Thinking Out Loud

August 27, 2016

Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Podcasts and the Stewardship of Your Time

podcastsIt started about a month ago when my friend Martin pointed out to me that my new smartphone had a feature whereby I could bypass the keyboard and simply dictate messages and email responses. I quickly became aware that it’s easy to be verbose when you’re talking compared to finger-typing, which is often more concise.

But it also started several months before that when I realized how many of the bloggers I follow have simply switched over to doing podcasts. Why write it all out when you can simply press the record button and start rambling?

So for obvious reasons, today’s blog post here will be shorter.

I think we’re all really getting sucked down a giant hole where too much time is being spent on social media to the point where other things are not happening or getting done. The time it will take you to read this if much, much less than it would be if I decided to do this as a podcast. I know that because I’ve seen the comparative length of emails and texts that result from the speech feature on my phone.

As Christians, the stewardship of our time is important. In the old KJV, Ephesians 5:16 was rendered using the phrase, “Redeeming the time.” More recent translators went with:

  • Make every minute count (CEV, NASB, and others)
  • Make the best use of your time (J. B. Phillips)
  • Don’t waste your time on useless work (Eugene Peterson)
  • Make the most of every living and breathing moment (The Voice)

The time factor figures into social media, but even more into addictive online behavior such as porn-related and game-related activity.

But the podcast thing is important because many of these run 50 minutes to two hours and have become very trendy. So here are some podcast-specific suggestions:

  1. Be really discerning which ones you want to invest your time with
  2. Don’t do every episode, choose the one with guests and topics of interest
  3. Fast forward through banter and sections of lesser concern
  4. Limit daily or weekly consumption
  5. Keep a balance between spoken and written content you consume

…Keeping this short, as promised! Go make the most out of your day.

This discussion continues today at Christianity 201.

February 23, 2016

Deconstructing is Easy; Building Takes Skill and Time

Filed under: blogging, issues — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:39 am

Blog Birthday 8

This was actually the 4th item posted when I launched the blog eight years ago, not the first, but I think it reflects what online opinion writers should strive for, especially when it is so easy to write and post critique. The comments following the poem itself were on one of the websites where we located this version of it.

Builders and Wreckers

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho, heave, ho and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and a wall fell.

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled?
Like the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He laughed as he replied, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.

I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken years to do.”
I asked myself as I went away
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?

Oh Lord, let my life and labors be
That which build for eternity.

Why do so many of us find it gratifying to be sideline cynics smothering ideas in a relentless barrage of “what ifs” and warnings? As the poem points out, it’s much easier to be a wrecker than a builder.

Of course it’s wise and necessary to challenge assumptions, test theories and predict problems, but that should be the beginning not an end. We should measure our value by the number of balloons we helped launch, not the number we deflated.

A builder sees problems as challenges and seeks solutions; a dismantler sees problems in every solution. A builder sees flaws and tries to fix them; a dismantler sees flaws in every fix.


February 18, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Morality in the 21st Century

