You’ve been there even if you’ve
never been there. You know well
its perfectly manicured
lawns and spacious new homes,
each one slightly different
in keeping with the neighbor-
hood theme. You know the friendly
black man at the gate who smiles
safely as he waves you through.
You recognize the sprinklers,
the golfers, and the always
perfect climate. Your smirk does
not go unnoticed. What you
do not know is that if a
stone could gather its ripples,
tuck each scattered drop of wat-
er neatly back in its place,
and catch that first wind home to
the palm of a young boy’s hand,
it would. We all would kiss the
butts and suck back the ash of
each last cigarette through flared
nostrils, letting them grow out
our lips like stop motion sky-
scrapers, just to bring back light
to the darkest regions of
our x-rayed lungs. We all want
to be born again. Not saved
in a Motel 8 reading
a Gideon Bible born
again but born again to
run bases, kiss girls, grow up,
take stands, hold our wife’s hand, play
with our children before they
leave. The truth is we buy what
what we can to replace what
we can’t. This is as close as
we ever get to those tall
time-locked walls guarded by an
angel’s sword of flame. You’ve been
there even though you’ve never
been there: that lost garden of
memory, myth, and dream where,
beneath the Tree of Life, the
righteous lie naked on
the dewy grass, giggling as
the cool night air tickles their
new bodies, where they feast on
sweet bread from starry heaven.
This game is a favorite that can be used with almost any group size and a rubber ball! BTW, get yourself a nice rubber kick ball! They cost what? A dollar? And you’re still using that beat up half flat kickball that has been in your church’s closet since the first Bush administration! C’mon man, loosen the purse strings a little!
The game mechanic is simple. The group forms a circle. In the center of the circle is the “body guard” and the “target”. [NOTE: at my last church I made the mistake of referring to the “target” as the “president” and from then on my Jr. High Boys referred to the game as “J.F.K”! Wrong Costner movie! If you want to keep the conversation at you recreation time from teetering between the distasteful and the treasonous, it’s best to refer to the person in the middle as the “target”.] Everyone else in the circle are the assassins. The object is pretty simple. The assassins are trying to hit the target with the ball. The assassins in the circle pass the ball to each other until someone has a clear shot. The body guard meanwhile is protecting the target by deflecting the ball with his body. If they pick up or catch the ball they can throw it to someone else in the circle. My group considers it bad form to hurl the ball way outside the circle but your group will have to determine its own circle game etiquette. Here’s the tricky part: once the target is hit, everyone moves up a notch. The target returns to the circle, the body guard becomes the target, and the person who hit the target becomes the new body guard. You can stop the game to engage in a peaceful transition of power but my group prefers the messiness of a South American coup. For us, as soon as the target is hit, the body guard becomes the new target so the one that lands the blow has to jump into the circle and protect their fragile new arrangement!
If you have a lot of power throwers who like to aim for the kidneys in your group, you may consider a two handed rule where the ball must be thrown with both hands. I find it prevents the chaos of everyone breaking the circle to run for a stray ball to say that if the ball leaves the circle to your left, you have a right to it. Assassins also should hold the shape and not enter the circle. If ball hogging is a problem, give each player ten seconds to shoot or pass.
Whitney Huston Tribute Edition. We all honor the passing of musical legends in our own way. Might I suggest this spin on the classic? Show your group the original Bodyguard trailer. Then play by the rules above except the bodyguard will be referred to as Kevin and the target will be referred to as Whitney. Also in the background play, “I Will Always Love You”. In a continuous loop. This will give your game a certain sensitivity and raw emotional power it was lacking before.
However you choose to play this game, I’m sure it will be a crowd pleaser. If only for that special moment when the big kid everyone refers to as Sasquatch becomes the target and the short sixth grade boy nicknamed “oompa loompa” becomes his new bodyguard. Hilarity is guaranteed to ensue!
Does YOUR group have a favorite circle game?
