Do you have a scope and cycle to your curriculum?

Do you have a scope and cycle to your curriculum?

Writing curriculum is one of the most challenging endeavors a youth worker undertakes.  (I have found that it is hard even writing the word curriculum, mostly because I am a horrible speller.)  As hard as writing curriculum can be, what really makes a curriculum great or awful is its scope and cycle.  And this is where Orange's XP3 Student ministry curriculum hits it out of the park!

It is often confusing cruising through a website and trying to figure out what is going on, why they do what they do, and how it all fits together. I get that 90% of that confusion is because I don't pay attention and skim read. So, I really enjoyed sitting down and having the creators of this material, Jeremy Zach and Jared Herd, explain it to me.

These two guys and their team put together some really great material. But what is even more compelling is the values they begin with as they write their curriculum.

Here are a few values that form the foundation of how this curriculum is put together.

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Top 10 ways to stay hip and relevant

Top 10 ways to stay hip and relevant

The number one question I get asked by people young and old is, “Ben, how do you stay so hip and relevant?”  People look at me and watch me in action and they can not believe a man in his early 40’s is so cool and has such a bead on the youth culture.  Just to prove it, I downloaded Rebecca Black’s song from iTunes way back, when there were less than  1,000,000 hits on youtube.

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Do you have Gangnam Style?

"Who needs swag when you have Gangnam Style?" @comedytruth

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0]

Have you been watching Facebook or Twitter blow up this week with Gangnam Style references?  It has been a bit over whelming and to tell you the truth, I don't really get it.  But me getting "it" is not the point.

They way pop culture trends move every little reference seems to travel through an incredibly steep and short life cycle.  A month ago, if you were into Gangnam Style you were part of a hip group of people who got to enjoy the front end of a trend.  Two weeks ago you were in the middle of the bell curve and if you could have used it in ministry would have been in the sweet spot of capitalizing on pop culture.  And if you are just now watching it, then, I am sad to break it to you, but you missed it.

Once Ellen references it, once there are over a hundred parodies online, once your middle schoolers have found it, it is over.  This video now gets to enjoy retirement alongside Rebecca Black's Friday video.

I am sure most of you could care less about this video or see little to no value being up to date with what is making the rounds in pop culture.  But on the off chance you do care, or you are looking for the next viral video to use for a youth group event, I wanted to share with you the greatest resource out there on the net.

The best pop culture resource on the interweb:

YouTube Trends is the greatest help for older and out of touch youth workers.  I have no idea what is funny anymore.  But Ever week I check out this site and scroll through the trending videos.  I am continually in awe what trends.  But understanding is not the point.  Being aware is.

I am proud to say that I saw this video for the first time almost a month ago.  I am sad that I thought it was the dumbest video on the planet and couldn't tell if it was for real or actually a Korean Old Navy commercial.

We have a lot to do for our jobs as youth workers and spending all day online isn't really the best use of our time.  So, I would encourage you to use the resources out there to stay hip and relevant.  My advice, simply skim off the top and become a pop culture genius to those around you.  Enjoy!

What will student ministry look like in an increasingly post-Christian context?

Our culture is changing, shouldn't our ministries adapt as well?One of the areas of passion for me is contextualization. As our context becomes more and more post-Christian, I am realizing that the way forward is going to be complex and challenging. Because of this a couple of the youth pastors in my network whom I love and respect decided that we should host an event to wrestle through some of these issues.

We genuinely believe that the the community of youth workers in our context will have a much better shot finding a way forward than a book by an author from a totally different context or by the oner person with the biggest personality and loudest voice pushing their agenda.

In October we are going to take a big swing and gather our peeps from the Bay Area for this conversation. If you call the Bay Area home, would you consider coming? If you consider me a friend, would you come as a personal favor :) If you are no where near us, please pray for us and feel free to chime in!

Over the next week I am going to expand some of my thoughts regarding the changing culture and the need for a changing picture to communicate the Gospel with students who live in an increasingly post-Christian context.

