Planting Seeds

3 10 2011

Last fall, our youth group began an after-school ministry for middle school students who live in the neighborhood around our church.  I am long overdue for a post about the challenges and successes of this ministry, but on the whole, I believe the program has been a wonderful thing for everyone involved: the students, the volunteers, and the congregation.

From the beginning, we have involved high school students as volunteers for the program.  Last night after youth group, I ended up talking to one of our high school seniors about the impact of this program.  He wondered aloud what good we were doing, and whether our relationship with the kids will have any effect on their lives.

I said, “We see small successes all the time, but we won’t know the long-term effect for many years, if ever.  I think we have to hope that we’re planting seeds…that these kids will have a positive impression of the church, that they might one day remember their mentors or something we’ve said, or maybe they’ll be inspired to do something different with their lives.”

“There’s a parable about seeds, isn’t there?” he asked.

“Yep,” I said.

“And in the parable,” he continued, “some of the seeds fall on rocky soil and thorns, right?  So even if we plant the seeds … if a kid goes home and his parents are abusive or addicted to drugs or whatever … then it’s like the seed falling on the thorns, and it will never grow.”

I was completely taken aback by this profound insight and the implications it has for ministry and education as a whole.  Teachers, of course, can only do so much; a child’s learning is dependent on many other factors outside the classroom.  And along the way, we plant many seeds that will end up being eaten, choked by thorns, or prohibited from taking root.

But we still plant seeds, and we never stop planting seeds… because we believe that every once a while, we’ll land on good soil.  And when that happens, it will produce a harvest beyond our wildest dreams.

Evolution of a Youth Program

22 03 2010

Tonight’s youth program was, unexpectedly, one of the best we’ve had this year.  It was NOT due to wonderful planning on my part…although I have been thinking about it for a while.   But the planning process itself was extremely convoluted, so I thought it might be fun to get inside my head and trace those thoughts (continue at your own risk!):

1. mid-February (as I create the March newsletter): Hmm…I need a name for the March 21 program.  What should I call it?  How about…”Games and More”?  That’s about as generic as it gets, since we play games every week.

2. the end of February: Games and More…hmm, it will be the last day of Spring Break, and we will have just gotten back from Sky Ranch.  How about a laid-back fun night full of board games?

3. a week and a half ago: Not so sure about board games.  Not everyone is as dorky as I am.  But, if we could create a life-sized board game to play, that would be fun!  Monopoly?  Too complicated.  Parcheesi?  No one understands how to play.  Clue? Maybe… (begins to work on a Clue program based on the Book of Judges)  This could be cool, but I think it’s too involved for next week.  We’ll do it later.  For now, back to square 1.

4. continuing in that train of thought: I like using the Bible.  I’m slightly uncomfortable with a fun night of games that has no point. What if I award prizes to the LOSER of the games, and we can talk about “The first shall be last and the last shall be first?”

5. Jordan walks in to my train of thought: Not a life-sized board game.  What about a TV game show??  Family Feud?  (And so I begin frantically sending out surveys to everyone I know)

6. last Thursday: Family Feud is a REALLY COOL idea.  I want to make sure I do it right.  How about I wait for another month or so, and really get it good?  Now, I’m back to square one…again… (frantically searches the Internet for ideas)

7. Back to my favorite youth ministry blog, Rethinking Youth Ministry.  What about the Upside Down Jesus activity?  Maybe we can challenge them to see the world through the upside-down eyes of Jesus…

8.  Remembers a youth activity I did in middle school that had to do with choosing people to go live in an underground vault while the world experiences a nuclear holocaust.  Who would you choose to carry on humanity?  I’m going to adapt this game into a shipwreck scenario instead of an apocalypse.  How does this connect to discipleship, and who Jesus chose to carry on his message?  The disciples were certainly not the most likely candidates.

9. Searches for more “upside-down” Scriptures.  Maybe instead of having them draw Jesus upside down, I can just give them an upside-down picture of Jesus as a take-home.

10. This afternoon: I stumble upon the Parable of the Banquet.  Perfect!  I delve into all kinds of exciting theological adventures as I plan out my message, and in the end, I abandon the “first shall be last” Scripture entirely.  And instead of “upside-down Jesus,” I decide to craft invitations to the banquet, that I will pass out tonight!

In the end, we didn’t have many games, either–we got so involved in the program and discussion that we only had time for one inning of kickball..and even my “message” was shortened into just a few sentences.  So “Games and More” turned into “More…”  And it was great!

Now, as I head into my “Teaching the Bible” class this week, we’re going to focus on how to write curriculum.  I’m pretty certain that this is not a method I’d recommend…but it sure worked for tonight!