God is my Director

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Archive for the ‘Youth Ministry’ Category

Notes from America – Pt 4: Chicago

Posted by Martin on July 4, 2007

And the legend continues…

Our hotel in Chicago – well, Schaumburg if you’re going to be picky – was the Renaissance – a massive, spanking new hotel / conference centre with about a billion rooms and some impressive architecture and interior design. When we got there, Jim immediately started running around with his camera, as if he’d had to win a golden ticket to get in there. Our hotel room was fantastic, and I say that for one reason:

A television, in the bathroom.

Better than that – a TV which was built into the bathroom mirror, and which only stopped being a mirror when you turned it on. Idea being: if you’ve got a desperate call of nature, and you’re enjoying the latest episode of Desperate Housewives, you don’t have to miss a minute. Although quite why that’s an issue in a country with five commercial breaks an hour, I wasn’t quite clear.

Early Friday morning we followed our new Sat-Nav, in our new, (total rip-off) hire car, to Willow Creek Community Church. The Sat Nav sent us to Canada, meaning we almost didn’t make it to the church for the final day of their Arts Conference. Fortunately, we realised that it was going snowier, turned around, and got there – quite in spite of the directions we were being given – just in time for the start.<

I can’t really put into words what the first session did to me. I was privileged to hear the story of a couple who are worship leaders at Willow. They’d had a truly traumatic few years, which involved the very premature birth of twins. Although one of the babies was entirely healthy, her sister faced many, many problems, and almost didn’t overcome them. She lived, but she had many serious medical problems, including profound deafness. The couple were devastated – and for a year or so, life for them was just about existing; getting through the next day. And because they were being real, and honest, they admitted how angry they had been at God. They had thought at times about giving the whole thing up. But they stuck in there – and in retrospect they can see how God carried them in the toughest times. They were amazing people.

As this couple told their story, both through words and then through music, it was very hard not to put myself in their place. And as I did, I don’t mind admitting that I started sobbing involuntarily- something I don’t do often. All around me, people were crying too. And then something hit me about this church – something wonderful. I was hearing this story for the first time, but many others were not. This church had walked with these two people, in their pain, in their struggle, in their doubts. It struck me that whatever people say about this ‘mega’ church, it’s truly expressive of what I think church should be about – people who journey together, whatever that really needs to mean.

After that, we were treated to the wonder that is Donald Miller. I heard him a few months ago at a Youth Specialties convention, and thought he was a pretty average communicator. Well, now I repent. Don’s theology of Romeo and Juliet (my title) was just wonderful – probably one of the best three Christian talks I’ve heard in my life. I know a lot of people have already noticed, but this guy is important.

Finally, we were treated to ‘scribble’; a session led by Erwin McManus and a creative arts team from his Mosaic church in Los Angeles. What a precociously talented group of individuals. If I was feeling critical, I’d say that Erwin’s talk – which was woven into the mix of drama, dance, comedy and music – was just as rehearsed as the rest of it, and for that reason it lost a little resonance and impact. Still good though.

We left the extraordinary Willow Campus (it’s like a University, except bigger), but not before checking in with Youth Ministry legend Bo Boshers. Great guy – and what a servant to youth ministry he has been – so that was a bit of a privilege. From there, we raced to a couple of too-boring-to-tell-you-about meetings, but then came the weirdest part of the trip (and one of the top 10 weird moments of my life. That’s right, it’s time to tell you about the big scary mutant bugs from the planet Splurg.

We had to travel to a different part of the Chicago suburbs to meet Steve Wright – brother of my good friend Dave – who had hooked us up with super tickets for the baseball the following day. Steve lives in a nice little street, normal in every way imaginable… except that it had been INVADED BY GIANT MUTANT MONSTER INSECTOIDS FROM BEYOND THE STARS! Sorry, I’ll stop doing that.

What actually happened is that Jim and I pulled up outside his house, and could hear the horrific screaming of hundreds of tiny voices. In that respect, it was like standing outside a screening of Norbit. In addition, there were giant bug-eyed insects flying past, landing on and generally being far too close to our car.

‘Go on then’, said Jim. ‘Go get the tickets.’

‘You go and get them!’ I whimpered in reply.

Jim pushed me out of the car. I can only imagine that the Lord himself protected me in the moments that followed. For while both Jim and Steve were attacked by bugs (which, incidentally, are harmless), I escaped unscathed. Had one of them landed on me, I should surely have required new undergarments. I mean, these muthas were mean!

Steve explained why he’s prepared to live in a street with a monster bug infestation, and things made a little more sense. Turns out these were Cicadas – insects which appear only once every 17 years(!) before breeding and then dying off again a few weeks later. Apparently it was an utter privilege for us to even see them! That’s nice, but it sure didn’t feel that way.

Anyway, the previously ‘big man’ Jim screamed like a girl when one landed on his shoulder. Steve handed over the absolutely ace seats, and we were on our way again. The evening was wasted in the time-I’ll-never-get-back quest for Jim’s wife’s shoes, and to make matters worse, we ended up eating at Rockin’ Roger’s diner, or something like that… which turned out to be America’s worst restaurant. Robbie’s Rod maybe?

Couldn’t take the shine off a great day (Reggie the Robber?) full of exciting new people and horizon broadening. And to make things much more exciting, we had a baseball game to look forward to in the morning…

Posted in Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | 1 Comment »

How to stay humble as a blogger…

Posted by Martin on June 27, 2007

Just check out Marko’s stats!

The man is a blogging phenomenon. Can anyone in the youth ministry world claim to get hit more often?