Below is our events page. Check it out, sign up, and join the conversation.

Bay Area Youth Ministry Forum

You are invited to be a part of a day long discussion on the present and future of youth ministry. Your voice and experience is needed to wrestle with and understand the complexity of our context.

We live in an increasingly post-christian, entitled, and hyper-scheduled culture. At the same time, we are called by God and by the church to present the gospel to this next generation. But where is the thin place the gospel can truly enter into this worldview?

The world our students live in is dramatically changing. It is vital for those who are called to reach students to understand these shifts and adjust accordingly. We want to spend the day wrestling with two questions:

1) What is the crisis in these students lives that the gospel solves? In general, for our parents, the crisis was one of rebellion and the solution was justification. Our crisis is one of brokenness and the solution is redemption. For our students???

2) How do we structure a program within the church to that meets the real needs of students and satisfies the expectations of our church leadership?

We are glad to have Mark Oestreicher join us as our facilitator in this forum. Mark has over 30 years of experience and has been a part of all the major conversations regarding youth ministry for the last decade. He is an expert on culture, adolescent development, and church systems. time with him alone will make this forum worthy your while.

Would you consider bringing your expertise of our culture and context to the table as we work together to answer these important questions?

Important Information: Who: Youth workers who do ministry within the context of the local church in the bay area. Where: BayMarin Community Church 150 N. San Pedro Rd. San Rafael, CA 94903 When: Saturday October 6. 9am - 4:00. Optional dinner and drinks with Mark afterwards. Cost: $59 early bird registration. $69 after August . Lunch is included. Scholarships available. Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/232816

As you register, we would love for you to post an article to the blog jacobswell.me on anything and everything regarding the complexity of issues surrounding these questions.

Coming May 3rd, 2013 Youth Ministry Justice Conference. Now that you are home from your Spring Break Mission Trip, how do we bring what we learned back home to our everyday lives at school, our community and world? What does it look like for our students to live a life of service and justice? This event will be for youth workers and students.

Does a changing culture require a different slant on the gospel? Part 1: The Past

The Gospel is Dynamic One of the most amazing things about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it has proven to be good news to every culture, in every time, and in every context. If you think about it, this is an amazing feat for any religion, and Christianity has done just that.

Christianity is not based on national identity or cultural mandates. It is a religion that offers good news to everyone. As you study how this has worked itself out, you notice that the gospel story has subtle to gigantic differences as you compare what was emphasized in differing Christian communities such as pre-Constantine Mediterranean, to the hight of Papal authority in the middle ages, to the reformation. And this is just the western branch of Christendom.

How much more diverse does the gospel look when you compare the differences from they hyper-spirituality of the Congo to the liberation theology in Central America. The underground churches in China have an expression of the gospel that is very different than the Conservative religious right of the United States.

Once we recognize that the gospel is a dynamic story that has flexibility to truly speak good news to the thin places of need in a culture, we can begin to think more creatively about what is the crisis our students are facing and what is the good news that addresses it.

Part 1) The Past But in order to figure out where we are, it is important to look back into our history and see some of the major cultural shifts and the church's response to it before we can move forward. For our purposes, the furthest back we need to go is for our modern memory, the gospel that has shaped for many of the boomers who are now in positions of power and leadership in the church. This is the Billy Graham Gospel.

Billy Graham and Bill Bright were among the leaders of pioneering a gospel story that was simple, clear, and straight to the point. It truly was good news for a generation of people who had grown up with a religious world view but had now clear path to connect the dots towards a regenerated life in Christ. They were rebellious and needed justification from consequences of their sin.

The gospel was a simple outline summing up the 4 main themes in scripture. These 4 themes came to be known as the 4 laws. The premies of them was rooted in foundational logic and a common understanding of truth. The introduction of the 4 laws says, "Just as there are physical laws that govern the universe, so there are spiritual laws that govern our relationship with God."