To say that those of us in ministry are insecure would be an understatement on par with saying Lady GaGa is “different”. We want people to know how hard are work is and how busy we are. We want people to know that we have a “real job” that is every bit as frustrating as someone else’s job. And I, you, and the rest of y’all are guilty of communicating this message by complaining incessantly about our line of work.
“Ministry is SO HARD!”, We tell anybody that will listen, “You work weekdays and weekends, no one ever thanks you, you’re under paid, the congregants constantly complain, it’s so LONELY!” while many of these things may or may not be true, our main objective in sharing them is to communicate to the outside world that we are selfless martyrs over-burdened with caring for their sorry asses. Don’t mean to use that kind of language in a ministry blog but I am trying to keep it real about what our griping says to those around us!
The truth is that ministry IS hard but it isn’t harder than working at Mc Donalds and the pay is better if you work full time. Where we miss the mark is in wanting people to know that ministry is just like any other job. It’s not. Ministry is a calling. Ministry is a privilege and a way of life. Those of us in youth ministry have the coolest jobs in the world. We get to eat junk food all the time, go on free ski weekends, play capture the flag, and spend time with amazing people! Sure there’s all that boring and hard stuff that goes on behind the scenes but even that isn’t trivial. What YOU do matters! So WHAT if you have to make the sweet tea for Wednesday Night! Can you picture Jesus stripped down to servants clothing rolling his eyes as he says: “I just washed your skank-nasty feet. Don’t thank me or anything. Just doing my job that no one pays me for!”?
When you complain, you choke the seed of ministry in those around you. You make it harder, not easier, to recruit volunteers and you model to your students that caring for them is an obligation. You need a couple of accountability partners to share your challenges and frustrations with but to the rest of the world you should minister with the spiritual fruit of joy.
The last time I was hired, I was one of about 10 candidates who were qualified and enthusiastic about young people. All across America, small churches are having to let go of their youth pastors in the face of harsh economic realities. All of this is to say: if you’re in youth ministry and you don’t deep down believe you have he coolest most important job in the world, if you don’t think the joy of serving the group of hilarious, weird, and talented students you’ve been entrusted with is worth the indignity of a condescending lecture or two, if you don’t truly feel that the hard work and long hours are a meager offering in comparison with the richness of the blessing of watching a young person grow from being lost to becoming a committed follower of Christ, then make room for someone that does. I hear Mc Donald’s is hiring.
Do the joys far outweigh the challenges in YOUR ministry? Have you, like me, ever been guilty of complaining too much?
One of my students has an older sister named “Ashley” (this of course is a made up name to protect her anonymity from the two people that currently read this blog). Ashley’s brother, “Kyle”, has been attending our programs pretty regularly. Ashley came once. The night was Good Friday. If you could only come one night to see what our Church and our Youth Group is all about, this night would be it. We began with a church-wide Good Friday worship service that was deep, spiritual, and passionate. Afterwards, the teenagers retired to the youth house where we watched a movie (The Chronic- The Chronic- The Chronicles Narnia!) while some of the parents hid Easter eggs for our late night Easter egg hunt! No one actually watched the movie but they laughed, played games, ate pizza, and had a great time! I like to think they absorbed C.S. Lewis’ classic allegory about the hope of resurrection by osmosis.Then we did our late night Easter egg hunt. It was a blast! We played in the dark with flashlights and had capture the flag type rules where if someone from the other team tagged you, you had to give them one of your eggs. We gave out prizes for the team and the individual that got the most eggs and, of course had some cash eggs. The candy was equally distributed into goody bags that went home with each student. We ended with a short devotional on Jesus being the greatest treasure of all.
It. Was. Awesome.
