The Power of Blessing

Dec 19, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

Today’s guest blogger is Billy Jack Blankenship, Minister to Children and Families at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church and part of our 2010 Sticky Faith Cohort.

We continue to wrestle with the process of being a community that contributes to lasting faith in our kids and students. The shift from being a multi-generational congregation to community that models intergenerational relationships proves to be a slow, yet exciting, journey.

One shift we made last year was to begin each worship service (on Sundays) all together—with our kids (6thgrade and below) in the sanctuary with their families and other adults. Originally our hope was to help them experience different elements of the services (i.e. celebrations, baptisms, giving, stories of God’s movement in our community, etc). However, something cool emerged from a subtle addition to the first half of each service.

About half way through each service there is a time when we dismiss the kids to their classes. The piece of this that has shaped us is a blessing for the kids before they go. Depending on the Sunday a different minister leads the moment. We have families lay hands on their kids while the congregation extends hands toward children close to them, and the person leading extends a blessing to our children. After the blessing they are dismissed to their classes.

Our hope is that we will not think that we are “intergenerational” because of the blessing moment. Rather, our hope is through moments like this, where we posture toward our children, our community will come to understand the importance of being in relationship with our kids as they journey in faith.

A mother in our congregation asked her son how the blessing made him feel each week.  She relayed to us:

“It’s cool,” he said. He went on to offer that the blessing makes him feel loved, by not only his parents, but by everybody in the church. He also said the blessing makes him feel like kids are respected. I could tell that he feels important and valued during this part of the service. Thank you, thank you. From the tone of his voice it seemed that he is filled with a warmth, seldom freely offered, by being touched by outstretched hands each Sunday.

Our Sticky Dinner Table

Dec 15, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

It’s 5:35 PM. My family and I sit at dinner, face to face. It’s in these seconds that my kids do and say intriguing things.

Mya, the nearly two year old, decided to make up a dinner cheer. “Foo-fwah!” We had no idea what she was saying, so we all joined in “Foo-fwaaaaahhh!” We later realized that Mya was saying the word “flip flop”.

Kirra, our older and wiser four year old, told us with confidence (as she was moving food around on her plate), “God helps us do hard things.”

There were a few moments of silence. Then she said, “Jason and Melissa taught me that at church, that God helps us do hard things.”

“You’re right, God does help us do hard things.”

I thought Kirra might have been referring to the fact that it would be hard to eat all of the food on her plate, and that God would help her. But she was thinking of something else.

She told us that she plugged the TV in today all by herself. “And that was a hard thing! Right Mommy?”

As I thought more about our conversation I realize that what we consider hard, our children may not. For Kirra, hard things are literally hard things. It’s hard to plug in the TV by herself, it takes effort for her to do it.

And the people who helped her to realize that we have help when life gets hard were other caring and loving adults who invest in my daughter in community each week. Knowing that others are raising her up in faith alongside me gives me hope. It also sparks motivation to try to foster more opportunities for the students in our ministry to experience this over a longer period of time (not just during their elementary years).

We all face hard things. For a senior adult or someone just going into retirement, hard things look different. It’s hard to figure out where to fit again. It’s hard to give up freedoms or to admit when some things aren’t working like they used to.

For early middle schoolers, it’s hard to walk into a room alone.

For new parents it’s hard to function on three hours of sleep.

For college students it’s hard to manage new responsibilities.

If we want to be advocates of sticky faith—or connectors to building faith in people that lasts--if we want our teenagers (and everyone else) to value their relationship with Jesus we have to connect them to the church that says, “God helps you do hard things.”

The echo is empowering and life-changing.

When I meet up with a group to run, I tend to run better. My desire to run increases as I discover that I can get through the hard parts and as I realize that there will be people cheering me on as I develop. It’s the same with the church.

How are we helping our teens do hard things? Do we ask our students where they are struggling? Do we lead them to others who are a bit farther ahead to cheer them on and give them cues? Do we allow them to lead in the areas where they find things easy?

I believe God helps us do hard things, including building sticky churches or sharing faith with each other in ways that are lasting.

I’m grateful for Melissa and Jason, and the many others who are found “faithing” in front of my kids and our youth group. The kingdom of God is found as we walk, worship, struggle, serve, cheer, and lift up each other on the way.

A Tale of Two Tables

Dec 13, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute




Dec 09, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

Today's guest blogger is Jason Herman, high school pastor at The Hills Church of Christ in Richland Hills, Texas. The Hills was part of our 2010 Sticky Faith Cohort.  

Sex!  It’s a subject that most everyone thinks about and almost no one is talking about.  If and when we address sexuality in church our goal has been to scare students sexless, or worse, we fill them with bad theology namely that sex is evil.  Sex is not evil.  God created sex, and sex is good!  I for one refuse to allow our students to be taught a distorted, watered down, harmful view of sexuality by our hyper-sexualized culture.  It is for this reason that we conducted a four-week series on sexuality called Just4Play.  The exciting part about the series was not the content.  It was the fact that we engaged in the conversation with adults and teens in the same room!

