Highlights from “Children, Youth & a New Kind of Christianity”

Highlights from “Children, Youth & a New Kind of Christianity” May 10, 2012

This past week I had the privilege of attending a conference focused on the future of children and youth ministry, which was inspired by Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christianity. To learn more about the conference or to see supplementary opportunities, visit http://children-youth.com. (The website also features more information about the speakers listed below: http://children-youth.com/speakers). The following are some of the highlights from the conference.

Caveat: Because I was live-tweeting the event from my iPhone (which is a rapid-fire process) and because Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet, the bullet-points below do not always feature full attribution of the quoted material. I have done my best to be clear about who said what, but I welcome feedback in the comments section, and am glad to revise the material in the main post as needed. I am also grateful to the many other folks who tweeted and blogged through the event. I have incorporated material from these sources as well. Also included are my tweeted thoughts in response to the presentations.


Monday, May 7

The following are from Presentation Session 1, featuring Janell Anema, Dixon Kinser, Starlette McNeill, and Mike King, as well as Brian McLaren’s keynote on “Christian Faith (and) the Next Generation: Why We Need this Conference.”

  • I’m a child of divorce…between my head and my heart. #Philokalia
  • “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” (Simone Weil)
  • We know how to teach math, but we haven’t figured out how to teach people to love their enemies.
  • We need a curriculum for loving our enemies, loving ourselves, and loving God.
  • “There are Bible verses lying around like loaded guns.” –Brian McLaren
  • We are “Detectives of Divinity.”
  • Jesus was trying to give people an identity based on solidarity instead of exclusion and hate.
  • In youth ministry, we must curate environments in which Christian community can flourish.
  • How do we turn other-ness into one-another-ness?
  • The Christian faith has been an evolving faith since the beginning.

from Abby Thornton’s excellent blog posts about this conference at http://www.baptiststoday.org/cartledge-blog/month/may-2012:

Brian McLaren laid out seven things that the church must take on if we are to have the awareness needed to evolve for rising generations: theological detoxification, Christian identity formation, integral mission, lifelong spiritual formation, doctrinal reformulation, rebranding, and sustainable (regenerative) systems.  I could spend time unpacking these seven things, but better than these complex terms to me were the questions McLaren challenged us to ask in conjunction with each.  What better way to cultivate awareness of these areas of needed growth than with really thoughtful questions such as:

  • In a time where “we are dealing with the possibility that Christians will blow up the world,” how do we deal with scriptures and ideas that have become loaded weapons that empower religious violence?
  • How can we help our communities claim strong Christian identity without being hostile towards other identities — be they cultural, sexual, religious, or political — developing an “us-ness” that welcomes “other-ness” into “one-anotherness”?
  • How many culture wars, nuclear wars, and sea level rises will our kids face, and how do we shape a more holistic view of mission in light of this?
  • How can we discover new ways of thinking about the biblical narrative that bring healing teaching rather than destructive dogma?
  • Instead of wanting to protect our past names by working to save “Baptistism” or “Episcopalianism,” can we seriously consider what we want future generations to call themselves and be known by?

Tuesday, May 8

“On the Ground” Panel: Catherine Maresca, Greg Bolt, Donna Jacobsen, Erika Funk, Kathleen Fry-Miller, and Rebekah Lowe — Moderators: Michael Novelli & Amy Dolan


  • From “Mission Trip” to “Social Justice Immersion Program” (Youth Initiative in Philly, Erika Funk, Broad Street Ministry)
  • Maybe instead of trip somewhere, we need to do “Social Justice Immersion” IN OUR OWN BACKYARD (opposite of NIMBY)…and doesn’t form to think that social justice is only something you do in a special time and place for “other people” in a far away place without wrestling with how to balance commitments at home with social justice work. (@carlgregg)

Catherine Maresca

  • A Montessori-style children’s curriculum: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (http://www.cgsusa.org/)
  • Trust children’s natural development in firsthand religious experience


Greg Blot and Donna Jacobsen (Bend Youth Collective, Oregon): Presbyterian, Epsicopal, Lutheran

  • 3 churches, 1 community
  • 3 traditions, 1 faith
  • 3 histories, 1 future
  • Building the Beloved Community
  • https://www.facebook.com/BendYouthCollective

Kathy Fry-Miller

  • Get down on children level and have face-to-face interaction, but also give them space to be one-on-one with God at their own pace.
  • Children and God already have a relationship that you can nurture.
  • Get down on child’s level and learn from the child.
  • Collaborate with children.
  • Be who you say you are.
  • Advocate for your children and youth’s spiritual formation
  • Cultivate children’s experience with the holy and with the poor.