Posted in Blogroll, Youth Ministry | Leave a Comment »

Notes from America – Pt 2: LA to San Diego

Posted by Martin on June 27, 2007

The second part in a very odd series, recounting a trip which is drifting further and further into the past…

Our morning in Los Angeles wasn’t particularly eventful, but we did pay a visit to my favourite eaterie in the world. Don’t think they’ve got a website, but if you’re ever in the Farmers Market, on South Fairfax, devote a few minutes to finding Charlie’s, an authentic American breakfast grill – the sort where they shout things like ‘over easy’ at you (which means about as much to me as Vienna did to Midge Ure). Had a fantastic egg thing with hash browns – again, means something completely different there – and well and truly converted my companion.

We started the second leg of our US tour with a two hour road trip from LA to San Diego. Driving down the freeway with the wind (or at least, air-con) in our hair, in blazing hot sunshine and belting out ‘Sittin on the dock of the bay’ at the top of our voices, we had come as close to fantasy land as you can get without buying a ticket. Although we barely talked about anything, and the landscape was hardly inspiring (mainly road through sparse dry areas), it’s an experience I don’t think Jim or I will ever forget. Pootling along in our little black Chrysler (a kind of scaled-down A-Team van, we liked to think), we were amazed at just how big some American cars are. One guy was driving one of those trucks where you expect a dog and a couple of hitch-hikers to be sitting in the back. In truth, he could have fitted a school trip in there. It was enormous – like a Tonka truck that has been zapped by some sort of giganticizer ray. And there wasn’t a scratch, dirt mark or dent on it; I think the most this near-monster truck was ever used for would have been trips to the burger joint.

We were travelling to visit Youth Specialties, and more specifically, my good friend Mark Oestreicher. Bizarrely, as we rang to get directions, we discovered that Marko was with another Brit – none other than Soul Survivor pioneer Mike Pilavachi. Jim and I were amazed – Mike’s like the lesser spotted invisible dodo when he’s in England (as in, hard to get a meeting with) – yet here he was, in the reception of a youth ministry organisation on the other side of the planet.

TicIt was then our utter privilege to sit in the sun for two full hours and talk youth ministry with Marko and Tic Long, another absolute legend of youth work. Tic is one of – if not the best big stage hosts I’ve ever seen, and certainly someone who you could learn from if, say, you were down to host Britain’s Youthwork the Conference this November. He’s also been at the heart of what Mike Yaconelli started at YS for near on 30 years, making him one of the longest serving people in world youth ministry, by my reckoning.

MarkoMarko has been an increasingly good friend for three years now, ever since Jim and I (we’re not lovers) met him at the Dallas YS convention in 2004. He’s an incredibly sharp guy – and I’m not just saying that because I know he’ll read this, as he does all the other blogs in the world – and a great leader, but he’s also got this irresistible youth worker heart, which is what I think attracts everyone to him. He can try and have some sort of important title like ‘President’, but really he’s just ‘big daddy youth worker’. He very graciously invited us to stay at his lovely house, and to meet his family, who are just great. I won’t reveal any details, but the song he and son Max performed for us over breakfast one morning will be forever etched on the inside of my cranium.

In the evening, after Marko and Jeannie had taken us to a grill to experience ‘chicken fried steak’ (only in America), we were allowed to join the YS staff for a special preview screening of Steve Carell’s new movie, Evan Almighty. YS have been involved in promoting the movie to youth groups and churches, and rightly so – it’s perfect for a family audience, and it also has some deeper theological points to make than you might expect. I may post a review of it elsewhere if I ever get to the end of this travelogue.

Posted in Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | Leave a Comment »

Britney’s head

Posted by Martin on February 20, 2007

Britney's head, in hairier timesSo Britney Spears has shaved her head, added some new tattoos and just stopped short of lopping off one of her own arms in what is clearly one of the biggest cries for attention this celeb-obsessed age has seen.

Reactions have ranged from shock to amusement, but I really hope that the majority of Christians are reacting in neither of these ways. Britney has clearly lost her way – no-one is going to argue with that – but she is a child of God and He loves her so much – no matter what she does. I hope that the Christian community reflects that love in the ways in which we talk (particularly to young people) about the ubiquitous Ms Spears in the coming days and weeks.

I’d also dare to suggest that we should be praying for Britney right now. Not only just she have a Christian heritage which might really help her to find direction right now, but I’d dare to speculate that a downward emotional spiral like the one she appears to be on can often end in a grave place. Hope things get better soon for you, Britney…

Posted in General, Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | Leave a Comment »

Hot Fuzz

Posted by Martin on February 10, 2007

Great article from the bizarre-sounding Fuzz Kitto (just check out that picture) in the new issue of Youthwork magazine on Youth Culture. Fuzz is an experienced youth ministry consultant (now we have consultants in our industry – we must be going places!) from Australia but who travels the world, and his theory is that there are only really a handful of dominant youth cultures, which are then reinterpreted locally in cultural contexts all over the world. An example would be the way in which Urban young people in South London have reinterpreted the clothing, music and style of black youth culture in LA. Some thought-provoking stuff in there – and most importantly – some thinking that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

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The most ridiculous day of my life

Posted by Martin on February 6, 2007

Stick with this one; I hope it’s worth it.

I have had quite the most remarkable day. It started with an incredible email, was punctuated by a long and terrifying meeting, and ended with an even more incredible email. Let me tell you about it.

I don’t know if you believe in prophecy (look at this blog going all charismatic recently), or even more crazily, the idea that there can be a personal prophet for an individual – like a kind of Guardian Angel of prophecy I guess – but I do. At least, I do now. I first got an email from this person, whom I know only superficially, in the middle of last year. It had a few words which she believed God had given her for me, and being a cynical-before-my-time spoilsport, I took it with a pinch of salt. The email was an encouragement about God’s plans for me, and it was fairly specific.