Don’t worry, we didn’t turn up the heat immediately.  We intentionally started the series separately so we could prepare both parent and student for the ride ahead (think frog in boiling water illustration).  The following weeks we utilized a variety of methods combining adults and students, separating by gender (adults and students of the same gender combined), and finally coming back together during the last week providing resources for continuing the conversation.  Just4Play was more than a series of telling teens don’t do this or don’t do that, but rather it was designed to help students and adults navigate the mysterious realm of sexuality in light of our identity as image bearers of God.  

All Churches Are Multigenerational. Few Are Intergenerational.

Dec 07, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

Today's guest blogger is Matthew DePrez, Now Generation Pastor at Frontline Community Church in Grand Rapids, MI, and part of the 2011 Sticky Faith Cohort. This post is reprinted with permission from Matthew's blog.

About a year ago, a friend of mine asked why I choose the word "intergenerational" over "multigenerational" when I reference generations coming together in churches. That's a great question! I responded by saying, "All churches are multigenerational. Few are intergenerational."

The difference is simple, yet crucial.

Intergenerational ministry is like the shuffle button on iTunes. There's an "intersecting" of generations. 
They're not merely in the same room. They've walked across the room to talk to each other. They know about each other. They're deeply invested in each other's life. Intergenerational ministry is when a senior in high school prays for a senior citizen in a small group, or when a senior citizen calls a college freshman to let them know they're loved and missed. It's when each generation knows the other's name. Or when a crisis happens in a high school student's life, they know they can count on an adult to listen.

Multigenerational ministry is like the repeat button on iTunes. There's no intersecting of generations.
They're all in the same room, but each generation is avoiding each other (intentionally or unintentionally). They're walking around the room but not across the room. Multigenerational ministry happens when children and students are sitting in the same Sunday morning service as adults, but neither of the generations have talked to each other. Nobody knows more about the other generation than when they started the service. It's when they don't know about each other's passions and hobbies or their separate struggles, hurts, and pains. 

I don't want to diminsh the concept of being multigenerational. I was recently presenting on this concept, and a person commented by saying, "In some churches getting adults and students in the same room is a great 1st step." I totally agree! It's important that they're in the same room. All churches will, at some point, have various generations in the same room. It may be a potluck, sunday morning service, outreach event, funeral, wedding or even a student ministry program with adult small group leaders. It's not difficult to get different generations in the same room. The difficult task is to get generations speaking to each other. Deeply invested in the other generation's life. Accepting differences. Realizing similarities. Relying on each other and praying for each other.

As your church processes intergenerational ministry, are the different generations in your church walking around the room or across the room?

Read more thoughts about Intergenerational Ministry here.

To Drink or Not to Drink

Dec 05, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

We at FYI really respect the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding and have learned a lot from Derek Melleby who leads CPYU’s College Transition Initiative. 

Recently Derek wrote this thoughtful article entitled “To Drink or Not to Drink: Five Things to Communicate to Transitioning College Students.”

At FYI we often say that while drinking and sex aren’t the best litmus tests for faith, our behaviors sure do impact our faith, and we believe our faith should impact our behaviors.  For college students, these two areas of life can often become touch points for faith—areas where faith is either boosted or buried away.

And let’s be clear: these are not simple decisions.  On many campuses, alcohol is the context for nearly all new friendships, in particular during the first few weeks and months of the freshman year. We found that more than a few students opted to drink because they believed their only other choice was to remain friendless.

Here’s where Derek is so helpful.  He offers five things we need to be communicating to college students (or better yet, high school seniors) about alcohol in college. Check out his article, and share your own ideas below.

New Video for Parents and Leaders

Nov 30, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

In yesterday's FYI E-Journal we released the video below, sharing a powerful story of how one youth leader came face to face with a gospel based on behaviors.  In case you missed it, take a look and offer your own insights via comment.  

What evidence do you see of a truly grace-based gospel in your church community? Your family?  

If your students or your own kids failed in a major way today, what would your response teach them about God's grace and redemption even in the midst of truth and consequences? 



Using a Simple Red Ball to Connect Generations

Nov 28, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

Today's guest blogger is Jim Sparks, a leader within Salvation Army youth ministries and the SAYNetwork website/blog.

Inspired by the Sticky Faith movement, a couple of months ago I set out to find out how I could connect generations in a unique way. So I gave myself the following criteria to chart my course:

  • Must be fun
  • Must include laughter
  • Must connect generations
  • Must be in an environment where people can be themselves
  • Must provide an experience for all to talk about

With this in mind, I scribbled a bunch of ideas on a whiteboard ranging from a flash mob to a service project. But one activity stood out like a sore thumb and was screaming “OOOH, PICK ME, PICK ME!!”; and so I obliged. What was the idea? Dodgeball. Yep, you heard me.

