When I started as the Minister to Youth & Young Adults at Colonial Church in 1997, I inherited a lot of programs, as most pastors do. Among them were Sunday school for both middle schoolers and high schoolers. Since I couldn’t be two places at once, I alternated weeks between them, and I had other leaders help me out.
The very first realization I had was that the high school students hated Sunday School. I mean they HATED it. Only about half a dozen students came, and they were all sophomores who hadn’t yet gotten their driver’s licenses. (Freshmen were in confirmation class, and they were required to attend worship.)
So I canceled Sunday School for high school students. They were relieved. Some of their parents were pissed. And I announced in staff meeting, “We’d better figure out ways to make our worship services more relevant to teenagers, because they’re be in worship as of next week.”
I’m happy to report that the church staff did up their game. The senior pastor began using more anecdotes from when he was in high school in his sermons. And when he gave litanies like, “This week, when you’re at work, with friends, at the gym…” he now added “at school” to those lists.
The choir director invited high school students into the choir, and I started putting students down to read scripture and lead prayers in the services.
Charlie was in my youth group when I was a pastor. He was, hands down, one of my favorite kids, and he and I have stayed friends in the decade since I left the ministry. He read my post on Tuesday and asked if he could respond. Here’s what he wrote:
Every week I go to church, not necessarily by choice, but by way of employment. I have been working at medium sized church in an affluent community for the last five years. When I realized that the the pastor was actually preaching on topics I could relate to I began to wonder where all of my friends from our forty-person confirmation class had gone? I even felt scared to admit that I went to church or worked at a church.
When I saw my friends on Saturday nights at the bar, I began to realize that this is our church, the bar, the social scene, dinner nights out on the town, not some suburban palace.
I just got back from a week at a dude ranch in Colorado. It was a celebration of my mom’s 70th birthday, and we gathered 17 Joneses of three generations for a week of horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and eating lots and lots of beef. It was the perfect family vacation (and I’ll post about it more in days to come, including my victory in barrel racing at the culminating rodeo).
I’ve got two brothers, each with a spouse and kids. As in many families, we were raised in the same faith (centrist Protestant), but we’ve gone our separate ways somewhat. Each couple is raising their kids differently, which causes interesting conversations when we get together at times like this.
One of the things that my nieces are particularly interested in is talking about God, especially with a theologian. One of my nieces attended Young Life camp earlier in the summer, so she was particularly keen on talking to me about God and Jesus and faith. She and I chatted a bit, and later she told my mom, “After talking to Uncle Tony, now I’m totally confused.”
One day, a youth pastor was summoned to the senior pastor’s office, and he was asked to bring along the junior high director. There they met with a married couple who had grievances against the youth workers. The parents complained bitterly that their two teenage sons were not being ministered to adequately, that the youth pastors had not shown them enough attention, and that their sons had not made friends in the youth group.
The youth pastor and junior high pastor sat quietly and listened, as they had been directed to.
The married couple went on to make other complaints against the church: they had not received timely pastoral care, and the man had not been given the promised solo during the Christmas Day liturgy.
Finally, the senior pastor spoke. “I have heard the cry of your hearts,” he said, “And it seems to me that you are asking to be released from the covenant of membership at this church. I hereby release you.”
“No!” the couple cried, “We want redress! Fire the choir director! Punish the youth pastors!”
“You are hereby released from the covenant of membership at this church,” the pastor replied.
“That’s not what we want! Satisfy our anger!” the couple demanded.
“I release you from our covenant of membership. May the Lord bless your journey.”
With that, the pastor opened the door, and the couple departed, never to be seen again.
Please pardon the Sunday post. Usually, I don’t post on Sunday and try to keep a sabbath, but I’m not bound by the law! Also, I’m sitting in the DFW airport, reflecting on my time at the National Youth Workers Convention.
Over the past few days, I’ve seen scores of old friends, given talks on culture and the atonement, and sat on theological panels discussing sexuality and the nature of scripture. It’s been since 2008 that I’ve spoken the NYWC, and I didn’t know how it would go: would people remember me? would my message still resonate with youth pastors, even though I haven’t been one since 2003? Well, it was really fun. We had great conversations in each of those venues.