The Synaptic Gospel: Teaching the Brain to Worship by Christopher Rodkey

  • What can we learn about religious education from neuroscience?
  • We learn through experiencing emotion.
  • Church is the only place in our culture where intergenerational groups can have these experiences in a sustained and sustaining community….liminal space.
  • Principles for Pan-generationl Religious Education:
    • Worship provides space for empathy
    • Worship should expect to be pan-generational
    • Habituation (Aristotle: learn through habit; Plato: memory of past life).
    • Worship and Religious Education teaches liturgical thinking.
    • End goal is to live liturgically.
  • “Festival of the Christian Home”
  • Treat confirmation like graduation from church, then are surprised when they leave and don’t come back.
    • Bring them back 3/4 into worship for Communion or to listen to them from what they learned in RE.
  • Adapt bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress. Church should be about cultural  subversion, ordination as insubordination, and overturning tables.

Other Workshops

  • If your congregation closed would anyone else in the community care?
  • Teach kids how to shop for churches in college.

Dave Csinos

  • Don’t hear “European-American” because considered the norm. Hyphen = acceptable minority.
  • Ask, “How were you blessed by diversity in the past week?”
  • Beware of appropriation without reciprocity and authentic understanding. (@carlgregg)

Tony Campolo

  • Guilt and anxiety kept me from being Fully Alive.

Jeremiah Wright

  • Biggest difference in today and the world I grew up in is that you do not know your neigbbor.

Rebecca Seiling and Amy Gingerich

  • Washington Post headlines: all based on violence in paper I saw today.
  • Front page of church should be justice-making, peace-making, generosity. The stories we tell matter.
  • STORY: Preacher Peter (Mennonite): served meal to those who tried to steal his roof.
  • Teach conflict transformation.
  • Perhaps peacemaking means NOT telling violent Bible stories to children (Noah’s Ark, Red Sea crossing, etc.) (@carlgregg)
  • @seattlerev: Yep. Or re-imagining them. “What might have happened if David didn’t throw stones at Goliath?”
  • Create book w/ children about “What does peace look like, taste like, smell like, etc.?” Keep adding to book and ideas presented there.
  • If you would have faith as small as a seed / a tiny amount that’s all that you need / your faith could move mountains and boulders and trees….

Jim, Joy, Luke, and Jack Wallis

  • Joy Wallis yells at her kids to get in the car too.
  • Kids learning hospitality from hosting guests in their home.
  • We go to Wild Goose every year…even though only happened once so far. Classic children/youth perception. (@carlgregg)
  • Prayer at night for 30k kids who will die tomorrow…help us to stop this from happening — help us to be the answers to our prayers.
  • Chose FBC Washington DC b/c of balance of social justice preaching.
  • Most problems in churches come from Christians not knowing what their identity is — that is, all their other identities trump their identity in Christians.
  • Guide for family evening prayers: Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life (@carlgregg)
  • Both kids go to DC Public Schools