Morality in the 21st Century


  • Mama Mea Culpa? – Ravi Zacharias on President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast: “For those who did not hear the talk, it is sufficient to say that it was the most ill-advised and poorly chosen reprimand ever given at a National Prayer Breakfast. I have been to several and have never, ever heard such absence of wisdom in a setting such as this…Citing the Crusades, he used the single most inflammatory word he could have with which to feed the insatiable rage of the extremists. That is exactly what they want to hear…
  • When You’ve Lost the Calvinists, You’ve Lost the Battle – Justin Taylor at no less than The Gospel Coalition is not on-side with ‘literal’ six day creationism: “It is commonly suggested that this is such a “plain reading” of Scripture—so obviously clear and true—that the only people who doubt it are those who have been influenced by Charles Darwin and his neo-Darwinian successors…So it may come as a surprise to some contemporary conservatives that some of the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of this interpretation…I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons…”  (Of course, not everyone agreed.)
  • When It’s Time for a Time Out – A look at what it means to be “disqualified from ministry” and the related issue of restoration. “My point is that those who minister for God don’t live unimpeachable lives. By “unimpeachable” I mean perfect. But the sins we are often quick to use to disqualify someone from ministry are far less severe than denying Christ [or] adjusting the Gospel to make it square with our prejudice.”
  • If a First Century Christian Time Traveled to Your Church – “If Americanized Christians were to see how the first Christians lived, it would be denounced as some sort of communist cult being led by folks who distorted the Gospel…If Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort were to fly back in time to see how the first Christians– those who walked and talked with Jesus– were doing things, they’d say they were totally doing it wrong, and have succumbed to liberalism.”
  • Essay of the Week: What Makes a Movie/CD Christian? – “[William Romanowski] argues, when [Amy] Grant began to abandon explicitly Christian lyrics in favor of ones focused on romance, many Christians became uneasy and were forced to reconsider their paradigm for Christian art. Was Amy Grant enough of a Christian singer? The fact that Grant resisted easy categorization prompted discussion and debate. She defied the strict sacred/secular bifurcation. Of course, the only difference between Christian Grant and secular Grant was the lyrics. Christian art, the logic went, is Christian art only if it explicitly communicates its Christian-ness.”
  • Reinventing The Christian Bookstore – Even as the Family Christian bookstore chain enters Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a former university textbook store has been re-purposed as a center for the Christian community in Winnipeg, Manitoba that is part retail, part library and includes many other parts: “Materials from the lending library, owned and operated by Mennonite Church Canada, sit in the middle of the spacious store, with catalogue stickers indicating the items are for loan, not for sale…” The university president adds, “We didn’t want to build only a library, but we wanted to build a public gathering place.”
  • Missing the Moment – We’ve all seen the pictures where people are so busy with their smartphones they miss something awesome taking place right next to them. Tyler Blanski addressed this and many other social media challenges in a November article that we just discovered: “…Mixing social media with daily life diminishes daily life. When I’m with my son, I want him to be able to take for granted that I am there. And no matter how often I might look up from my phone, if our time together is material for social media, I will never be more than half there. I want him to grow up in a home that is a safe haven, not a stage.”
  • Lost in Translation? – The NIV, ESV, Amplified, KJV and several others get together for a dinner party. (I hesitated to title this link, ‘If Translations Could Speak.’) A great premise if you’ve always wondered what they all think of each other. [NIV to ESV] “Look, I know you’re the new kid on the block, and that a bunch of pastors are all like, ‘Rah, rah, ESV, our study Bible can beat up your study Bible.’ But just because you’re new and polished doesn’t mean you’re better. Some of us have been around for a long time and have seen a lot of things.”
  • The Vanity and Toxicity of Conversation Toppers: “We may not realize it, but there is an art to making good conversation. Such artistry is not simply the goal of talk show hosts and salesmen but should be something that each one of us practices, especially those who serve as pastors.”
  • One for the Road – Next Sunday’s worship: Looking for something new that is both hymn-like and chorus-like and also lyrically deep? You could do this song with a driving rhythm section or a classically trained choir.

Short Takes:

Sometimes preachers talk about people being "too busy for God..." I found it interesting that in December, when we get busy, readership at Christianity 201 drops noticeably. When things get hectic, we do put spiritual disciplines on the back burner.

Sometimes preachers talk about people being “too busy for God…” I found it interesting that in December, when we get hectic, readership at Christianity 201 drops noticeably; some of us do tend to put spiritual disciplines on the back burner at busy times.

September 20, 2014

The Last Post

Filed under: blogging, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:50 am

No, we’re not talking today about the bugle call known as “The Last Post,” although there is a similarity of theme.  Wikipedia reminds us about that song which originally connoted the end of day for soldiers and then crossed over into memorial usage: “In all these countries it has been incorporated into military funerals, where it is played as a final farewell, symbolizing the fact that the duty of the dead soldier is over and that he can rest in peace.”

Neither are we saying this is the last blog post here at Thinking Out Loud, though perhaps some of you were hoping!

Rather, what got me thinking was a Twitter post from Keith Brenton last night:

If I had just one social media post left in my life, to bring joy and wisdom and love to a sad, stupid, hateful world …this wouldn’t be it.

Okay. But what if you had one post left?  In the endless stream of social media history you’ve created on WordPress, on Facebook, on Twitter, on tumblr, on Instagram, on YouTube… and on everything else; what if you had One Final Post. Your own famous last words. The thing everyone would remember you by.

What would it be? 

Note: These words, phrases and sentences are already taken

  • Related: Two years ago I posted the lyrics to a song I wrote as a much younger person. I was basically asking the same question, “What will my life be remembered for?” It’s a fair question to ask yourself periodically.