But here is the most intriguing takeaway for me: youth workers want to talk about GLBT issues, gay marriage, and issues of human sexuality.
Tomorrow will mark my return to Youth Specialties as a content-provider. And I’m thrilled.
My publishing career began under the tutelage of Mark Oestreicher, who was then the publisher at YS. He signed me to write my first and second books, and he advocated for me to speak at the National Youth Workers Convention. Tic Long, who I’m guessing was as uncomfortable with my evolving theology as his peers at the heart of the YS world, invited me to speak at the convention for ten years straight, culminating with my crash-and-burn experience on the Big Stage.
Since that fateful day, I have not been asked back to speak at the NYWC.
Rose French of the Star Tribune reports:
A Catholic priest in northwest Minnesota is refusing to administer the sacrament of confirmation to a 17-year-old after the teen posted a photo on Facebook condemning the [Minnesota] marriage amendment, according to a newspaper report.
The decision by the priest at Assumption Church in Barnesville, Minn., to deny confirmation to Lennon Cihak last month has surprised the teen’s family, The Forum reports:
“The Facebook post in question was a photo of Lennon in front of an altered political sign. Originally reading “Vote Yes” on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment, which would have changed the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, Lennon scribbled out the “yes” and replaced it with “NO!”
The teen’s mother says she was “called into a private conversation with the priest soon after the photo was discovered and was told her son wouldn’t be allowed to complete confirmation.”
The newspaper also reports that the family is being denied communion. Church officials made no comment for the story.
Aimed at banning same-sex marriage in Minnesota, the proposed marriage amendment failed to win a majority vote on the Nov. 6 ballot. The state’s Catholic bishops and clergy were among the most vocal supporters of the amendment and called on the Catholic faithful to vote for the measure.
I spoke for 10 straight years at the National Youth Workers Convention, culminating with my massive trainwreck on the main stage in 2008. After a few years off, Mark Matlock has invited me back to present a couple of workshops — one on the atonement, and one on Christianity and culture. So, I’ll be doing that in Dallas, the weekend before Thanksgiving.
Well, whether you’re considering attending in San Diego, you can save $100 by entering YS12JONES in the “Special Pricing Code” box when you register.
Hope to see you there!
My dear friend, Michael Toy, has a heart-rending post about his son’s experience at church. If you’re in youth ministry, please read it. Hell, if you’re in ministry, please read it:
The Day They Kicked my Son out of Sunday School
Once upon a time there was church somewhere in America. It wasn’t better or worse than any other church in America. It was as full of the same kind of hopeful foolish beauty, and tragic inevitable disaster as any another other place where people put money in the offering plate and sing songs.
Now in this church there was a family. A quirky non-conformist family, square pegs, no … hexagonal pegs, no … 5 dimensional pegs. The church loves this family and the family loves being part of the church. They don’t quite fit it, because of those pesky extra dimensions, but everyone gets along ok.
Then three things happen.
- There is some upheaval and the youth program which used to be run by a full time staff member is now being run by a part time volunteer.
- There is some upheaval, and the quirky family is not working very well. They are having to work hard just to keep loving each other, they kind of lose energy for extra stuff, like looking all shiny and nice on Sunday mornings.
- The son in this family, partially because life is not perfect at home, and partially because he is five dimensional, is now, by his presence in the room, keeping the youth program from running smoothly when he is involved. He isn’t knocking down walls or hurting people. He refuses to sit in the circle and play the games and doesn’t have the same happy opinion about the world that everyone else does.
One day, Youth Director comes to the Father of the Quirky family and says. “Your son is messing up Sunday School for all the normal children. Something has to be done.” On the day of the pronouncement, the Father of the Quirky Family was trying to figure out how to not to run screaming in fear from all the broken-ness in himself and the rest of the Quirky Family. The last thing he needed was a new problem that needed to be monitored and managed.
Read what happened next: The Lingering Lemon of Death: The Day They Kicked my Son out of Sunday School.