Cathy Ode

  • Play is an essential component of ministry for all ages.
  • Playful seriousness and serious playfulness.
  • Play must be done well.
  • Holy Play.
  • Opportunity to create too often causes anxiety.
  • Group “Here is the church” hand motions: fully engaged, if only momentarily.
  • Jerome Berryman: The Grand Puba of Holy Play.
  • Blessing of the Animals as play in worship.
  • Homo Ludens: Humans as Playful –Johan H.
  • Play is its own purpose. It is intrinsically valuable and an end in itself.
  • Play is invitational, fully engaging, creative.
  • We get old beccause we cease play. Jesus: become like little children to build Beloved Community. Children play often and whole-heartedly even when we want them to stop it!
  • Recommended author on play: Recreation With Dance, Movement, and Music by Glenn Q. Bannerman
  • James Martin’s Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life vs. Puritanism: haunting fear that someone somewhere is having fun.
  • Enthusiasm = In God…God in that.
  • Desmund Tutu as example of holy play.
  • Hildegaard of Bingen’s playful “Be Not Lax”…wrote in Middle Ages, which was a tough time for a lot of people.
  • Play Pitfall: trying to entertain.
  • Catechesis of the Good Shepherd OR Godly Play good examples of Holy Play, Playfully Seriously.
  • GK Chesterton: “Do it again!” — child to adult. Adults aren’t strong enough to exalt in monotony, but God’s appetite and attention are insatiable.

Susan Burt

  • Children will take from the story whatever they need, based on their current experience.

John Westerhoff

  • “I hate the children’s sermon! The children who enjoy it most are the ones who ought not participate!”
  • Formation takes place whether you like it or not. You are always being formed by something.


Wednesday, May 9

Almeda Wright, “Personal Jesus, Public Faith: Cultivating a Generation of Young Public Theologians”

  • Personal Jesus iPhone app…there’s an app for that…seriously. #JesusKitsch
  • Youth Theological Initiative…another BigPharma funded theological venture. Ethics of BigPharma and #CYNKC? (@carlgregg)
  • Christian Smith, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers: many youth remarkably inarticulate about their beliefs.
  • #youthminFAIL: Students get A+ in AP Governemnt, but inarticulate about reflecting theologically about God in public life.
  • Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (Christian Smith, Soul Searching)
    • Moralistic: Helps people make good choices
    • Therapeutic: Religion makes people feel good
    • Deism: Solve problems or troubles
    • God functions as butler and divine therapist.

Other commonly articulated beliefs:

  • God exists who created and orders the world and watched over human life on earth
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other.
  • Central goal of life is to be happy and feel good.
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God needed to resolve a problem.
  • good people go to heaven when they die.

–> our major theological creed is “Play Nice in the Sandbox.”

Fragmented Spirituality (Evelyn Parker, Trouble Don’t Last Always) – one’s deeply held religious beliefs are separated from other ares of their lives.

  • Personal experience of awesome God…but then when mention racism, never mentioned God. (see James Cone.)
  • John Dominic Crossan addresses cooperation with God (“collaborative eschatology”) as Public Theology in his God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome: Then and Now. (@carlgregg)
  • From “Personal Jesus” to Co-creation with God. God calls you. God is not genie waiting on your to rub the bottle.
  • How about just a lot more studying and enacting of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7)?#PublicTheology (@carlgregg)
  • God isn’t omnipotent. We got Greek Philosopher mixed up with Christianity. #ProcessTheology. God works through persuasion, not coercion. (@carlgregg)
  • Your view of God shouldn’t leave you constantly apologize for God because of injustice.
  • From fixation on Personal Jesus to practice for building the Beloved Community. Less about Jesus than incarnating the kingdom of God. Doing what Jesus himself did, which wasn’t point to himself. (@carlgregg)

Resisting the Privatization of Religion (Sociology of Religion)