So when I talked to Ashley in the parking lot a couple of months later and asked why she hadn’t been back, I was stunned by her answer. She said, “When I came, no one talked to me.” In that moment, I was shocked, my heart broke into a million pieces, and somewhere between here and Never land, a faerie died. “No one talked to me.” Recently I was at Buffalo Wild Wings and they were showing a mixed martial arts match on a plasma television roughly the size of a billboard. One of the combatants kicked the other combatant in the area where the fruit meets the looms and he doubled over in pain. Apparently this is illegal because the whole time while they were officiating, they kept replaying this shot over and over from each cringe inducing angle, back in forth between slow motion and regular speed. This is about what Ashley’s comment felt like to me.
Now I have plenty of excuses. I had only been the youth pastor at Central a week when we had our egg hunt so I was new myself. I haven’t yet put together a Student Leadership Team who would specialize in making newcomers feel welcome (that’s this fall!). It was a crazy action-packed event so I was pretty busy attending to details. Some of these excuses are more valid than others but they all miss the big point.
Jesus tells us over and over again that the Kingdom is about small things. It’s like a pearl, a mustard seed, a lost coin, a bit of yeast. I’ve been strutting around about my Good Friday program because it was big, fun, and splashy. But for at least one person, the whole experience hinged on one tiny thing: Is someone going to say, “hi” to me? So often in youth ministry, we forget that what truly makes a difference in students lives are those small acts of kindness and acknowledgment. Some of the students in our care are ignored EVERYWHERE THEY GO! They are ignored at school, at home, and out in their community. They come to Church hoping and hungry for something different. When we fail at that task, our ministry is, let’s face it, a stumbling block between them and a life-changing relationship with Christ. When we fail at serving the smallest needs of our students, we are failing at loving Christ. Remember what He told Peter after asking him “Do you love me” for the third time? Peter may well have answered: “Lord you know I love you. I’m going to do all these amazing things! I’m going to give these great messages! I’m going to put together a top-notch church for you!” But Jesus simply replies, “then feed my lambs.” The way leaders show their love for Christ is by shepherding those that have been trusted to them. A small word can be that mustard seed of faith that begins to move those mountainous obstacles between a student and Christ. Small things matter. In fact, the whole kingdom rests on small things.
I smiled and encouraged Ashley to gives us another try. I told her I’d changed deodorants. Maybe she will. I hope so. But if not, I am going to at least resolve that no one else will be able to tell me that they didn’t come back because they weren’t welcomed. Because if they do then there will be a very heavy millstone with my name on it.
What small things are important to YOUR ministry? How do YOU make sure new people are welcomed?
Noodle Hockey is a game that my students take SERIOUSLY!!! We have a saying: “Friends come and go but Noodle Hockey is life!” Whether or not your group takes this maxim to heart or not, they will have a lot of fun playing Noodle Hockey. Now is the perfect time to get your Noodle Hockey supplies because all the stores are selling pool noodles. Buy one pool noodle for every two students you expect to have playing!
To prepare, spend some time cutting these noodles in half. [NOTE: there is some division among Noodle Hockey aficionados about whether it is best to go half-noodle or full-noodle. My personal preference is for half-noodle. This is partly because full-noodling lends itself to a controversial practice known as “looping” in which the hockey player folds his noodle in half, creating a loop with which to make power shots. Another reason is that my Senior Pastor’s name is not Rick Warren and half-noodling is easier on the budget] Put your noodles in a box with a rubber ball roughly the size of a grapefruit. Noodle Hockey can be played with a beach ball but, again, this is a matter of preference!
The game area can be set up indoors in bad weather but it works perfectly on a lawn. Set up goals using two lawn chairs about 3 full-noodles apart. How big you make the rest of the space will depend on the size of your group. Close quarters works better for a smaller group while a larger field will work best for a bigger group.
Divide up teams via your preferred method. Avoid any situation where you might be facing off against the pastor’s kid. ESPECIALLY if he is asthmatic and/or wears glasses.