A friend of mine turned me on to the favorite childhood playground game a couple years ago at a camp, and I can’t tell you how much fun it was.  So I decided to bring it to our church gymnasium.

I advertised it through our church bulletin and recruited some influencers to help push the concept. We were intentional in inviting everyone, no matter the age, and gave plenty of warning to the parents of young children that a ball—yes, a ball—would most likely hit their children. We, of course, gave the same advice to the elders. However the balls we use are self-inflating, gator skin, family-friendly dodgeballs that don’t hurt, even if they hit your face. Trust me; I know personally. 

So the night came, and I expected about twenty male young adults to be the only ones to show up. Well, I was wrong. We had 43 men, women, and children. The age range was 10 – 51 years of age! We spent several hours that night in the gym pummeling each other, and having a great laugh while doing so.

What a scene. Dads laughing with their sons. College students engaging in friendly banter with forty-something’s. Children trading dodgeball war stories with thirty-something’s. And everyone had a smile on their face while doing so.  

It worked. It was fun. No one got hurt. There was plenty of laughter. No cliques and no barriers. Generations were actively engaged in genuine conversations, and it is now the buzz at our church.

We just completed our second dodgeball night, and our number grew to 63 while the age group expanded to 8 – 51. We plan on playing once a month through June and are looking into ways to make the evening even more intentional.

Gift Bibles with a Twist

Nov 23, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

Part of what I love about my role at the Fuller Youth Institute is I feel that it makes me a better parent.  Almost every day I get a great idea or hear an encouraging story or challenging insight that shapes me.

Last week I heard from a dad who, along with his wife, wanted to make a tangible impact on their oldest son, who was a high school junior.  So they bought a Bible for him, but they didn’t give it to him.  They kept it themselves, and used it during their son’s junior and senior years as their own devotional Bible.  They prayed through it, and made notes in it about specific passages that specifically related to their son.  After two years, they presented it to their son upon his high school graduation.

They did the same for their other three children as they entered their junior year of high school.  For all four of those young people, that Bible was a constant reminder of their parents’ care and concern for them.

Recently this dad heard from a church that heard about this story and decided to bring an intergenerational twist to it.  The church had 15 high school juniors and so it recruited 15 senior adults who would get a Bible and do the same prayer and Scripture underlining and journaling for two years for those juniors.  Upon their high school graduation, each senior adult presented their Bible to their respective young adult in a special intergenerational rite of passage.

Can you imagine how it would feel to receive that Bible, whether it was from your parents or another adult who had been thinking of you and praying for you for the last few years?

That’s Sticky Faith in action. 

Shocking Teens Before They Shock You

Nov 21, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

Student Life recently released a new resource called "Morf". It's a magazine for parents, youth workers and pastors. It's got a great modern design and an earthy smell. 

In its inaugural publication, Andy Braner wrote an article dealing with how adults are treating the topic of sex with teens. He tells stories that revolve around honesty as the best policy for both parties. Even when it's a fifth grade son encountering the topic for the first time on the playground. 

I vividly remember from high school the shock teachers would express when they would encounter the private lives of teens. Yet at 25, I've often experienced that same feeling when hearing the truth from teens. Lets just put it out there; for some reason, sexual issues are strangely uncomfortable in the intergenerational context. 

But hearing about sexual trends and habits shouldn't be a surprise. It's happening in all generations. The discussions need to happen before, not after "it" happens.

I'm guessing this approach would shock a lot of teens.

Unfortunately, we're cuturally in a season of damage control. These conversations are typically about the outcomes and aftermaths, not the plans or hopes. When we leave it up to a generation to define sex on their own, we need to be prepared to hear the outrageous, scandalous, and the shameful. If we don't prepare them well, the least we can do is become a safe and restorative place. Our relationships need to be strong in preparation for whatever storms may come. As Braner says, "We have to build a rapport with our kids so that when dating (or sex) becomes the issue, they'll listen." 

Hard questions: 

  • Have we sincerely/seriously defined what's sexually appropriate? Teens can handle these conversations, but can we? Clarity defuses confusion. Why aren't we shocking teens before they shock us? Are we willing to have conversations about confusing or "gray" areas of sexuality, or what may seem like gray areas to our students?
  • Along with culture (until fairly recent changes in cultural expectations), most churches have idolized marriage as the ultimate goal for every person. But this is not the "only" biblical ideal (1:Corinthians 7:26). How, or why aren't, you talking about singleness? Our students need to know that staying single and celibate is tough, but it could be the life they are called to. How are we helping them navigate that lifestyle?