Taking the Pastor to Camp

Nov 18, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute
Photo by JoePhilipson.

This guest post was submitted by Cody Favor. Cody is the Pastor for Students at First Baptist Church of Abilene, Texas, and is part of our 2013 Sticky Faith Cohort.

I love going to camp every summer. It is the most important week of the year in our ministry. Our youth look forward to how they will experience God’s movement through the wealth of shared experiences we have as a group. The fourteen-hour bus ride from the Texas heat to the mountains of Colorado is no problem because it just means more time to be on the camp adventure.

Despite all that was already great about camp, something different happened this summer.

Our senior pastor came with us.

As we were returning from our first Sticky Faith Summit last February, he told me he wanted to go to camp with our students this year. I’m sure I looked surprised, because he emphasized that he was serious, and that he even wanted to ride on the bus! His motivation was to get to know more of our youth and to show that he was interested in them and what they experienced as a part of our church.

He not only followed through on his word, but also was a full participant during the week as he led a small group, played all the rec games, and shared stories each night as our group gathered to close the evening. I couldn’t have been happier that he was part of the week, and our students became his biggest fans. There was a moment during the week where our pastor put virtually his whole body inside a giant trash can filled with water so his small group could win their game. If I hadn’t captured it on video, I might not have believed it actually happened. In the evenings he shared his joys and fears and struggles along with the rest of the group, and allowed himself to be vulnerable to a group of teenagers. Our students noticed and it mattered to them. He definitely made an impression, because by the end of the week the kids had even given him a nickname!

Why is our pastor coming to camp a big deal for our youth ministry? It is a big deal because in the rec games, bus rides, and Bible studies, our youth were sharing meaningful moments with the person who preaches and leads our congregation each week. Not only did our students get to know our pastor better, they got to be known by our pastor. This is a big deal, as it is easy for them to feel like their gifts and energies for the church are somehow secondary to those of adults. Our week at camp with our senior pastor made our youth feel valued in a way that I could not have expected.

I’m sure there’s still some texting going on during the sermon most Sundays, but after conversations I’ve had with our youth I know they listen and participate in worship differently now that they share those special memories from camp with our pastor.  And our pastor communicates to them differently now that he knows more names, faces, and stories.

As it turns out, the most important week of our year was made even better because our senior pastor told our kids they matter, and he reminds them of that every week.

Meet the Parents Sunday

Oct 22, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute

Last winter, one of our volunteers suggested a new kind of parent meeting she had experienced at her home church. The idea sounded like a winner. Two weekends ago we finally took the chance to try it out. The result? Our most fruitful, best-attended high school parent meeting in my past ten years of ministry.

We called it “Meet the Parents Sunday.” The idea was to link parents and small group leaders right at the launch of our small group ministry year. Every week for a month prior, I emailed parents about a mandatory 30-minute meeting in between Sunday morning services. I promised it would be fun and worthwhile, and we would get out on time. The day arrived, and parents shuffled in – sitting in the back rows first, just like their kids do, then eventually filling the room.

I spoke for about five minutes on our ministry philosophy, our small group plan, and highlighted a couple of key upcoming programs. Then I invited parents to grab their chairs and head to the tables flanking either side of the main seating area. This mirrors the routine for our students on Sundays after singing and teaching, and we wanted parents to experience the same thing.

Our volunteer small group leaders waited at the tables and welcomed the parents. These are the same small group leaders who will be sharing life with their kids over the next year. Once everyone sat down, they made introductions, exchanged contact information, coordinated calendars to find the best day for Life Group meetings, and prayed. It took about twenty minutes, so I could keep my promise of ending on time. As people left, their feedback confirmed what I had hoped: when the family and the church partner, everybody wins.

Here are a few things we learned:

+ Advertise early to parents and volunteers, and keep your promises big and succinct. “It will be fun, worthwhile, and short.” Then keep your promises and get them out on time.

+ Make it mandatory for one parent/guardian per household. If you make it mandatory, people come, because “mandatory” means “important.” None of our parents bristled at the use of the word “mandatory.”

+ Keep your speech brief so the meet-and-greet time can go longer. Assure parents they can make an appointment with you for some other time if they want greater detail.