By now you have surmised that this game is played like field hockey only with foam noodles. You can make the rules as simple or as complicated as you want to. I tend to keep things simple so that my Junior High students can get most of the rules in between squirrel spotting sessions. Here are my simplified Noodle Hockey rules:
Danny’s Simplified Noodle Hockey Rules: Alright guys! Put those noodles down! No one pick up a noodle until AFTER I am done giving these instructions! Each team needs to choose a goalie… NOT RIGHT NOW! the goalie will be allowed in between the chairs and can block the ball only with his body or his noodle. If the ball goes in between the chairs and passes through, that is a point for the team that shot it! Are you paying attention, Timmy? This is important. No hitting eachother above the knees! I will put you in the penalty box for 5 minutes. If the ball goes out of bounds, everyone goes back to their goal and whichever team didn’t knock it out will start it! Look over here, Timmy! No holding the ball or pinning the ball with your noodle. You can’t kick the ball either. I think that’s it… LET’S GO!!!… Timmy, over here… We’re starting… It’s called noodle hockey… Just pick up a noodle and we’ll show you.
Okay so that’s about everything you need to know about Noodle Hockey. This is a favorite of students and volunteers alike. The other night I had a volunteer tell me that this game reminded her of how much she liked field hockey. She said it was great because it didn’t come with all the stick related injuries. All your volunteers may not share the same affection for Noodle Hockey but remember… volunteers come and go but Noodle Hockey is LIFE!!!
Does YOUR group play Noodle Hockey? What variations do you play?
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably of two minds when it comes to the subject of cell phones in youth ministry.
Your first mind is telling you that Millennials are an ever more connected generation and that cell phones are a reality of life. We ignore them at our own risk! We should be harnessing the power of texting to keep our kids informed! We should have them use their cell phones to play games! You probably roll your eyes when older people complain about teenagers and their texting and tell you about how back in their day if you wanted to tell someone something you got your lazy butt up, hitched a ride on the back of a triceratops, went to their cave, and told them yourself. Or something like that… you’re really not paying attention to them while you check your Facebook messages on your iPhone.
Your second mind is telling you that you would like to get through ONE STINKING BIBLE STUDY without someone trying to hide their cell phone under the couch pillow and multitask! Dude, I know what you’re doing! No one looks down and smiles at their crotch that much! For the love of God… FOCUS!
Let me suggest something that will put both of your minds at ease: a cell phone box. Be totally cool with kids bringing their cell phones to youth group or on the retreat (since they’re going to whether you’re cool with it or not) and save yourself the headache of constantly having to police a no cell phone policy and having to deal with the objections of your students and their parents (The parents are the worst about this! “What if something were to happen?”, they say ominously, imagining some doomsday scenario inwhich your entire group is stranded in a post-apocalyptic hellscape where every form of communication has been knocked out by the terminators except for their child’s cell phone). You could even use them to play games with, but when it’s serious time or together time… have everyone, yourself included, put their cell phones in a box until that time has passed.
This strategy has been VERY effective for my ministry. Here are some pros for the box strategy:
- You don’t come off as anti-cell phone. If anything, you’re showing kids that you are totally cool with their “precious” by accepting them during other times. Students are fine when they know they will get their phones back in twenty minutes.
- You’re leading by example! When students see you relinquishing your cell phone, they understand that this is a value to you. You are giving them your undivided attention so they should return the courtesy.
- The box can mark a clear transition between fun time and serious time. We pass the box like an offering plate. It’s amazing how the group just naturally settles down when they relinquish control of their screens.
- The students like it! The same kids that were hesitant at first are the ones that remind me if we forget to pass the box. The kids are so used to having the divided attention of people in their lives, even adults, because of the new world we live in that it is refreshing to have the undivided attention of their peers for a short time.
- You can avoid being THAT group at the big youth conference. You know the one I’m talking about. The speaker is making this big life changing point and they’re all playing Fruit Ninja! I like to bring the box along on conferences and let the parents know ahead of time when their kids will be “going dark”!
There you have it, my fool-proof plan for welcoming cell phones into your ministry! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to stop blogging. My senior pastor has been talking to me for longer than usual and I’m starting to think it may be important.
