control of everything at once. Depending on your context, some of these functions may reside with a staff member while in other settings each might be given to a different committee of non-staff people. The functions are: Advise, Decide, Implement.

Advise

A ministry without a group of advisors is like a weatherman without a radar system. Guesses about what is happening around the ministry can be made, but there is no real data that can guide the decision making process. Every ministry has to have a group of people offering insight that are either directly involved in the ministry or have kids/spouses that are directly involved.

This is the group that offers information about the timing of different retreats. Are they happening right before or after a major community event that will affect attendance? Are they respecting the cultural values of what time is appropriate to meet and what time is not? Is there an overall feeling of needing something new or has there been too much change?

Without this group simple mistakes are commonplace. Or, in the words of Proverbs 15:22 “Plans fail for lack of council, but with many advisers they succeed.” What is great about an advisory group is that there is little to no preparation before a meeting, there is nothing to do after (they aren’t deciding or implementing) and there is little drama because no one wins or loses in the room. That means that it is easy to get a diverse group of people because all they are committing to is the meeting itself.

Decide

At some point, someone is going to have to decide between going on a mission trip to Guatemala or Ecuador. Someone is going to have to make a call on which Sunday in September to do the fall Kickoff. When there are a lot of staff this job often falls to a staff-led group; however, in most churches this function falls to a committee.

The decision group should be smaller and filled with people who have been actively involved in the ministry area for a while as they are the ones who are best equipped to process the input of the advisory group to see how it will fit in the real world of the ministry. This group will often need to think about plans, and then receive input from the advisory committee to help them refine those plans and make final decisions.

They can’t be a micromanaging group, but must maintain a 30,000 foot view. For example, they will set the date and price and registration deadline of camp, but will not be responsible for the theme, t-shirt design, etc. They must stay focused on the major decisions and have to work several months ahead so that they can have time to enlist the help of the advisory group.

The higher level of detail is implementation, and because of this group’s relatively small size, it cannot take on that task. Implementation needs to be the function of the largest of the leadership committees. Letting go of the implementation function will make the relatively large job of researching and making all the big decisions manageable.

Implementation

The final function is the rolling up sleeves and getting it done group. This group should involve as many people as are willing to take a significant hands-on role. This doesn’t require ministry veterans, but should involve people who have come more than once. This should also not include everyone in the ministry, but a subgroup of people who will ultimately recruit others to help.

This group doesn’t have to worry about the location or price or date of camp but will assign its members to come up with the theme and games and band. They will hire a speaker and work with the camp on getting numbers and meal times.

In a more regular program, this group will be assigned with teaching (or recruiting teachers) making copies, and selecting songs for worship. Like it implies, the implementation group is the leadership committee that makes it happen. They don’t need to advise (though some of their members might also be on the advisory group) they don’t make the big decisions (though some of their members might be in that group as well). They take care of the details and work hands on in the final product.

But really, Three Groups?

Yes. Put simply, when these combine, it gives a group too much power or responsibility or both. That will result in poor outcomes in one or both of the functions, and will almost always will end up burning out some or all of the group members.

So, where are the students?

Students work well as full members and leaders of all of these types of groups. Though I personally think it works best when adults and students collaborate in all leadership teams, it is essential to have adults in advisory groups because students will not have all the information at their disposal to offer the full breath of information required to make the best decisions.

Jello Carving

This game requires a little more prep time.  The day before (or earlier if it makes sense) make jello (you’re going to want to buy the tub rather than the box) in three gallon buckets trying to get the mixture as close to the top as possible.  Follow the directions for letting it cool and congeal.  Before starting, you want to grab several trays from the dining hall, and tip the buckets upside down on the trays until you end up with one Jello tower on the tray.  (Pro tip: add 1.5-2x as much jello powder to you mixture so that it is more firm.  It hold up better in this large quantity.)

While you’re in the dining hall, stash a couple of extra knives, forks, and spoons in your pocket.

Set  your table cup on the stage and ask for a couple of artistic volunteers.  Once they are there, let them know they will be creating a sculpture for the rest of the group and then reveal their jello medium.  Give them one minute to create a simple shame (like a pyramid) and judge them based on the accuracy.

Once that is complete, have them recruit a friend to help.  The second challenge is another shape and they will work as a team.  This time though, only one person can use the utensils, the other must use their mouth.

Live Candy Crush

Beforehand, get a couple of bags of bulk candy. Separate them by type.  Next, print out  small (3×3) logos of each kind of candy (keep it to 3-4 types).  You’ll need a large pile of logos about sixteen per type with a small roll of wall-safe tape on the back of them.

In the room you will play create two boards the wall using tapes: a 4×4 or 5×5 grid.  Fill each square on the grid with a random logo.  Set up a table on the other side of the room with the piles of specific types of candy.

When it’s time to play recruit two students per board and one adult volunteer per board. One student will play candy crush trying to get (2 or 3) candies touching each other. They do this by swapping neighboring logos one pair at a time. 

Once they accomplish that, their partner will have to eat that number of the type of candy that was touching, and when they have swallowed it (verified by the adult volunteer) the adult will replace the empty holes with random other logos.  

This is a timed game.  The student team with the most candy eaten by the end wins.

School shootings are one of the horrible realities of life for far too many youth. Whether students are directly involved or not, the constant stream of information in the media makes each tragedy have to be processed by students everywhere.

What do you say and do as a youth worker? How do you help your students process? Is there a way for them to become part of the solution? These six resources by real-world youth workers are a great place to start:

Processing Tragedy: Youth Worker Collective Podcast
Listen in to a discussion from veteran youth workers about how we process tragedies like a school shooting with the teens in our groups.

Responding to a School Shooting: Three Approached for Youth Workers
Paulo Lopes offers three broad orientations towards your response that will help you process what seems most appropriate in your context.

From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A Tool to Process with Youth
Andy Millman offer this offers a step-by-step tool that will help you have brave conversations about what has happened by adding structure to the processing students need.

Stopping the Shootings – Youth Workers Can Help
Scott Meier has powerful words that will help you think about the shooting as a youth worker including how you can be part of preventing future attacks in your own community.

19 Years After Columbine, No Longer a Unique Story: Supporting Youth Who Have Experienced Trauma
Amy Mcmullen was only ten when she almost lost her mom, a teacher at Columbine High school, and did lose their close family friend and babysitter. Her words challenge us to be more.

Getting Students Engaged: School Shooting Resolutions for Annual Conference
Annual conference is on the horizon. Brad Fiscus offers a way for you to challenge your students to step into leadership in your annual conference by proposing a resolution.