+ Make calendars and other important handouts abundantly available. This is a golden chance to put resources directly into their hands.

Lastly, we did this in the early fall, but there’s also nothing wrong with doing it in January as a mid-year meeting, especially if you have new information about spring and summer to pass along. The biggest win is relationally connecting parents and leaders.

What have you tried that’s worked when connecting parents and ministry leaders?

Pedestal Parenting and Faith

Sep 30, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute

Today’s guest post is by Keegan Lenker, Pastor of Intergenerational Discipleship at Pasadena Nazarene Church. Keegan has been through a Sticky Faith Cohort and is now one of our expert coaches. He also contributed ideas to the Sticky Faith Launch Kit.

Recently I did something new that helped me better understand common family rhythms in my context. Each year at school parents are asked to attend Parent/Teacher Conferences. Hearing from some other friends who had tried this model in ministry, I decided to host Pastor/Parent Conferences with families in our ministry.

It turns out that those 45-minute windows with parents really helped to affirm some of the things I have learned through implementing Sticky Faith in our ministry over the past few years. They also challenged me in the way I relate to other parents and even to my own kids. Here’s what I mean:

1. Parents are often anxious about faith conversations

One question I asked parents was about the ways the family either talks about faith or prays. Outside of praying at mealtime, I often heard how intimidating praying or talking about faith actually is for some of these parents, even when they have grown up in the church.

I often hear parents say they desire for their children to have a faith that is deeper and more authentic than theirs has been. This is a really GOOD desire. The Sticky Faith research indicates that parents still have the greatest influence on the faith formation of their children. The heart-wrenching truth is that as parents we tend to get what we are when it comes to faith. Kids mirror what is modeled, including the ways we talk about our faith.

2. Parents struggle with sharing their testimonies

Most of the families I met with had never sat down and shared their stories of faith with their kids. Their kids don’t know when in their lives they started to take Jesus seriously. Helping parents share these stories can be a powerful faith catalyst for teenage children. But parents often hesitate to share their past because of the “Green Light” effect…

3. Busting the myth of the Green Light

I like to invite parents to places of authentic conversation and honesty about their brokenness with their children in age-appropriate ways. Without a doubt when I invite them to be honest about the ways in which they have lived destructively, the most common response I get is, “If I am honest about what I have done in the past, I am giving a green light to my children to do what I did.”

Yet, when parents can be honest about who they are and what they have done, they are stepping off the pedestal that many of their kids have placed them on.

4. Deconstructing the Pedestal Parent

Pedestal parenting is what happens when the only things we talk about in our lives are the decisions and actions that feature our good sides. We showcase our successes and sweep the failures under the rug. It’s good for our kids to see the positive things, but when those are the only parts of our lives they see, they easily put us on pedestals. We create an unrealistic sense that they can never be like their parents because we have never made any mistakes. This can have a major effect on faith development.

On the flip side, when we are honest about our brokenness and show our real humanity to our children, we become more relatable to them. There is no guarantee they still won’t use this information against us in some way. My hope is that my kids will remember my brokenness and the ways I have grown from it.

5. De-pedestaling biblical heroes

I was talking with a friend not too long ago about this very thing. He began to share about how we also have done this with Biblical characters. We’ve placed them on pedestals for our kids. We never really tell the parts of the stories that reveal how broken most of them were. This might be one of the ways we’re stifling authentic faith formation in kids in our homes and our congregations.

I’m embarrassed to admit the ways in which I’ve conveyed an impossible faith-led life that my kids can never live up to. I also confess the ways I have contributed to this model in the church.

Yet all hope is not lost. This has always been God’s church, and he desires to use broken people for the sake of the Kingdom. That puts all of us in play. You and I are invited as parents, pastors, friends, and strangers to embrace our stories of brokenness and to allow the transforming work of the Spirit to use us.

We’ve just got to step off our pedestals.

Have You Sent a College Student a Care Package Lately?

Sep 11, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute

This past weekend, my seven year-old and I made a double batch of brownies.  Brownies are somewhat of a family specialty for us (it’s all about the butter and the extra chocolate chips).  None of these brownies went to the five Powells.  One batch went to one of our church’s youth ministry summer interns who’s now a college freshman, and the other went to one of our family babysitters who’s now a college junior.  The kids made cards for these two young women who are significant to our family (wishing them “Happy College” as you can see in the picture above).