The Gospel as the 4 Laws Then will clarity and simplicity, the 4 laws can be presented: Law 1: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Law 2: Man is sinful and separated from GOd, so we cannot know Him personally or experience His love. Law 3: Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin. Through Him alone we can know God personally and experience God's love. Law 4: We must individually receive Jesu Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know God personally and experience His love.

Why were they so effective? This version of the Gospel was highly effective and brought about a significant revival in the 70's. It is the version of the gospel that is still most closely associated with evangelical Christianity. Even through these 4 laws are not clearly stated by Jesus as how to enter into His Kingdom, it has been the gospel that the church has relied on here in Northern America for the better part of 60 years.

But have you ever stopped to think about why was this version of the gospel so effective? What was the crisis that these laws were good news in fixing?

Think about the post World War II context with its rigid social rules and norms. Think of Leave it to Beaver. Everything was made right and had order and rules. The Judeo-Christian story was part of the culture and the Church as still the center of social and cultural life in the community. Sermons were even printed in the New York Times every Sunday.

With this emphasis on religion and order as cultural values, the crisis became one of rebellion. Many of us have heard the definition of sin as missing the mark. This is an important illustration in a culture that has a common understanding of order and law and could agree with what missing the mark meant.

As the chaos of the 60's erupted with its emphasis on rebellion and freedom, it made sense that there has now become an established thin place to communicate the gospel. Many of the boomers grew up with structure, order, and rules. When they exchanged that for rebellion, there were earthly consequences that followed. But because there was a common set of rules and norms it was easy to find a place for the gospel to be shared.

There was a common understanding of God. There was a common understanding and experience of rebellion and the consequences of that rebellion. And now there was a gospel that covered sin and washed away the consequences of that rebellion, and that was the person of Jesus Christ.

Why has this gospel become less effective? This gospel that used to have the power to fill stadiums with thousands of people coming forward, this gospel that used to be shared with just about any stranger on the street with a high chance for success, seems to have less and less impact, has lost some of its umph.

We no longer have a common Judeo-Christian culture with shared values, laws and rules. If you don't believe me, as any teenager an ethical question and you will quickly see that there is no truth with a capital T, but only situation ethics with the foundation built on minimizing their consequences. With little common agreement on the nature of truth, the nature of God and the nature of sin, the 4 spiritual laws don't answer any of the key questions being asked or solve any of the felt crises.

Because the gospel is dynamic and malleable to every cultural context, I think the gospel of the 4 spiritual laws with the emphasis on justification as the good news for our rebellion is fading in exchange for a gospel that is more relevant in addressing our current generation's crisis.

Where do we go from here? In part 2 we will take a look at what the emerging leaders have brought to the table and the transition in our understanding of the gospel. We have gone from a gospel of justification to one of healing. Where the crisis was rebellion and the good news justification, current thinkers like Tim Keller are clarifying a new gospel where the crisis is brokenness and the good news is healing power of Jesus Christ!

Want to join a conversation that is wrestling with this changing reality? Mark your calendar and save October 5, 2012. Click HERE for more information.

Living Young, Wild and Free: The core sin issue of our students and why we probably can't help them.

One of the big songs that is quickly becoming the theme song for this summer is Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa's Young, Wild and Free.  It is a classic, feel good anthem for kids, complete with a catchy hook.  In fact the hook is so good, I can't even get it out of my head.  If you have never heard the song or seen the music video, you might want to take a peek to the song that is defining a generation!  (If you are easily offended by cussing, poor grammar and recreational drug use don't click the play button and skip to the next section.)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wa5B22KAkEk]

It is so easy to watch this video and begin the list of offenses towards our Holy and Righteous God.  I am counting on the fact that you as a trained youth ministry professional will of course affirm the sin and waywardness of ditching school, degrading lyrics, objectification of women, unsafe driving and of course, smoking weed.

But there is something else that is going on that is even a larger sin issue and one that will have disastrous implications for our students spiritual lives.  It is one that I am afraid we can offer little help with because it is the exact issue that many of us struggle with.  It is the celebrated sin of short sighted individualism and selfishness.