That evening, I got a phone call from LA from a guy who wanted to sign me to his agency as a screenwriter.

I started to take my prophet friend a bit more seriously at this point. The next email came, towards the end of the year, full of similar promises, and this time I was less surprised when, come the evening, I received an invitation from the same Agent to visit a bunch of movie executives in Hollywood.

I went out there, as readers of this blog will know, and had some great meetings. But since then, thanks to a combination of factors (not least the fact that LA shuts down over December and January), nothing really happened.

Time passed, and the only thing that became clear to me from above was the fact that I am called to Youth Ministry for the long haul. God has spoken fairly clearly now to tell me that Youth Ministry and Movies are two sides of the same calling, not the big Sophie’s Choice that my life is hurtling towards.

This morning, I received another email from my prophet friend (she doesn’t go around calling herself that, by the way). Again, the message was that God’s hand was on me, that he had plans, and that he was going to provide for my family and I. Nice and reassuring, but since time had passed, I’d forgotten to expect movement later on.

That’s the first email dealt with. The rest will be shorter, I promise.

Regular readers (if there are such people) may have noticed a distinct drop in activity on this blog in the last month. There’s a clear reason for this – I’ve been putting together a business proposal to the parachurch youth ministry organisation which employs me, which, if implemented, could have a huge impact. Can’t really say any more than that, but when I say huge, I don’t mean it in the usual Christian superlative sense. I mean elephantine.

I met with the board of the organisation in the middle of the day, I pretty much fluffed it. For the first minute of my presentation, my nerves got the better of me. I said ‘er’ so many times, I started to sound like a refrigerator. I got grilled, roasted and sliced open by the panel of board members. I’m not exaggerating – I was a four out of ten at best.

And then something mad happened – they passed my proposal. I done so badly, that I didn’t really process it when they told me. But they said yes. Elephantine youth ministry development, here we come.

I went back to my desk, and re-read the email from Prophet Girl (that’s her superhero name). Ah! Of course, I should have expected it. God’s plan in action. Got it.

But that wasn’t it. As I said, there was one more twist in the day left to come. That night, I got an email from my agent in LA. It had been a while, but there it was – always sure to conjure up a mixture of stomach churning fear and excitement.

I opened it, read it, and re-read it. A director had come forward to take up my movie. The one that had been knocking around in Hollywoodland for the best part of a year. The one I’d begun to believe no-one wanted. The one my agent had last week told me to forget for a couple of years. Proper director – wanting to sign up.

The email ran through my head again, and I realised I’d limited God. Not only had he revealed his plan for my movie career once again in perfect time, he’d also timed it perfectly to coincide with the other massive development in my life, in the world of youth ministry. Could that message be much clearer?

So it’s the two things, together definitely. Elephantine youth ministry development AND Hollywood movie, here I somehow come.

Told you it was ridiculous.

Posted in Movies, Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | 1 Comment »

Mister e-worshipper

Posted by Martin on February 4, 2007

Love this pic!I had a very strange experience today as a guest at a church which I won’t mention. All I’ll say is that it was slightly more of the charismatic variety than I’m used to – they have a lot more of an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit than the average church. Which is cool by me – I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are for today and all that…

And it was a cool church. The worship was great, and surprisingly understated; the speaker was great (he spoke, shock horror, on the Holy Spirit!), and there was lots more about the place to recommend it. However, there was one thing that happened which I found very difficult.

At the end of the service, the leader announced that they would have a time of prayer ministry – I guess they have this every week. People gathered at the front for prayer, specially appointed/anointed ministry team members joined them to pray, and then ‘the spirit showed up’, which theologically I don’t begin to understand – but the fact is that a lot of people began to manifest a reaction to some kind of supernatural force.

That’s not the bit I struggled with. My wife and I decided not to go forward for prayer. We stood and watched (this was far more entertaining), and since it was our first time at the church, neither of us felt brave enough to do any more. After a few minutes, the leader decided to call the service to a close, and said a final prayer. My wife closed her eyes, I did not.

Seeing my wife with her eyes closed, a floating ministry team member saw her opportunity to pounce on someone who was not being prayed for. Within seconds, my wife had a hand in her back, and this lady was feverishly praying for her. Being a polite English person, my wife didn’t open her eyes, but I know her well enough to know that this was unlikely to be particularly comfortable. Still, since I am also English, I didn’t intervene, and stared into the distance, hoping it would go away.

It, or rather she, didn’t. Instead, she grabbed a friend, and this person also began praying, even more enthusiastically, for my now-clearly disturbed wife. And so despite being a visitor, and not going to the front for prayer, she now had two hands on her. Two unauthorised hands, I might add – no-one had asked my wife’s permission to pray.

Eventually my wife opened her eyes, and after a brief argument with the woman who apparently ‘hadn’t finished yet’ – we managed to get away. She was a little bit fed up at the intrusion, but had tried to go with it in case God was trying to tell her something.

Ultimately, it didn’t bother us all that much. But my concern is that while my wife is a Christian, this same thing could happen to a visitor who perhaps wasn’t, and had simply closed his or her eyes during a closing prayer as a mark of respect.

I’m not going to name the church, because this isn’t meant as an attack on them – in fact, we may even go back on Sunday. I’ve written to the minister personally, and hopefully he’ll address the matter. But it raises an important flag for me about Best Practice. I’ve been involved in the past in prayer ministry – I’m now trying to remember whether I treated the people I prayed for back then in this same way. I honestly don’t know if I always took the time to ask permission to pray, or whether the heat of the spiritual moment sometimes took over.