Do you use a cell phone box in YOUR ministry? How do you incorporate this new technology into your programs?
Looking for a good game for close quarters? Q-Tip War will be an instant classic. This game is perfect for Sunday School classes and small groups. Just use masking tape (or painters tape) to divide the room in half. Give each of your students a straw and split them into two teams. Give each team an even number of q-tips (3-6 per player works well). The straw will be used to shoot the q-tips like poisoned darts across the room (junior highers, especially, will think this is awesome). Start a timer and have everyone fire their q-tips like mad to the opposite side of the line. When the time is up, whichever side of the room has the most cue tips on it is the loser.
Another variation on this game is to have one player on each team be the “King”. The King wears a paper cup on his head as a “crown”. The first team to make the other team’s king lose their crown by knocking it off his head (or it falling off on its own) is the winner.
Q-Tip War is cheap, easy, and fun. It will definitely get the giggles going before your next meeting!
Does YOUR group have a good variation on this game?
Be honest! When you first read the title, the first thing you thought of was you and a bunch of pimply teens sitting around the church Sunday School class reading the latest issue of Fantastic Four and asking, “Is it time for you to FLAME ON!!! for Jesus?” Chances are, after you received this mental image, you either shuddered with horror or shouted: “YESSSSS!!! That would be AWESOME!!!”, and gave your life size cutout of Han Solo a high five. Either way, I got your attention. Now hear me out. No, I’m not suggesting you try to pull the deep spiritual truths out of the Amazing Spider-Man. Although they are there (c’mon,”with great power comes great responsibility?” That’s the book of James)! What I am suggesting is that you find a cool use for all your old comic books!
When I was a kid, whenever I got sick, my Mom would bring me some medicine from the drug store and a new comic book. Somehow, in my mind, I’ve always had an association between being sick in bed and reading the latest Avengers adventure. This is why whenever I visit one of my students in the hospital or at home, I bring them a comic book from my collection. I’m not one of those “collectors” who has their comic books hermetically sealed and only reads them with rubber gloves in a dark room (you THINK I’m joking!), but because I’m such a geek, I’ve amassed tons of comic books over the years and giving them away puts them to a special use! I’ve noticed several benefits to a ministry like this:
- Flowers die, cards get thrown away, they’ll keep your comic book forever! The kids I give a comic book to seem to really treasure them. Not because they’re super comic book geeks but because they can tell it’s very special to me. I explain that it’s from my own personal collection and how my mom used to give me a comic book. It’s a way I can communicate love.
- It gives kids something to do while they are immobile. Being in the hospital sucks!!! A comic book can kill a half an hour (at my reading level at least!).
- It can be highly personalized! I like to explain why I chose the comic book I did for them. Something along the lines of, “Hey, I know you love to skate board so I brought you an issue of Spider-Man where he gets help from Tony Hawk!”
- It gets rid of my old collection and gives me an excuse to buy new comic books. When I come home from the comic book store with a stack of new comic books, I can look my wife straight in the eye and say, “I’m doing the Lord’s work!”
Obviously, there may be a transferable principle for your ministry. If you are not passionate about comic books, you’re probably passionate about something else that is weird and off kilter (You are a youth pastor after all)! Maybe you could do something similar with trading cards, “mixed tape” CDs, or happy meal toys. I have a friend who collects Hot Wheels like crazy! He belongs to a Hot Wheels club where they race Hot Wheels! Over the years he has massed a stash of thousands of Hot Wheels! He always keeps a large supply of them that are not particularly valuable to him to give away to charities or pass out instead of candy at his church’s Trunk-or-Treat. I have another friend who always gives away a heavily marked book off of his bookshelf for birthday and Christmas presents. He always writes the most wonderful note in the inside cover. These are the sorts of things that cost very little, but the receiver truly treasures. Sharing something YOU are passionate about communicates love in a way few other things in life do!
Do YOU have a similar practice in YOUR ministry? I’d love to hear about it!