April 3, 2014

Gaining Platform; Rites of Passage


I frequently look at Christian leadership blogs which seem obsessed about helping pastors and authors build their platform on social media. If that in itself is a stated goal, then I think the type of advice offered may serve some practical good.

But I also keep wondering if true respect is not also built in what might be called ‘the crucible of affliction;’ that is to say, that various people in various types of ministry endeavors have earned the right to be heard because they faced a great test, or championed a great cause.

The challenge is that not everybody gets to climb Mount Everest, nor does everyone want to. The type of platform that some people want to see built is gained only through some newsworthy accomplishment.

The other side of the challenge is that those who want to enjoy a healthy following and a strong platform are concerned only with what can be measured statistically, and stats alone seem to be a rather hollow way of measuring the worth of an individual.

I think platform is good only if leads you to another objective beyond selling your book or gaining social media followers. Utimately, however, it’s who you are that counts. That’s not something you can engineer. It’s not something you can quantize statistically, either.

Mission Trips

It’s true that short-term mission tourism has become an industry onto itself, and there have been various articles posted online, including some here, that have engaged the sport of mission trip bashing.

But lately I’ve been wondering if it isn’t really some necessary rite of passage; the third point of a three pronged initiation into Christian service: Salvation, baptism, short term mission. Or, “When did you become a Christian?” and “When you were baptized?” followed by “Where did you go for your mission trip?”

It almost seems that to lack this quintessential experience — as I freely admit I do — is to have a personal story that is somehow more shallow. When people ask me to document my ministry experience I find myself sometimes apologetically saying, “Everything you can imagine except third-world missions exposure.”

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe I’ve had some rich experiences; maybe it’s reflective of a greater spiritual inferiority complex. I’m just thinking that maybe we’ve been too harsh when it comes to mission trip bashing, provided the trip has been designed to be more than a tourist visit.

Although I’ve never done it, my ideal for you, your son, or your daughter would be to connect with the six month Discipleship Training School at Youth With A Mission bases around the world; each one of which has both a training and a field experience component.

Read more:
Short Term Mission Trips: Yea or Nay?, November 2008
Short Term Mission Trippers as Seen by Full-Time Missionaries, April 2012
Another Critique of the Short Term Missions Movement, June 2012

February 18, 2014

Out of the Abundance of the Heart the Facebook Page Speaks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:32 am

six legged chicken

I remember once hearing a preacher say, “Nowhere in the Bible does it say to close your eyes while praying, but there are over a hundred references to gluttony.”

So what’s with the vast number of people who seem to feel that Facebook exists largely for broadcasting to the world the details of our latest meal? My wife and I know people — who shall remain nameless — who seem to feel that social media exists for this very purpose. Yes, they do post a few pictures of the kids, but they get lost in the vast galleries of food pics.

When we go to the supper table, I always make sure someone has remembered the ice cubes for drinks and a couple of salad dressings. But the camera? With the exception of a six-legged chicken, I don’t believe the camera and dinner have ever coincided.

Don’t get me wrong, Mrs. W. is an awesome cook. She buys things at the Asian grocery store and then goes online to try to figure out what they are and what to do with them. Last night’s meal was a middle-Eastern treat. We enjoy food from around the world because she’s willing to take on a challenge one night and then take on another one the next.

What I’m saying here is, if anybody has the right to post food pictures on Facebook it’s her. But we don’t. It would be boasting. It would be glorifying or idolizing food consumption. It would be trying to make our rather mundane lives look more exciting than they are. It would be a slap in the face to people who dine on Hamburger Helper and mashed potatoes night after night, much like dogs prefer a steady diet of Kibble.

Facebook is about sharing your life, and nightly food pictures suggest to me that instead of sharing your life, you need to get one.

If a person’s worth does not consist in the abundance of their possessions, neither does one’s value consist of the meal they had the day before.

September 17, 2013

Frittering Your Day Away on Twitter

Filed under: links, media, quotations — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:11 am


I’m glad I decided to restrict my exposure to Twitter. I don’t know how people do it; do they have 36-hour days that I don’t? How do you follow a thousand people?