So to draw something positive from a slightly bad experience, hopefully this post will remind any readers who do this sort of ministry to check themselves on the issue of permission. Appearances can be deceiving – I honestly don’t think it’s ever right to assume that someone wants or needs prayer. Someone might be crying in a heap on the floor, or kneeling with their eyes closed – unless they’ve asked us to pray, it’s probably not our place to invade their physical space – especially when we’re working with young people.

Posted in Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | Leave a Comment »

Wario wonderful

Posted by Martin on January 31, 2007

This is what every youth group needs. No, not four Japanese girls. Wario Ware: Smooth Moves on the Nintendo Wii. End of.

Join Rpoints for free now to claim your £5 welcome bonus

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Rocky Balboa: youth worker

Posted by Martin on January 30, 2007

Went to see Rocky Balboa with my good friend Chris last night, and wanted to post my thoughts. But first:

DISCLAIMER: Rocky Balboa is clearly a big piece of cheese. The script is pretty basic, and some of the acting is not going to win any awards. I realise this, ok?

Right – now that’s out of the way… what a great movie! It’s been a long time since a piece of cinema literally got me leaping out of my seat in excitement, but Sylvester Stallone’s last (please Sly) Rocky movie managed it. I have to admit that like most people, I was fairly exasperated to hear that he was actually making what was effectively Rocky 6, especially since he’s hardly a youngster anymore. But what Stallone said was that he wanted to give the story a ‘proper’ ending, and indeed, that’s what this movie really feels like.

One of the most striking aspects of the film is the music, and one, haunting tune in particular: a recurring reworking of the famous Rocky theme on tinkling piano. It’s a poignant piece which perfectly captures the retrospective feel of the movie. Rocky’s life and career are drawing to some kind of close – but there is still unfinished business, and still too much sadness in the protagonist’s life.

Despite the simplicity of the story and script, there’s a raw emotional energy that will resonate with many. And even though it’s completely ridiculous, watching Rocky go back into training for one more fight is a pretty cathartic experience. I recommend it!

What really interested me however, was how Stallone both wove in his own Christian spirtuality (example line: why you gotta do something to get something back?), and his hopes for young people. One outstanding scene features Rocky choosing a new dog, and taking the teenage son of his platonic girlfriend to the dog home to do so. At first, the teenager messes about, and lives down to expectations. But when Rocky empowers him, asking him to help choose a name for the animal, the teen softens, and, once he realises that he is genuinely valued, contributes. It’s a small thing, but it made a big impact on me – seems to me that Sly believes we need to listen to and respect young people more.

There’s a fairly big youth work theme in the movie in fact, from Rocky’s relationship with his son, to the gradual redemption of a teenage girl who is apparently transformed by watching his example. Again, a lot of this stuff is portrayed simply, but sometimes that’s the most effective way. There’s a lot more going on in this movie than some people will care to notice; I hope the cheese and the drawbacks won’t prevent cynics from spotting it.

If you don’t mind a bit of boxing-ring blood, this is a decent film to watch with teens.

Posted in Movies, Youth Ministry | 1 Comment »


Posted by Martin on January 21, 2007

So Santa came late, but eventually, he did arrive. At last, there is a beautiful white box sitting underneath my television, and its name is Wii. Which is still ridiculous, but who cares when it makes video gaming this fantastic?

The most incredible thing about the Nintendo Wii is not the motion sensitive controls, the brilliant multiplayer games or even the GameCube compatibility. The most incredible thing about the Wii is the fact that my wife likes it. For ten years, she’s been repeatedly telling me to grow up and leave my gaming passion behind. Now, after a quick game of tennis and a boxing match in which I learned something scary and new about her, she’s a convert.

Playing the Wii is in danger of murdering my ability to hit deadlines. I have also been posting notably less often on my beloved blog (sorry about that). I can also no longer be bothered to spend time with my son. Joke, obviously – although I may be getting him into video games at an appallingly young age…

My big recommendation with this is to my fellow youth workers – if your budget allows, you have GOT to get one of these! It’s such a hoot in multiplayer, and I reckon it will go down a storm in a youth club setting – four people can play at once, but it’s also almost as much fun to watch them at it as it is to have a go yourself.

And also – if you don’t like working out, you should seriously try this thing. My arms are aching! Advertisment ends.

Posted in Family, Gaming, Youth Ministry | Leave a Comment »

Piefest / TV kills Christmas

Posted by Martin on December 15, 2006

As planned, our youth group assembled with a handful of other brave church members on the local council housing estate last night, assigned with the task of singing some carols and handing out some mince pies. Enthusiastic new girl was there, along, incredibly, with two even newer girls! There were about 20 of us in all, including two guitar-wielding church leaders, and we made a good attempt at a few of the classics.

Interestingly though, everyone on the estate gave us a wide berth. Suddenly, an area containing 500 homes resembled an abandoned Wild West town. If doorbell response was to be used as an indicator, then apparently, no-one was in at all. That’s right – not a single door that we knocked on to offer a mince pie, opened to us. It was as if we were invisible.

But not inaudible, it would seem. Because halfway – literally half way – through ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, a twenty-something woman came into our midst, waved her arms and told us that she was really sorry, but we had to stop. Everyone did as she asked, but we were puzzled – had traditional Christian Carols really become so offensive? No – but apparently television producers have. For as she – a production assistant – revealed, they were trying to film an episode of some vacuous Channel 4 reality TV show on the estate, and our singing was creating an unwelcome background noise. So would we mind awfully if we shut up and moved on?