Before our Sticky Faith research, I never would have done this.  I should have, but I didn’t.  But according to our findings, college students who have contact with their former youth leaders and adults from their home church tend to be students more likely to have Sticky Faith. 

So maybe brownies and homemade cards from seven year-olds make a difference.

Maybe brownies let young people know that we care.

That we haven’t forgotten. 

And neither has God.

Maybe you don’t have the time to send a care package.  Can you send a postcard?  Or even a text? 

What other ideas do you have for letting college students know that you care?

Preparing Seniors for Faith After High School

Sep 04, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute

This Sticky Faith Story is from Leontina Liebe, a volunteer leader at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, WA, part of our 2013 Sticky Faith Cohort.

After our daughter moved away to attend college, we realized that we had not prepared her very well for the reality of what she might encounter. My husband and I had been open with our children and had shared what we experienced in our college years. Yet even as a high school guidance and college counselor, I was surprised at how much I underestimated the influence and exposure college students face. As a result, I began praying and talking with our leadership. Last year we launched our first five-week series for seniors called "The Senior Summit." 

We sent invitations to each of our ten seniors and kicked off the event with a celebratory dinner in my home. After that, each of the next five Sundays we met for two hours over lunch. We utilized the Sticky Faith Teen Curriculum designed for juniors and seniors, and added some other topics and experiences:

  • We invited a current college junior from our church to come back and share her own challenges, joys, and what wished she had known before going away.
  • We had students write letters to themselves and to their parents (both of which we’ll mail this fall) about who they hope to become as they live out their faith in college.
  • We held a parent meeting to discuss the changes that lie ahead, changes in relationship, communication, being intentional, and practical planning. Parents also wrote letters to their kids that we will mail this fall.

This parent meeting was outstanding. Talk about emotional! Prior to the parent meeting, we asked the seniors to think about things they wanted us to tell or ask their parents. Oh golly, we got A LOT of feedback:

  • Don't call/text me daily.
  • Don't pressure me to take the classes you want me to take; let me explore.
  • Don't ask me about every detail of college life.
  • Everything really will be okay if I get a "B” or a “C."
  • Please don't make me feel guilty for having a little fun.

The parents sat there and took it all in. That's when we told parents:

  • Be intentional this summer. Teach your child about budgeting, how to do laundry, what to do when they get ill, creating personal boundaries, etc.
  • Hold some family meetings and set a communication schedule for college (what day or how often to call/text) that both you and your teenager feel good about.
  • Come to some agreement on academic and behavioral expectations, and then be compassionate and remember to offer grace and restoration when your child fails.
  • Trust your child to God.

My volunteer partners and I loved this whole experience, and the youth raved about it to their parents and to us. We recently completed a "tune up" and we’re already pre-planning next year's Senior Summit!

How are you planning to prepare this year’s seniors for life and faith after high school?

Transition Prayers

Aug 19, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute

This Sunday my church celebrated transitions associated with the back-to-school season. Given the number of kids, educators, and college/graduate students in our congregation, we named quite a few transitions. In particular we blessed our kids who are transitioning from children’s ministry to preteen/middle school ministry. My daughter was one of those. Quite a moving service!

In the spirit of sharing Sticky Faith Stories and resources, I’ve slightly adapted our liturgy from Sunday (special thanks to Jordan Boldt who originally wrote it) to something that can be shared and adapted for your own context if it’s helpful.

We’d love to hear your stories, ideas, and prayers for transitioning into the new school year!

A Transition Liturgy

Reader 1:  The church calendar reminds us that for every beginning there is an ending, and for every ending, there is a new beginning. Transition brings about a variety of feelings including excitement, fear, sadness, anxiety, joy, and uncertainty. God, as our steadfast rock, be with us today as we process our transitions, especially that of the kids who are transitioning into new ministries within our church.   

Lord, in your mercy,

All:  Hear our prayer. 

Reader 2:  God, as our shepherd, give us eyes to see and ears to hear the children among us. Lead us to appreciate one another as brothers and sisters. Reveal to us where we fit into the lives of these particular children. Grant us the necessary grace, mercy, vulnerability, accountability, and support in our community as we all grow together and hold each other up.  May we claim one another as our own. 