  • How do we teach youth (and adults!) to be public theologians in public square?
  • Almost all I talk about is politics and religion for better or worse (What do we think Jesus talked about?!) (@carlgregg)
  • Duncan Forrester: “Public theology is not primarily and directly evangelical theology, which seeks repentance and conversion. Rather it seek the welfare of the city. Offer distinctive insights from the treasury of faith
  • Public Theology is moving from out of the comfort of the sanctuary into the public square to give voice to love embody social justice in the public square — [adapted form Robert Michael Franklin]
  • Public theology is not about getting others to love my personal Jesus.
  • Cornel West is a public theologians (get youth to read him): “Justice is what love looks like in public.” (@carlgregg)
  • Public theology should be relevant for the entire world, not just Christians.
  • Public Theology is embodied and incarnational; behavior is more believable than words.
  • Public theology is the antidote to privatization of religion. Challenges youth people to work for common good.
  • Dominance of Personal Jesus and failure to model Public theology is why we don’t have a single-payer health care plan. (@carlgregg)
  • @DanielleShroyer: Each week JourneyKids sit in front of world map and ask what god is doing in the world, what God is asking them to do in the world.
  • @carlgregg: We and our young people need to READ public theologians such as The Rich And The Rest Of Us: A Poverty Manifesto by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West.
  • @carlgregg: Form young people as prophetic Public Theologians before they become vocational slaves to school loan debt and mortgages (see Tripp Fuller’s blog post on “Student Debt is Killing the Church“).
  • Romans 12:1-2 (paraphrase from James Gustafson, Ethics from a Theocentric Perspective): “Individually and collectively offer yourself, your minds, your hearts, your capacities and powers in piety in devoted faithful service to God….”

Marti Andrews and Belinda McCafferty, “Let the Children . . . Stay” (Pan-generational Worship)

Worship Team Planning values:

  • experiential, participatory
  • holistic, embodied,
  • participatory,
  • hospitable/safe/comfortable/feel loved, Come as you are — whoever you are, Coffee Bar.
  • doesn’t have to be perfect — flexible, organic to what naturally emerges if need to deviate from plan
  • relevant to what is going on outside church walls (often with music)
  • Intergenerational
  • screens, couches, pillows, candles, sat in circles.

Children welcome

  • In the beginning…bought IKEA table and chairs for children in back…but was too loud.
  • Evolution…added Children’s Advocate to planning team

Plain and Simple

  • Made Kids greeters (hospitality)
  • Set-up / prepare / handout (Missional, Creativity)
    • Worship Stations
    • Band
    • Communion (Authenticity)
    • Read Scripture (Authenticity)
    • Dance (Praise)
    • Lead the Welcome (Hospitality)…even if just have a child with you
    • Add small art tables (Creativity)…then bring that as offering, not just tactile thing to keep them busy…paste to front of stage.

Dream Big: The more the kids participated, the more they grew into larger roles

  • Labyrinth: had to model how to be at station with kids
  • Let children/youth preach
  • Writing/singing a song
  • Art: buy canvas, paint white over, and use it again
  • Put out nice art supplies, drafting table
  • Drama and liturgy (act out while preaching)
  • Journaling stations
  • Service Groups (Missional)
  • Worked really well for special needs

Worship Planning Team Tips

  • 4-6 weeks ahead
  • Series theme
  • Meet in a home
  • Worship Workshop: Creative Ways to Design Worship Together by Marcia McFee

–> Tip: If you have a child/youth in worship, you must volunteer at least once every six weeks.

Note: At least as of May 12, 2012, the slides for this workshop were available for free download as a .pdf file at https://www.dropbox.com/s/jq9nuuu2w6hertm/CYNKC%20Let%20the%20Children%20Stay.pdf


Rosemary Beales

  • @carlgregg: Jerome Berryman’s “Playful Orthodoxy” sounds like Brian McLaren’s “Generous Orthodoxy.” I’m also for some “heteropraxy” and “Paradoxy”…or Polydoxy.
  • The practice of “wonder” is a child-friendly form of theological reflection #GodlyPlay
  • @cariiebear: I’m wondering how accessible the shepherd really is in 2012?
  • http://www.godlyplayfoundation.org/newsite/Main.php
  • http://www.godlyplayresources.com/

Samir Selmanovic

  • Faith House Manhattan (http://www.faithhousemanhattan.org/)
  • God moves sideways
    • biblical obsession with strangers
    • Melchizedeck: ordains Abraham (who ordained Melchizedeck?) Like, “Where did Mrs. Cain come from?” Don’t look behind the curtain.
  • #2: The Part is better than the whole. Learn to be part of something that is bigger than yourself. For many, much hard to be part that to be in charge of things.
    • Joseph Campbell: The cave you’re afraid to enter holds the treasure you seek
    • The Kingdom of God (Beloved Community) is made up of human beings, not Christians.