Despite my protestations, the church leaders relented and downed their guitars. Our performance was at an end. But what on earth made this woman believe she had the right to stop us – and mid-song? I know TV is important in this country – but seriously?

We walked away, and heard a loud director cry ‘action’ in the nearby background. Part of me wanted to start a bit of impromptu megaphone street preaching to ruin his scene, but that wouldn’t have been very constructive, now would it?

Posted in Television, Youth Ministry | Leave a Comment »

A cold night with hot pies

Posted by Martin on December 14, 2006

…in prospect. I’m about to head out for one of those youth events that sounded like a great idea at the time – we’re going to hand out mince pies and sing Christmas carols on the local council housing estate. It’s not quite the Bronx, but it ain’t the leafy suburbia most of our kids are used to, either.

I don’t want to give a false impression though – I’m really excited to see how they’ll respond to being taken out of their comfort zones. It’s also really cool to hand out free stuff to people and watch their puzzlement as they try to work out what we want in return. And I love singing too! So it’s a winner on three fronts.

After we’ve frozen solid, we’re heading back to one of the other leaders’ houses for a very premature Christmas dinner. Wonder if anyone will have the guts to invite a random member of the public along? Will let you know…

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All hail the new girl

Posted by Martin on December 8, 2006

I help out at a small laid-back youth club, which meets once or twice a week. We’ve been around the ten-member mark for a long time now, and although no-one seems intent on leaving, we rarely have any new joiners either.

I was fairly surpised then, when last night, a new girl strode confidently towards me and introduced herself. She’d been invited by one of the group’s stalwarts (who hadn’t actually expected her to come), and she was coming from somewhere completely off my radar. I don’t know if she buys in to the same ideas about God and faith that I and some of the group do, but that wasn’t what last night was about. What was really exciting was the way in which, almost effortlessly, she blended into the group as if she’d been coming all year. By the end of the evening, she was genuinely part of us – and so something had taken place which I didn’t know was possible – instant belonging. If you came along next week, I guarantee you wouldn’t be able to pick new girl out of the crowd.

There’s two sides to that. She’s a real extrovert, very friendly, and prepared to take social risks – which means she was happy to dive head first into a group and see what happened. But the group accepted her – that’s the other side of the coin, and the far more exciting one for me. We’ve been slogging away with ten kids or less for a year now, despite pressures from all sides to somehow manufacture growth, and we’ve never had more than ten. But when kid number 11 turned up, the group was absolutely ready for her. It offered genuine community, and absorbed her wholeheartedly. I’m so proud of them.

So many of us in youth work have to cope with unrealistic expectations of growth as a matter of course. But what good is numerical growth if your young people don’t know, like or gel with one another? You just end up with a roomful of people who’ve turned up to see a show, and then go home. Surely we should be aiming to create a group which interacts on more than just a superficial level; where all the members care for one another, and the group, and feel like they genuinely belong? Jesus worked with 12 young men, for three years, and at the end of it had a group so strong that it persuaded half the world to join. Perhaps we should pay more attention to His model.

New girl is great, by the way. She made a great impression, which lifted the group. And incidentally, she has the kind of sticky personality that could act as a quick catalyst for further growth. Which is great – so long as we don’t lose that precious sense of community. Until last night, I had no idea just how genuine it was.

Posted in Youth Ministry | 3 Comments »

Urban Sense

Posted by Martin on December 5, 2006

I suddenly realised that I hadn’t done any strictly youth ministry blogging for a couple of days, so here’s something – I just ran into Matt Summerfield, a top bloke who for the past few years has had the unenviable task of trying to bring the youth evangelism and discipleship organisation Crusaders up to date. No easy task – they’re a dear bunch of people, but the name alone was enough to tell you that they were in danger of disappearing into the past.

Not everyone will agree with me, but I think that by renaming and rebranding the organisation as Urban Saints, Matt has saved it. It might not at first seem the natural choice – after all, the majority of Crusaders groups are found in rural or suburban settings – but Matt isn’t using the word ‘urban’ in that way. He’s creating a new meaning for the word, or rather, harnessing a meaning for the word which already makes sense in what might be termed British youth culture.

Young people, wherever they may live, view themselves in some way to be citizens of an urban culture. Linked together by developments in technology, they feel connected to the dominant, US-urban led culture, and then interpret it locally in their own way, and in their own tribes. That’s a very rough description of how I believe modern youth culture looks in practice.

So the idea of being an ‘urban saint’ makes much more sense to a rural young person than it does a rural adult. The problem Matt has is that his is an aging organisation, and so he’s had a lot of flak from his constituents. If his new direction reflects the bold sentiment of the new name, and from talking to him today I believe it will, then after time, he may not have that problem any more.

I think it’s a good name. It doesn’t quite suit the organisation at the moment (it feels more suitable to something like the Salvation Army), but as a kind of unavoidable vision statement, it may well lead them to change shape anyway. I think it’s going to both interesting and exciting to watch their future unfold.

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Amazing thing at Eastbourne (2 of 2)

Posted by Martin on November 30, 2006

The other big thing that happened to me at the Eastbourne Youthwork the conference was much more personal, but hopefully goes some way to finally explaining (to me as much as to anyone else) the title of this blog.

As I’ve explained in other posts, I’ve felt two different callings from God over the past few years, and they’re both crystal clear. One is to youth ministry; the other is to the Hollywood screenwriting industry. I’ve had huge, God-ordained ‘breaks’ in both areas, and I’ve often found myself scratching my head as to how on earth they fit together. Many around me have confidently predicted that at some point it’ll all just fit into place, but right now I’m not sure if that’s prophecy or just wishful thinking.