Lord, in your mercy,

All:  Hear our prayer. 

Reader 3:  God, as the source of our hope, provide vision and wisdom to our children’s and youth ministry leaders, the mentors among us, and other volunteers as they shepherd and learn from our children.  Let the knowledge of your love fuel their commitment and inform their passions.

Lord, in your mercy,

All:  Hear our prayer. 

Reader 4:  God, as the crucified one, help us see you in our neighbors. We lift up our teachers, administrators, parents, and others in the educational field as the new school year begins. Be with them, granting them grace, hospitality, compassion, and love for the children they encounter. Provide unity among coworkers, and a network of support among those who work with children. We ask that you would walk with each student into their classes, relieve anxiety, stir insatiable curiosity, and cultivate gratitude. 

Lord, in your mercy,

All:  Hear our prayer. 

Reader 5:  God, as our example, help us to continually welcome children, learn from them, and be truly hospitable. Open our eyes to our shortcomings, remove any feelings of indifference, and shed light on ways in which we can be bread and wine to each other. While at times transitions may seem overwhelming or hard work, remind us that it is you who created us, it is you who is in control, it is you who sustains us, it is you who is among us, and it is you who will come again. You are the beginning and the end.     

Lord, in your mercy,

All:  Hear our prayer. 

Reader 1:  Every beginning has its ending, and every ending has a new beginning. 

All:  Amen

Share Your Sticky Faith Stories

Jul 09, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute

One of our mantras as we work with churches in our Sticky Faith Cohorts is this: vision is a shared story of future hope.

We’ve borrowed that mantra from our friend Scott Cormode, our leadership guru here at Fuller. Churches quickly understand the power of story to shape communities as they return to their churches and utilize stories to cast vision. Often what a leader has been unable to communicate through facts, statistics, or logical reports, suddenly comes alive through the sharing of stories.

Because of that truth, we’ve converted our Sticky Faith blog into a story-sharing portal. We have been incredibly inspired over the past two years by the guest posts contributed by leaders and parents from across the country. We want to open up this invitation even more so we can cultivate and spread stories of hope. Some of those stories might be your stories: an intergenerational relationship that bloomed in your church, a family who started something new, or an experiment that sparked new growth in students.

What’s your story? We’d love to hear it and share it!

Share My Story

What was your favorite bedtime story when you were a kid?

Apr 23, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute

Today’s guest post is from Kevin Becht, Area Director of Youth for Christ/Campus Life in Southern Indiana.

What was your favorite bedtime story when you were a kid?

My favorite was a classic story from my grandfather.

I was primarily raised by my grandparents. When bedtime came, I would lie on top of my grandfather’s bed, begging him to tell me stories of his childhood. My favorite was of the time he was sprayed by a skunk as he checked his box-traps on his way to school (uphill, both ways, in the snow I am sure).

The stories were simple, and not all of them stuck with me. But there was just something powerful about knowing that he knew what it was like to be a boy my age. You see, my grandfather was a World War II marine vet (those are stories he seldom told). He was still incredibly fit in his early 50s. His work ethic was amazing. I definitely put him on a very high pedestal. The stories he would tell made me realize he was human. He was like me. They made me realize I too had a story. They created a hunger in me to know others’ stories. Looking back on the fact that I didn't have a dad in the picture, these stories were even more vital to me knowing my own story.

Today, as I think back to that skunk story, I realize what was really happening as my grandfather told those stories. Ultimately, it created a desire in me to know God's Story, and for me, the stories of Jesus were the Father's "when I was a boy" stories. I understood that he was God on my level, because I had grown up hearing about Grandpa on my level. My family narrative was vital not only to my success as a person, but also to my knowing God's Story was for me.

I have come to realize that My Story is not just my "Christian Testimony," but that it truly is my "family narrative." With or without Jesus, the family we are born into shapes our story, and it is a story we should really get to know.

Here are a few suggestions to encourage family narratives in our homes and ministries:

  • Encourage the students in your ministry to seek out their “Family Narrative.” Challenge them to see who can find the most bizarre story from a parent, grandparent, or even a great-grandparent if they are still around. Then have a coffee house night of story sharing.