–> What if the Hokey Pokey IS what it is all about. #TheologyOfPlay


Shane Claiborne

  • If our children grow up and decide they don’t want to be a part of Christianity, it won’t be because we have challenged them too much or because we haven’t entertained them; it will be because we have challenged them too little. We’ve also tried fear: heaven’s gate and hell’s flames.
  • unChristian. Barna Group: #1: anti-gay, judgmental, hypocritical. But that wasn’t what people walked away with when they met Jesus. They were fascinated by his love.
  • Willow Creek: socio-economic status much more determinative of lifestyle than professed Christian beliefs.
  • Three things needed to start an Emergent Church: Bible, candle, copy of the Matrix movie….
  • Willow Creek is a mile long and an inch deep. Amish are a mile deep and an inch long.
  • The Amish for Homeland Security #JesusForPresident
  • @carlgregg: After 9/11, we asked, “Why do they hate us?” (culpability not on us) and practiced retaliation (eye for an eye). After shooting Amish reflexively practiced love of enemies.


Joyce Ann Mercer and Dori Baker

  • GirlTalk and doing Girlfriend Theology
  • @carlgregg: How about some female language for God and Mother God at #CYNKC?

Paul Hill

  • There are more possible neuron connections within our brains than there are atoms in the universe

Patricia Lyons

  • Anti-Pentecost: praying that everyone start speaking our language instead of miracle of understanding another’s language.
  • 35 years later, we are selling Volkswagen with Darth Vader (Super Bowl commercial). That’s the power of story in culture.
  • @carlgregg: Star Wars is a story that got into us…at least until George Lucas ruined or childhood with prequels.
  • I wasn’t able to walk, chew gum, think about terrorism, and read Harry Potter.
  • Harry Potter: homecoming theme was more important than the football game. When I saw saw Harry Potter take on Homecoming and win, I thought, “I’m in!”
  • Are you willing to learn someone else’s language?
  • “Ambulance” written backward so able to read in rear view mirror. Are we willing to write things backward on our chest to make sense to young people?
  • We think the Bible is like the organized silverware drawer — actually more like junk drawer. Bible has a lot of tools in it. Some of them are knives: you can get cut if you’re not careful and don’t know what it is for. Reach in and “Slaves obey your master!” “Women be silent!” Can we pick up verses and use it for purposes other than original intent? For freedom we have been set free.
  • Malcolm Gladwell’s 10k hours theory. With 52 weeks of 1 hour of Sunday School: 192 years for mastery, facility in 80 years. #BrokenModel
  • @blaurock: Language of #CYNKC doesn’t have Roman Emperor Constantine in it. #ImperialCritical
  • Zeal without knowledge leads to violence.
  • Apostle’s Creed and Eucharist are my patronus charm (protection from dementors who bring death and steal joy). What’s your? Help form the boy or girl who lived.
  • @carlgregg: My patronus charm is Greatest Commandments: to love God and love neighbor.


Panel on Violence

  • “Justice is reconciliation and equity, not retribution.” (John Westerhoff)
  • “We must replace forgive and forget with remember and repent.” (Carl Stauffer)
  • “The Eucharist table is a gathering of the oppressed and the oppressor. It is where the oppressors can confess their oppression and the oppressed can be validated in their sufferings.” (Brain McLaren)
  • “Force is not the same as violence. Not all force is violence and not all violence is force. We need to reclaim the distinction.” (Melvin Bray)

Thursday, May 10



Brandy Walker

  • Man, people are going to freak out when Muslims go to heaven!
  • “Christians are people too. They just don’t act like it.”

Sara Million

  • Thank goodness for the people in our lives who love us until our hair falls off, so that we can become real. #VelveteenRabbitTheology
  • How are your teachers doing spiritually? Teachers need to be nourished so that they can be nourished.
  • Children learn what to think in the Church, but they don’t learn how practice building the Beloved Community.