This incident went a long way towards confirming the both/and sense of calling I’ve had to these two seemingly distinct areas, and also a little way towards demonstrating how they might begin to feed and inform and link with one another.

To recap then, I both find myself heavily involved in the UK youth ministry scene, and simultaneously in the movie industry. I have one script with ‘attachments’ which the producer is looking to take into production soon, a great manager who’s trying to shape my career, and a bunch of opportunities with some great execs at some massive studios. I talk to one of these people most nights, and through those conversations am learning more about film and writing than I could ever hope to pick up from any film course. Recap over.

I was delivering a seminar on the impact of media on young people’s lives, and unsurprisingly found myself majoring on the film industry as a point of focus. I gave an overview of Hollywood’s current obsession with high-concept, and went on to talk about some of the movies which I think are particularly good for prompting spiritual and life discussion among young people. But then we had time for questions, and that was when it happened…

I’d revealed my secret screenwriting double-life, and it had clearly caught the interest of the delegates. The questions began to rain in, both on my writing, and on using film in youth ministry. And what really surprised me was not that I was able to give half-decent answers, but that those answers were being directly informed by what I’d learned on the phone to those movie execs. To cut to the chase: the things which I was learning and experiencing in my ‘other’ life – those things which I thought were supposed to be kept separate from my life in youth ministry world – were now becoming directly useful in a youth ministry context. I was answering difficult questions, and resourcing youth workers, thanks directly to what I’d picked up in film world. It dovetailed. At last!

Clearly that’s not as big a collision between the worlds as I was hoping for, but it was a start, and a massive indicator for me that in some way, it’s all part of a much bigger plan. I continue to enjoy the journey.

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What is youth ministry? An unfolding thought…

Posted by Martin on November 30, 2006

Youth ministry is, in it’s broadest sense, discipleship, right? I mean really broadly speaking – everything we do in Christian youth ministry fits somewhere under that heading. We’re either leading young people, or trying to reach them in order to lead them somewhere; or at least trying to serve them in the hope of reaching them in order to lead them… right? Anybody still with me?

So if that’s the case, in order to learn how to be effective youth ministers, we need to keep an eye firmly on the best model we have for discipleship. And that, unsurprisingly, is Jesus. There’s compelling evidence to suggest that some of the disciples were actually what we’d term ‘young people’. So he was doing youth work!

So that makes me think – does our youth work look like Jesus’ youth work? Do I ever really stop to look at what Jesus’ model of discipleship was? And if I did, would it radically impact the way I approach youth ministry?

As I say, an unfolding thought, but one which won’t leave me. I know it sounds – on one level – incredibly simple and obvious, but in reality – does much of our ministry resemble His? And if not, maybe this is worth revisiting.

On this then, more later.

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Amazing thing at Eastbourne (1 of 2)

Posted by Martin on November 29, 2006

Youthwork the Conference 2006I mentioned last week that, after I’d had time to inwardly digest a little, I would post something about my experiences as a speaker. There were two really significant things that happened, and I’d love to share them with you. Here’s the first – the second is coming soon.

I was presenting a seminar that was generally about the impact of sex in youth culture, but I’d always wanted to end it with a more focused time looking at the issue of pornography. More than that though – I also felt it was important to tackle head on the thorny subject of pornography addiction among Christian leaders, and specifically youth leaders. I’d done this at Southport, and though it had gone well, I hadn’t provided a middle-ground in terms of a response mechanism. My stats suggested that half the room would struggle with this issue, so I knew that there would be many looking to make some kind of first-step response. However, I only gave the audience two methods of response – they could either write down a helpful web address and visit it later OR they could brave coming to the front for prayer, which, considering the subject matter, would require a brave person indeed.

So I’m sitting there at Eastbourne, knowing that it hadn’t quite worked out the previous weekend, and searching for a middle ground. I’m just about to get up to speak, and then this idea hits me.

I presented the first two response mechanisms, as before, but then added a third. ‘In a moment,’ I said, ‘I’d like everyone to stand. Only you will know why you’re standing however. You may be standing as a response to God, saying “I want you to help me with this problem, because I can’t get past it on my own”, or you may be standing because you want to show solidarity for your brothers and sisters who struggle in this area. Only you will know which it is.’

Everybody stood, and we had the most incredible moment of Christian community. I would honestly say it was the most ‘kingdom’ moment I’ve ever experienced. Some people were giving this big issue to God, some people were just supporting them. But we all stood together. You could practically see Jesus right there in the room.

It lasted little more than a minute, as I prayed a brief prayer and blessing. Then it was the end of the session. I was surprised to find, even after that, a number of people looking to recieve personal prayer at the front, and I had some tremendous conversation.

The story doesn’t end there though – the next day, someone handed me a note, which someone else had handed to them. I don’t want to betray this person’s trust, but the note said that she was a victim of abuse from a person who had suffered from a serious pornography addiction. She thanked us for tacking this issue head on, and for offering people an opportunity to begin to deal with it. Her prayer was that it might stop someone from getting to the point which her abuser got to, and found enormous comfort in that thought. Quite honestly, it moved me to tears to read her words.

[Just in case it helps anyone – here are the links which I suggested for those people who were looking for help with an internet pornography addiction]

www.blazinggrace.org – statistics and help – a whole ministry to support those struggling with pornography addiction – including podcasts!

Integrity filtering: this is software which will allow you to block sexual content online.And if you’re really serious…

www.covenanteyes.com – Accountability software – also a free version, with more limited features, is available at www.xxxchurch.com

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1,000 posts!