  • Seek out more of your own family narrative. On your next day off, spend some time visiting with an older family member if you live nearby. If not, I’m sure they would love a phone call.

  • Pass on your own family narrative to your own children, as well as the students in your ministry. Throughout my twenty-plus years of ministry, students still love to laugh at some of the silliest stories I have told over the years about my own life. Sometimes they surprise me with what they remember. Hopefully it builds a hunger for paying close attention to their own stories.

Don’t Send Them Off to College Without Leads

Apr 17, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute

Today’s guest post is from David Ludwig, Minister of Family Ministries at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA. St. Andrew’s is part of the 2013 Sticky Faith Cohort.

Sending the kids off to college isn’t fun.

And I’m not talking about my actual, biological kids. They’re only 5 and 3—a little too young to be sending away to school…unless it’s pre-school.

The kids that I dislike sending off to college are the High School seniors who have allowed the Student Ministry team and I to enter into their lives during their formative years. I mean, these are the seniors who we’ve known for at least 4 years:

  • The ones who we’ve seen at their best—and their worst.

  • The ones who we’ve led on countless trips.

  • The ones who have shown up at our doorsteps in difficult times.

  • The ones in which we’ve finally seen flashes of maturity in their last year with us.

  • The ones who we constantly tell that we are their “biggest fans.”

Those are the kids I don’t like sending off to college.

It’s no fun sending them off to college because once they’re gone, our relationships with them will never be the same as they once were; and the statistics communicate that up to half of them will walk away from any type of Christian community in their first 18 months. The temptations to run in a direction opposite from the Kingdom of God are everywhere in a college setting, and that doesn’t help as we endeavor to release them with a continued desire to pursue God with others.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying it’s bad to release seniors into young adulthood—in fact, I think it’s the best thing. It’s just not fun.

One of the things that our Student Ministry team began doing a few years back was to help make a connection between our graduating seniors and a solid Christian community at the university they would be attending. Our hopes were that this continued Christian community would help them learn to love and revere God and love and respect others—even during their college years, which can often be so frantic and disjointed.

It takes some investigation, some contact work, and it definitely eats up some time; however, we’ve decided that it’s worth it. The effort has proven to connect a lot of our graduates to strong Christian communities at a time in their lives when they need them the most. It also communicates to the students that we aren’t kicking them out of the doors of the church upon their graduation; we hope to communicate that while they may be done with high school ministry, we (as a church) aren’t done supporting them in their faith journey.

Sending my kids off to college is never easy; however, it’s a little easier when I know that there are brothers and sisters in Christ in any university or college town who are ready to embrace, love, and care for them as they wrestle with following Christ into this next season.

Try this free Sticky Faith Curriculum sample, How Do I See Myself After Graduation? 

Best Price on Sticky Faith E-Books Ever

Apr 15, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute

If you’ve been wondering when to buy a copy of Sticky Faith or when to encourage a friend or parents to do so, NOW is the time. To celebrate the Fuller Youth Institute’s involvement in 3 upcoming national conferences (Q in Los Angeles, Catalyst West Coast, and the Orange Conference), Zondervan (our publisher) is generously offering the e-versions of both the parent and youth leader versions of Sticky Faith for $2.99.

That’s less than my favorite drink at Starbucks.

This $2.99 deal ends on May 6, so act now—and encourage others to do the same—to take advantage of this low price on e-books.

At the Q Conference, I’ll be speaking at “Numb Generations”. Gabe Lyons, the founder of Q Ideas and author of The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World, invited me to explore how technology (and to some degree psychiatric medicines) are causing us to become “numb”, or lose touch with what’s happening in the present.

This “numbness” isn’t just in teenagers; it’s across adult generations also. If you check out this recent infographic from some new research by the Pew Research Center, here you’ll note that while 83% of 18-29 year-olds are using social media, so are 77% of 30-49 year-olds. As I’ll be sharing at Q, we can’t judge young people for their use of technology without putting our own use of technology under the microscope also.

Of course, technology is a wonderful tool. After all, it’s part of what allows us to offer specially discounted e-books. But each of us should ask ourselves and our young people: In what ways is technology causing us to miss out on present experiences and relationships?