As youth workers we get so hopped up on trying to solve the visible sin issues that manifest themselves in our students.  These are the ones that worry parents and us because the consequences of these actions can cause real harm to them and to others.  While we are so focused on trying to get our students to smoke less weed, cover their bodies, and keep them from having sex, we actually lose sight of the deeper and more corruptible sin.

Everyone knows that individualism is a problem for the church.  Everything we do is about building "community" and we are finding that more and more young people could care less about "community."  There is nothing in my students that actually want to live in community with others, especially with people who are not exactly like them.  The thought of having to compromise any of their opinions for the sake of the whole is totally beyond their world view.

This sin of short sighted individualism is lived out most fully in therm YOLO.  You Only Live Once!  Since you only live once, then you need to make the most of every moment!  The problem is that making the most of every moment means that students are now collecting a series of shortsighted, in the moment, choices that are causing long term devastation to their lives.

YOLO: No need to study!  No need to follow the rules!  No need to listen to the Man!  Action now is always better than a plan.

Students want instant results, instant fame, instant happiness and joy.  But because they are only living for themselves and for this moment, they are ruining their opportunities to actually have a life of significance, of importance, and of true happiness and joy.  These things are the results of consistent hard work, that bears little instant gratification, but produces long term fruit.

Most of this is a no brainer!  Here is where we are in big trouble:  We can't help students confront and move past this short sighted individualistic, selfish worldview because it is also our world view.

In the youth ministry world, our sinfulness it is not as easily noticeable because we are not flaunting huge bags of weed and dancing around in bikinis.  But the core sin is still there.  It works itself out when we:

  • Think we are smarter than our senior pastor.
  • Think we deserve a larger platform to speak from.
  • Don't think we need seminary or further education.
  • Think we are the most significant spiritual voice in our students lives.
  • Allow gossip at the expense of our supervisor go unchecked and even find joy in it, or even worse, participate in it.
  • Have never even considered that our passion may not be everyone else's passion.
  • Are bummed or frustrated when our students seem to love their college pastor or another youth pastor more than us.
  • Think that student ministry is the most important ministry in your church.
  • Think our political views are the same as Jesus'.
  • Think the problem with our youth ministry is our budget, our pastor, our leaders, etc.
  • Are not involved in any diverse community at our own church.
  • See little value in worship and preaching styles that don't speak directly to us.
  • Don't invest any part of our time into local or denominational networks.
  • Think that we are ready to church plant because no one in the institutional church values our input or ideas.

These symptoms are the sin of selfishness and individualism rearing its ugly head in our hearts and in our ministry.  It is core to who we are and it is core to our generation.  So don't push back too hard.  It is only when we embrace this reality are we able to make space for the Holy Spirit to convict us and heal us.  It is only in the process of killing this beast can we live more fully into our true calling as followers of Jesus.

There is a well worn road pioneered by Jesus.  It is the road of mutual submission and selfless love.  Jesus, who was God and deserved all the rights and privileges as God, gave them up and took on the nature of a servant.   He did not seek fame or fortune, but the glorification of his father in heaven.

It is noble and right to want to do great things for the Kingdom of God.  But greatness is not defined by our fascination with celebrity or fame, or having an entourage.  We want to be Rob Bell or Andy Stanely now!  But nobody cares about the decades of work that these guys did in study, hard work, and faithfulness in the small things to be the people of influence they are today.  Even my hero Henri Nowen is my hero because he is famous.  But the truth is that he is my hero, not because he gave up years of his life working with the bottom rung of society, but because he got famous for writing about it.

YOLO is an awesome idea.  We do only live once.  But instead of squandering our youth on self absorbed fantasies or short sighted quick fixes, we need to realize that we are a common part of the body of Christ.  What makes us valuable and important is not our own shinyness, but that we are connected to others who are connected to the head, Jesus Christ doing things for him and his glory.  And that happens through selflessness, maturity, and community.