Posted by Martin on November 27, 2006

Not here, of course – that would be ridiculous. But at the home of my UK youth ministry ‘brother from another mother’, Ian at Youthblog. Thanks to his post, which is one of his regular all-seeing round-ups of the scene in this country – plus a bit of added weirdness, I’ve discovered that this blog is worth $1,693. Not on a patch on Ian’s $38,000, but it’s a start. Maybe when I’ve written 1,000 posts…

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You are a beautiful human person

Posted by Martin on November 23, 2006

BlobsSpent lunch today with the inimitable, one-of-a-kind veteran youth worker Pip Wilson. If you don’t know him, you may well know his blobs (see pic) – the tool he created with Ian Long to help communication between what he refers to as ‘beautiful human persons’. Pip is one of the most individual chaps I’ve ever met – he’s not some Guardian-waving wannabe, desperate to be hip and ‘different’, he’s just a down-to-earth geezer who truly loves people, and that’s such a rare thing that it gives him an edge – an aura even – that you’ve probably not come across in anyone else.

In keeping with his eccentricities, Pip wanted to meet at the Cafe New Piccadilly, in central London. It’s a perfectly preserved 1950s ‘caff’, which most people probably walk past with barely more than a distateful glance. But it’s got personality – bags of it – like the man I was meeting, of course.

Pip talked passionately about getting people talking – and we kicked a few ideas around together. The waiters seemed to know him well, and liked him. I wasn’t surprised. Again – the thing that really strikes you about this guy is that he LOVES people. I mean, like, all of us. If you met him, he’d love you, and he’d show it. He’d affirm you, and your contributions to the conversation. He’d ask you questions. He’d listen.

Sounds like I’m describing the last samurai of some almost forgotten culture, doesn’t it? Visit Pip’s blog (see blogroll) and check out what I’m talking about. He thinks humans are fantastic – yet he’s not a humanist. He’s just learned to see us the way God does. What a gift he’s been given. And what a beautiful human person HE is.

I wonder if I could learn something from him…

(By the way, I feel like the blob on the wooden plank today)

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Go for the one

Posted by Martin on November 21, 2006

The one. Maybe not this exact one.It’s great when you’re impacted by a strong talk, sermon or seminar. It happens often to me – I mix in the world of youth ministry, and there are many great speakers out there.

It’s a rarer, but far more amazing thing when a talk is literally incarnated in front of your eyes. It doesn’t usually happen on the spot, but at some point, in the days after you’ve heard and processed the message – and that’s exactly what just happened to me.

Jill Rowe spoke on the lost sheep last week at Southport’s Youthwork the conference – and it impacted me hugely, as I wrote on this blog at the time. But tonight, I got a call from the lost sheep in my life, and suddenly it made much more powerful sense. He’s the kid I’d honestly given up hope on – the one who’d drifted so far from the rails that he can’t even hear the trains any more. And I’d love to say that I went after him – that I went for the one, as Jill implored. But he came to me. He bleated, as it were, when I least expected it.

Out of the blue, several months since we last made contact, he just calls to say hi, with the lamest of excuses for doing so. The challenge to me was clear – I’ve recieved a rebuke from heaven for daring to give up. I’ve come to my senses.

May you also be encouraged – the lost sheep in your life may still be bleating, even if you’ve given up hope of finding her. Leave the 99 some time, and go for the one.

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Danielle Strickland comes dancing

Posted by Martin on November 20, 2006

Danielle StricklandHave you ever come across Danielle Strickland? She’s a Canadian Salvation Army church-planter/missional thinker/ general genius who happens to be one of the best and most original speakers I’ve heard. She closed the incomparably excellent Youthwork Conference (Eastbourne) yesterday with a talk which appeared for so long to be going absolutely nowhere – and which then snapped into focus like one of those post-mortem injuries from CSI.

Danielle, like Jill Rowe last weekend, was speaking on the parable of the lost sheep under the header ‘One Life at a Time’, and told a clutch of stories from her own experience of working with individuals. Her challenge in mission to simply ‘look out for what’s right in front of you’ both echoed Rob Bell’s earlier instruction to ‘notice what God is doing all around you’, and jarred with 21st century Christianity’s usual approach of purpose driven strategy. I think they were all trying to make the same point: the Kingdom of God is near when we as Christians are near, because Jesus lives in us. So it’s up to us to reflect the kingdom to the people around us – one life at a time.

The old lady in Eastbourne passed by me (see post below) and I didn’t stop to talk. In all of our days, there are people who pass right in front of us, but we ignore their cries because they don’t fit in with our particular vision statement – I’m called to work with young people you see – she was about 70, so I let her go.

Maybe God doesn’t see it that way. I shall continue to think about the old lady in Eastbourne until I work it all out.

Anyhow, the conference was amazing in so many ways. I want to share something that happened in one of my seminars (well two things actually), but I haven’t got my head around it all yet. Oh and amusingly, have been asked to co-lead an ’emerging’ youth congregation. Which is only funny because I spend so much of my life slating the emergent movement. Ho hum, God has a sense of humour…

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The Bell keeps ringing true (apologies)

Posted by Martin on November 17, 2006

Ok, so I can’t find a wi-fi hotspot that works, so this will all kind of just appear at once. Sorry about that.

Interestingly, Rob moved from his famous Bible-teaching style into something far more hands-on and practical today as he finished the early day. He talked extensively and compellingly about Sabbath, most of the time from his own experience. Combining this with what I heard last month on the same subject from Mark Yaconelli (see older post) I am now pretty convinced that this is a good idea.