I find that trying to condense my thoughts into fortune-cookie sized wisdom-bites just about impossible. However, for what it’s worth, here’s what the last few weeks have looked like on @PaulW1lk1nson with annotations:

  • Elevation pastor Steven Furtick’s 2 1/2 minute sermon highlights video offers a refreshing approach to giving.
  • [Contrary to the 2nd commandment:] Paper money and coins carry the image of human government and leaders, therefore Christians should pay for everything with debit and credit.
  • I think some men validate their masculinity by the noise volume level of their power tools. [Written while trying to relax at a friend’s cottage… my wife just wanted to hear the loons, but the atmosphere was rather looney!]
  • At Newspring, pastor @perrynoble invites the congregation to vote on future sermon topics!
  • I wonder if instead of just teaching kids and teens abstinence, we would do well to throw in a few lessons on delayed gratification.
  • “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” – G.K. Chesterton  (quoted by: @EugeneCho]
  • “It isn’t possible to burn out if you’ve never actually been on fire.” ~Perry Noble
  • Creation care: Urban municipalities should enact bylaws that you can’t cut down a tree unless you’re going to replace it with a new one.
  • “Humble Theology” means we approach Scripture with an understanding of our inadequacy to grasp with certainty everything taught in the Bible [“Humble Theology” is a concept I discovered reading @DanKimball in the 2012 book, Adventures in Churchland published by @Zondervan]
  • @johnortberg — Great idea for Christian cartoon show–the disciples as little boys: ‘The Tiny Twelve’ Bet it happens
  • Faith is about relaxing in the way we do when we are with a friend who we know for certain is fond of us.- Catholic theologian James Allison
  • Pastors vary as to “office hours” but “hours” spent outside the office, i.e. in the community at large, are often most productive ministry.
  • Pastors: If you’re preaching to the choir, then you probably have your back to the congregation.
  • In Quebec, Canada, ‘tabernacle’ is a swear word, sort of like saying “Jesus” as an expletive. [But isn’t it interesting that, in keeping with Catholic priorities, the church is preeminent over Jesus, even when blaspheming?]
  • Today my wife asked why I’ve never helped when one of our cats had to go to the vet to be euthanized. My response? “I’m Anabaptist. We’re a pacifist denomination.”
  • This morning a rare face-to-face meet-up with a regular reader of  She starts her day at C201; awesome responsibility!
  • [attended a] Lively concert with the band newworldson @newworldson
  • In the tradition of “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23,” we bring you, “An Ox Looks at Being Unequally Yoked.” New from Oxdervan Publishing.
  • The Biebs, in New York City for Fashion Week, heads to a Hillsong-affiliated church: …
  • From a Canadian perspective, party politics at the municipal level or county level must automatically eliminate many good potential candidates.
  • When people on other planets find the Voyager spacecraft and the long-play record we sent them, what exactly will they play it on? Seriously, we sent them a record?
  • I want to start promoting the idea that “the mark of the beast” described in Revelation 13:17 is actually a reference to Google. [Six letters, too.]
  • I asked my wife if she wanted to see a counselor to talk about her nightmares, but at $80 an hour, she thinks the nightmares are cheaper.
  • A classic Canadian “inspirational” rock song! Copperpenny “Help Your Brother” …
  • Imagine if your cell/mobile phone had component parts that you upgraded instead of discarding it? Much less waste! …
  • Unexplainable things on Twitter: How former UK resident @SheilaWalsh could become a big fan of American college football. Don’t tell her British friends!
  • Rare YouTube gem: Phil Keaggy Band in Cleveland, 1978 w/ Phil Madeira “Mighty Lord” …
  • A classic Canadian “inspirational” rock song! Copperpenny “Help Your Brother” …

But I do love how Greg Boyd @greg_boyd totally ignores the 140-character limit and just continues from one Tweet to the next:

  • I just got COMPLETELY SLAUGHTERED in our worship service!!! BAWLED non-stop through two songs. The REALITY of God’s love overwhelmed me! When any group people are 100% focused on Christ in worship, each person becomes a conduit for God’s presence–and WHAM! It’s spectacular! It’s like the whole atmosphere of the room gets electrified! It’s as if the music and singing acquires a different dimension or something! I know many of u know what I’m talking about. One taste of this and you understand why heaven will never become boring! He is SO BEAUTIFUL! The one downer is that afterwards, your heart aches for every person on the planet to experience THIS!