Ben Lowe

  • 5 ways to do “Green” #CYNKC: preach/teach green, take kids to nature, mission trips themed on environmentalism, green your church, get involved.
  • @EpiscoYouthEpiscopal: Relief and Development has a great resource for children and youth on teaching about clean water at http://www.er-d.org/userfiles/ActOutCleanWaterNEWEST.pdf
  • We need to teach future generations to see themselves as responsible not entitled.



Steve and Mary Park

  • “I’m there and you’re not, when they come home from school.” –Drug dealer, when asked by pastor why kids go to him not church.

Ivy Beckwith, “Godspell, Footloose and a New Kind of Christianity

  • Jesus followers are some of the most fearful people I know.
  • “Our churches are competent, but perhaps not imaginative
  • Why can’t church be like final scene of original Footloose film. The kingdom of God is like that.
  • “We wring the imagination out of our children.”
  • @carlgregg: There are lots of similarities between Educational System & Prison System. See Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto
  • Behavior leads to belief, not the other way around.
  • Imagination: What if we had a worship service without a sermon?
  • @carlgregg: Julia Cameron’s The Complete Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice is great resource for re-claiming creativity and imagination.
  • @carlgregg: Maybe #CYNKC means modeling risking/getting arrested in prophetic social justice protests. #Occupy
  • We keep the status quo and celebrate small vision. #Ensmallment instead of #Endowment
  • @ggbolt16: We do “Sketch Jams” at #BYC. Roll out butcher paper, throw out some pens, ask a question, back up. Drawings,words, doodles
    • One time asked the kids “what is your wildest dream?” answers were transcendent when students realized they could get there.
    • last time we asked “Where do you feel closest to God?” 5 min, move add to someone’s beginning
  • @DenaKitchens: You don’t teach imagination; you nurture it.
  • @neebs: Parents, want your kids to be better disciples? Feel free to set the example yourself, rather than hating on us not doing enough.
  • @carlgregg: On potential of Millennials to transition from “Generation ME” to “Generation WE”

See: http://findourselves.kidcultivators.org/ (Code: “CYNKC”)

Amy Butler

The conference ended with the offering of this prayer by Ina Hughes:

We pray for young people
Who put chocolate fingers everywhere,
Who like to be tickled,
Who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants,
Who ask for $20 before they leave with their friends,
Who erase holes in math workbooks,
Who never put away their shoes.

And we pray for those
Who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
Who can’t bound down the street in new sneakers,
Who never “counted potatoes,”
Who aren’t anybody’s Facebook friend,
Who are born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead in,
Who never go to the circus or to a concert,
Who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for young people
Who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
Who sleep with the cat and bury goldfish,
Who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money,
Who leave make-up all over the sink,
Who slurp their soup.

And we pray for those
Who never get dessert,
Who never had a safe blanket to drag behind them,
Who can’t find any bread to steal,
Who don’t have any rooms or lockers to clean up,
Whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s iphones,
Whose monsters are real.

We pray for young people
Who spend all their paychecks before Tuesday,
Who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
Who like ghost stories,
Who stay out past curfew while their parents wait for them,
Who get visits from the tooth fairy,
Who think they’re far too old to be hugged good-bye,
Who squirm in church and scream on the phone,
Whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.

And we pray for those
Whose nightmares come in the daytime,
Who will eat anything,
Who have never seen a dentist,
Who are never spoiled by anyone,
Who don’t have a loved one to come out to,
Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
Who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for young people
Who want to be carried
And for those who must,
For those we never give up on
And for those who never get a second chance,
For those we smother,
And for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind
enough to offer it.

We pray for children.


America, War, the Gospel & Next Generations: Walking Tour on Mall with Brian McLaren


The above notes are a taste of the 72-hour event. Please feel free to post clarifications or links about information about what I inevitably left out in the comments section.

Stay tuned to the conference’s website for follow-up information and future events:


And if any of the  sections above particular piqued your interest, learn more about the speaker in question at


The Rev. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. candidate at San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg) and Twitter (@carlgregg).

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