Well, duh. Here’s a little nugget – did you know that zookeepers have realised that after six days, animals need a day off from the public eye or they’ll start to behave strangely? It’s like even nature understands God’s rhythm of six and one: six days on and one day off. God has built 6+1 into the fabric of creation. Cool.

Today was a lot more bits-and-pieces than yesterday, but they were super-trendy-cool bits and pieces. On teaching I paraphrase – we need to be looking out for the work of God around us, all the time, because it’s going on constantly (John 5 v 17). And we need to become sensitive, developing a ‘radar’ for what God is doing right in front of our noses. Then we note these things, allow them to develop into ideas, and then mature over time into talks. It seems that to Rob, teaching is an organic thing – talks literally grow over time inside him.

Rob also made a brilliant and progressive response to criticism of the Old Testament, and over the whole day made it come alive in a way which I’ve never seen before. Oh you get the picture – it was great.

Excitement is now brewing as over 1100 delegates descend. Rob’s on tonight – I doubt this crowd will know what has hit them.

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I am Borat

Posted by Martin on November 17, 2006

MeOr at least, my interview skills are akin to his. Having managed to arrange an interview with Rob Bell today (see previous post) I was less than amused when he suggested that we just do the whole thing in front of 200 delegates, as part of his ‘early day’ event. Great – now my questions weren’t going to look so smart; for a start I can’t now edit them post-interview to tie in better with his answers…

I agreed anyway, and things were going well until I described his book Velvet Elvis as having a ‘super-trendy’ design. He looked at me blankly. He had never heard this word.

In fact, no-one there had. In fact, nor had I. My nerves had got the better of me. Super Trendy? What was I thinking? And then it hit me, as I announced:

‘Oh no. I’m Borat.’

To which Rob replied:

‘This is very nas interview, yes?’

Posted in Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | 2 Comments »

Rob Bell blows my head up

Posted by Martin on November 17, 2006

A different Rob Bell - sportierArrived in Eastbourne last night for the start of the Youthwork the Conference ‘early day.’ The speaker is about as high-profile as they come in Christian circles – Rob Bell, the founder of Mars Hill Community Church in Grand Rapids Michigan (they meet in a converted shopping mall [which they were given]) and the man behind the nooma series of teaching DVDs. Expectations then were sky-high, which in my experience is rarely a good thing. Remember how you felt going in to see The Matrix Reloaded? And then how you felt when you came out?

So I was cautious about expecting too much. I needn’t have been. Rob was spectacular – he did an ‘overview of the history of the story of God’ using what he termed the four locations that are key to the Bible. Those are – if you’re interested – Egypt, Sinai, Jerusalem and Babylon. Everything else is tourism I guess. I can’t do it justice of course – but I can say that it entirely upended my view of how Old and New Testaments fit together. Previously I’d kind of looked at them as an unwieldy first volume and a much punchier sequel… now they’re more like two sheets of overlaid acetate. The scales fell from my eyes.

Simultaneously, Rob used the stories in Acts 11 and 14 about the criticism he received in Jerusalem for his methods, then displayed in action in Lystra, as a metaphor for our work with young people. There are often people in the background who talk of the importance of religious tradition, and are forever trying to hold us back and call us to account – at the same time, we are also trying to journey into the culture and lives of real young people, and reflect Jesus to them in a way that makes sense. That’s what Paul faced; it’s what we face today.

A key question then – Paul asked, what would it look like for the Jesus movement to break out in Lystra (and in Acts 14 we find his answer – he practically re-christens God!). We need to ask – stripping away some of the traditions that we’ve added over time, what would it look like for the Jesus movement to break out in Brentford, or Swindon, or Grimsby, or Belfast? In all those places, culture and youth culture are subtly different. So Rob’s call was for us to reimagine what it looks like for true church to appear there, I guess.

Tons of phenomenal stuff anyway – I may post more when I’ve had a chance, as Rob would say, to ‘let it all marinate.’

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Youthwork the Conference: Southport

Posted by Martin on November 13, 2006

Just returned from this event so apologies for the absence of posts. Normal service has now resumed.

This was the first of the two Youthwork conference weekends, the second starting in Eastbourne at the other end of this week. I was on the speaking team, so you could possibly suggest some sort of bias, but I thought it was fantastic – although to be honest, it only made the jump from good to great during the final sprint.

The theme of the conference – Infinite Possibilities: Reimagining mission to the digital generation – was worked strongly through a huge programme of seminars looking at all aspects and definitions of mission to young people, and I hope every one of the 800 or so delegates who came along found something in there which they connected with – general feedback seemed to be very positive on the ground.

The main sessions, cut from five to four this year, were all of a high standard, with plenty of food for thought from speakers like Steve Holloway and Pete Greig (who appears to have morphed over the course of the last five years into the UK’s first Stoner-style Christian speaker) but the best of the lot came from Jill Rowe, whose ‘One life at a time’ call to seek out the lost sheep in youth ministry was simply stunning.

I can’t do her address justice – get hold of the CD if you can – but she set the place alight. And what was even more brilliant was that the best mainstage speaker at the conference (very possibly ever), was female. No token chick here. After she’d finished, leaving barely a dry eye in the house, the conference was treated to an equally stunning finale…

In a moment of ironic postmodern worship (we may have invented something new here, emerging church fans) worship leader Gareth Robinson chose to close the event with a funked-up rendition of… wait for it… ‘Shine Jesus Shine’. For 30 seconds, there was a lot of laughter, but something happened in the room, and suddenly it made sense. Perhaps these words are why:

‘As we gaze on your kingly brightness
So our faces display your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell your story’

What a rousing and perfect way to end up a conference on mission. Can’t wait for next weekend.

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