June 13, 2013

Media Determines Message

Filed under: blogging, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:29 am

When I started on Twitter a few months ago, my goal was to mirror the subject areas I write about here, since there are the types of things I’m truly interested in. But the 140-character maximum is truly limiting. Yes, I can simply link people back here, and I’ve done that; but in terms of having original content on the blue bird website, my thoughts go in a different direction, and some of these could never be fleshed out into full blog pieces. 

TwitterHere’s how the first few months have looked from oldest to newest, and not including some great re-tweets by others or quotes:

  • First Tweet: So here we are, another voice spitting into the wind. God bless this Twitter feed and all who sail in her. Or something.
  • I’m now receiving much classier email spam. The Russian girls who wanted to meet me have been replaced by people with stock market tips.
  • Watching the show His Place on Cornerstone Television — it’s still on — and wishing I’d stayed in TV production.
  • Arriving late to the party, but finally discovering and really appreciating The Voice version of the Bible.
  • If you want to make an impact with your charitable giving you should give to people doing ministry without the prospect of a weekly paycheck
  • Everybody loves the bookstore, but nobody buys any books. …
  • I think all the people I’m following are male. In a ‘recommended for you’ list today, only three of 30 were female. This is different than blogging.
  • Need encouragement? If you blog, read all the stuff in your spam filter. Those guys love you.
  • “At or during which time water vapor condenses and precipitates downward from the upper atmosphere,such precipitation flows intensely and unabated.”  (figured it out?)
  • I’m organizing a travel tour thing beginning in a Wesleyan college in western New York & ending in Jerusalem. I call it the Israel Houghton Tour.
  • When shopping at the Salvation Army Thrift Shop, always double-check which side of the shirt the buttons are on. They mis-filed one!
  • I think there should be a rule that for every book an author writes for the Christian market, they have to do one aimed at non-Christians.
  • Keep waking up at 4 AM. Is mentally reciting the books of the Bible (alphabetically) helping me clear my head, or making my brain even more awake? Not sure.
  • The next generation won’t be so concerned with mastering ‘knowledge,’ they will merely have to master ‘search.’
  • My sister-in-law thinks that Facebook exists for the sole  purpose of posting pictures of food; specifically every lunch and dinner, both home and out
  • Three conversations recently with people who assured me they’re attending church regularly, but when asked couldn’t remember the church’s name.
  • In theory anyway, birthdays not ending in a ‘0’ or a ‘5’ are less traumatic.
  • Worship leaders naturally find their spirits lifted by new songs; church congregations are naturally averse to learning new songs.
  • Is always having music playing in the background all about our love of music, or does it say more about our fear of silence?

Some of this reminds me of the SNL segment, “Deep Thoughts With Jack Handy.” You can’t do a lot of depth in 140 keystrokes, so by definition things sound pithy or even trite.

Still, I finding this particular social media animal to be a good fit. I get to interact with the thoughts of people I truly respect, as I noted in this quotation which is actually my brother-in-law’s profile:

  • I’m not on Twitter because of what I have to say, but because it allows me to eavesdrop on so many interesting people.

March 9, 2013

All The Little Birdies Go…

Filed under: technology — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:49 am

TwitterI can’t say what I have to say in 140 characters.

In case you missed it, I tend to write long. However, I am a great believer in the communications art of concision. If you’re not familiar with the word, concision is what happens when you have a car you want to advertise in the classified section of your local newspaper (remember those?) and they charge $1.50 per word. You learn very quickly what concision means.

So what I am doing on Twitter?

Mostly following authors and pastors I respect. Actually only ten so far, but more to come once I figure out how to do that. Or are you only allowed ten? There is saying that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new social media platforms.’

But there’s also saying that ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.’ The corollary to that great axiom is, ‘Yes, but you can put salt in his oats to make him thirsty.’

So far, I have Tweeted nothing particular profound. How can someone who is so prolific in Blogland have so little to say to the Twitterers?

You can try to help me figure this out @PaulWil71355270

The lines are open. Or whatever the equivalent of that is.

March 4, 2013

Teens With Idle Hands

clock spiral

This weekend I accidentally stumbled on the mother of all teen forums. The discussion boards actually generated a fair bit of traffic both from the UK and the US. Adding it all up, I probably spent more than 90 minutes listening to what the kids were saying.

At this point, you should have all sorts of warning lights going off in your brain, so let me assure you that I wasn’t stalking anyone, didn’t create a login where I pretended to be a teenage girl, didn’t chat or leave any comments, and didn’t set up a time to meet anyone in a public park on Tuesday after school.  Actually, the site seemed to be heavily moderated, and additionally, I got the impression that some teens are selected to act as prefects to find problems the moderators miss.