Until we wrestle with the demons of our own selfishness and individualism, we will never be able to truly help our students see and deal with their selfishness, short sighted, cut every corner, individualism.  

 

if your students like nelly, then they will like . . .

1297879185-nelly

For the longest time, I have tried really hard to relate to students. I have known that music was a very powerful gateway, and if I just had a little guidance then I would be able to relate to them, to understand them, and be able speak their language. But even more than relating, I would be able to influence their musical diet and help them transition into artists that would help them develop spiritually as well. Year after year I would buy curriculum that would help me “understand” my students and would be able to point them to “appropriate” choices. And as I did this, year after year, I realized that this attempt to understand youth culture actually did a disservice to me, my students, and my calling as a youth worker.

When we look to some outside person, group, curriculum, author to tell us about our culture, we are actually embracing a false reality. There might have been a time when there was a youth culture. But that time is no more. Even in our small youth group we have students from different versions of youth culture together in one room creating our own unique culture. Because there is no one, two, or even three versions of youth culture, we can not rely totally on outside voices to speak into our lives and equip us to do the heavy lifting in our context. It might be time to put that resource back on the shelf and do some hard work.

We need to first swallow the tough medicine that there is not one unified culture, one way to meet kids’ needs, one model of student ministry that will work for us. We live in a fractured culture where there are millions of options to define us, and every option defines us in different ways. In order to understand how to meet the specific needs of the students we work with, we have to figure out the specific context we find ourselves in.

What is the context we find our selves: Where do we live? Urban, suburban, rural? What are the economic conditions? Rich, poor, depressed, generous, stingy? What is the spiritual climate? Are people churched or unchurched? Pro, Neutral, Anti Christian? What kind of church do you work in? Evangelical, Mainline, Catholic, Pentecostal? Who is your church in your community? The leader, the follower, the biggest, the smallest?

By just figuring out our location, we see that there are already a variety of issues and needs that will need to be addressed and will need to be addressed differently depending on where we live. But these questions only get us part of the way. This just gives us a broad picture of where we find ourselves. Within this unique context we have our fractured youth culture with an entirely new set of questions.

Who are the student in our ministry and in our community: What is their family background? Strong family, broken family, really broken family? What kind of resources do they have? Huge allowances, part time jobs? What activities are they involved in? Sports, band, art, service, video games? What is their spiritual background? Churched families or unchurched families? What are your specific students main needs? Felt, unfelt, spiritual?

With just a cursory look at the actual place you are called to do ministry and the specific students to whom you are called, you can see that there is no way a boxed curriculum or author or speaker can tell you what your students needs are or how best to meet them. But we do have an example from scripture of someone who understood their unique context and unique sets of people within that context.

The apostle Paul throughout his ministry understood that his location impacted his message. Paul understood that even in a similar location, the specific backgrounds of the people he was sharing with impacted his message. Paul had a deep faith in Jesus Christ and had an amazing combination of passion and wisdom. This is the combination that we are going to need to move forward in ministering to needs of the specific students in our specific context

So, even though we are colleagues in ministry. And even though we share a passion to walk with students along this journey toward Christ. And even though we may do student ministry in the exact same context and in the exact same town, God has given each of us totally unique and special people with very complex needs and issues. We may be able to share ideas and resources, but God has given you the call to ministry to the specific students in your ministry.

Let us give up trying to be someone we are not. You see, I don’t even like Nelly. And the truth is I couldn’t tell you one of Nelly’s songs. All I know is that Nelly had a song that was in the top ten downloads a couple of weeks ago. I will never know “youth culture.” But I do know my students. And It has been a pure joy to walk with them, as they work out their issues of life and faith. And because I am working with my particular students in my particular context, I get to spend time getting to know them, praying for them, speaking truth into their lives, and showering them with grace and mercy. It is actually easier not knowing anything about “their” culture. We are already outsiders, With this reality, may we now have the freedom to ask questions and be invited into their world.

As we go, may be be true missionaries to our unique context with the passion and wisdom of Christ as we proclaim the good news to our students. Amen, and amen!