As I considered what I was reading, I realized there is a root issue about life for the modern teenager in western Europe and North America that we might miss.

Parents, generally speaking, worry about what their sons are watching online, who their daughters are texting at 12:30 in the morning, and generally what activities go on in the school lunchroom, on the school bus or at weekend parties. They worry with good reason. Much of your child’s worldview is being shaped by the internet. Television is no longer a big factor. Magazines are no longer an influence. And radio is… what is radio again?

Some of the online discussions were healthy interaction on concerns teens worry about as they face the uncertainties of growing up. I’m not saying we don’t need this type of website. But peer-to-peer advice is a kind of wild frontier where subject matter is often reduced to the lowest common denominator. No one truly speaks with authority, and everything is opinion; nothing is footnoted or referenced.

Your pre-teens’ and/or teens’ worlds are being shaped by social media platforms arriving so quickly that if I were to name any here, it would immediately render this article dated.  Unless the world experiences considerable alteration, kids growing up today will spend a full 25% of their lives (minimum) sitting in front of a screen. That’s not waking hours. That’s hours, period. Whatever happened to playing road hockey and hoops and yelling “car” every time a vehicle wanted to drive through? Card games and board games? It’s hard to generate interest in a plodding game of Scrabble with kids who grew up playing first person shooters. And most teens would rather debate the merits of keeping suburban lawns trimmed than actually help cut the lawn.

The family agenda and the family core values are set by screens and what the screens transmit. These kids have grown up in a screen culture; have never known a world without screens. So how to pull the kids away? Some people say the kids simply have too much unstructured time. But why do they have this free time?

Simple. In our move from rural to urban life, kids have no chores.

Once upon a time, there were cows to milk, eggs to gather, tomatoes to pick, manure to shovel and firewood to chop.  But now that is not the case.

Once upon a more recent time, there were part time jobs for teenagers. But the reality of the new economy is that those entry level jobs at fast food restaurants and departments stores are now scooped up by desperate people in their thirties, forties and fifties who lost great career opportunities and now fill two or three part time positions that in a previous era would have gone to students.

So… no chores, no jobs.  Social media fills they void and they can stay up until 12:30 texting because they haven’t done anything physically exhausting all day.

What is the solution to this? Soccer, swimming and baseball are good, but many families cannot afford to get their kids into sports; though as space permits in local parks and schools, some informal competitive sports  can happen for those who can’t afford the equipment and uniforms.

If you have the luxury of relocating to what is at least a hobby farm, you would be doing your kids a big favor.  Seriously.  Or at least plant as big a garden as you can in whatever space you have.

Youth groups: Can’t say enough good about this option. Get your older teens into one (or two) high school groups and then get them helping out in junior high groups.

Music lessons: You can reduce costs by finding teachers who do group music lessons. You can reduce musical instrument costs by starting the kids off with ukeleles or budget-priced guitars or starter electronic keyboards.

My wife and I are big believers in summer camp ministry. If you can get the kids in for several years as campers, and then let them grow into leadership training and finally staff positions, your initial investment will pay for itself, and in some cases provide the teens with income at a time in economic history when summer jobs otherwise don’t exist.

Urban chores: Get your teens to step up and do things that you or your spouse might normally have done. If their rooms need painting, get them to do it themselves with a trip to the building store for paint and supplies. Do they need some shelving in their rooms? Get them to build it themselves. Set up a pizza garden where they grow some of their favorite toppings. Allow older teens to help with any home renovation you’re doing, or a minor car repair.

Finally, volunteering: At the seniors home, at the local library, at the community center. It’s not only a great place to meet other teens committed to not vegetating in front of screens, but the volunteer hours can be logged and possibly translate to scholarships in their senior year of high school. Furthermore, you can put volunteer positions on a resumé, which means better prospects for part time jobs that do come available.

The teens in the discussion groups I saw this weekend — especially in the areas drawing the greatest number of views — were fixated on things that are not going to improve their character, their prospects, or their sense of self-worth. The discussion forum itself is a glaring example of teens with too much time on their hands.  They often feed off encouragement toward negative behaviors that can only be described as self-destructive.

They need something else — anything else — to occupy their waking hours.

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