Thinking Out Loud

August 22, 2015

Maybe He Should Have Done a Bible Study Instead

Rick Page was too inexperienced in student ministry to realize he was being had.

Short Stories 2After four weeks as their youth pastor, he thought that having a high school group ‘testimony time’ would give the kids more opportunity to participate and help him to get to each one better. They were sitting in a circle and the idea was to go around and share their story.

Twenty-eight kids had showed up that night, and by the seventh one, Rick was already concerned that their testimonies had turned into something more like confessionals, and for a bunch of church kids, they seemed to be more sexually active than he would have expected.

Two thirds of the way around the circle, they got to the youngest kid in the group, Danny, who everyone called D.P.; and somebody said, “Don’t let him go yet, he’ll wreck it.”

Still Rick didn’t catch on.

At that point a couple of kids in the group who had already shared said, “I forgot some things;” and then added to their story. Each seemed to be more sensational than the last, with tales of sex, recreational drug use and petty crime.

Miraculously, they got all the way around the circle, though Rick thought it a bit disrespectful when some of them giggled during a few of the final stories, and told them they shouldn’t laugh at other people’s mistakes.

And then someone said, “Okay, now it’s D.P.’s turn.”

Danny was somewhat new to the group, but had long figured out what was going on, certainly longer than Rick, who still didn’t seem to have a clue. Everyone looked at D.P. to see what he might confess.

He took a deep breath and said, “I robbed a bank once.”

At that, the entire youth group exploded into laughter, and it was a laughter that just kept going and going.

Finally, things crystallized for Rick and he started laughing, too.

When things settled down it was his turn to speak. “Well, if you guys don’t mind;” he said, “I think we’d better do something different next week.”


Subscribers: There’s more to this in the comments today, be sure to visit the blog.

September 15, 2012

Why They’re Leaving The Church: A Canadian Study

“When it comes to the faith commitment of parents, it is hugely important that children observe their faith as a lifestyle throughout the week if it is to make a statement about its vibrancy and authenticity.  ~John Wilkinson, Canadian youth ministry specialist

“The most effective faith instruction takes place organically.” ~Hemorrhaging Faith

This month’s cover story at Canada’s national evangelical magazine Faith Today is titled Why They’re Leaving, and appears in connection with the release of a study titled Hemorrhaging Faith which was co-sponsored by EFC (publisher of Faith Today), InterVarsity and others and compiled by James Penner Associates. The study is in ‘pre-print’ stage and is available for $15 CDN as a .pdf download.

The website notes:

  • Only one in three Canadian young adults who attended church weekly as a child still do so today.
  • Of the young adults who no longer attend church, half have also stopped identifying themselves with the Christian tradition in which they were raised.
  • There are four primary toxins that keep young people from engaging with the church: Hypocrisy, judgement, exclusivity, failure.

The Faith Today article, in a sidebar, notes four categories of youth:

  • Engagers (church is good) 23%
  • Fence Sitters (want church on their terms) 36%
  • Wanderers (church is not for me) 26%
  • Rejecters (church is bad) 15%

For more, I guess you’ll have to buy the report or at least read the article (first link above).

September 12, 2012

Wednesday Link List

It’s been awhile since we included a Naked Pastor cartoon; click the image to read more.


August 23, 2012

Austin Gutwein: Living to Give

The nature of my work permits me to be able to recommend books to parents for their middle-school and high-school kids. When this occurs, which it does regularly, I have three “go-to” authors to recommend. While a number of books are written to teens, it’s great to have authors like these where the books were written by teens for their peers:

  • Zach Hunter — He has three books with Zondervan, starting with Be The Change, and his cause his 21st century slavery. His organization is called Loose Change to Loosen Chains, which he began at age 12.
  • Alex and Brett Harris — A&B are twins and also brothers to author/pastor Joshua Harris. Their books, Do Hard Things, and its companion, Start Here inspires challenge youth to deeper commitment.
  • Austin Gutwein — His first book, Take Your Best Shot tells the story of how he turned a passion into throwing free throws into a fundraising organization, Hoops of Hope, that benefits HIV/AIDS orphans in Africa, a charity he started at age 13 based on an idea he had at age 9.

So when I had a chance to review Austin’s newest book, Live to Give, I jumped at the chance to be able to introduce people to Austin’s writing and his personal story.

But the temptation was to thnk, ‘Hey, this is a youth book, I’ll just read the first half of it and then write the review.’ However, I’ve never reviewed a book I haven’t read to cover to cover, and honestly, I really enjoyed the experience.

Live to Give is based around the story of Jesus feeding five thousand men (plus women and children) and focuses around the lunch that a young boy offered up to Jesus and his disciples that was multiplied many times over. Austin compares this to the lunch box his mom packs for him, and sees that lunch box as symbolic of the ‘gift set’ that each of us possesses. Remarkably, he gets more than a dozen chapters out of that analogy.

The writing style is very conversational. I can’t emphasize that enough. This is a book that even that “not-much-of-a-reader” in your house — which is usually a boy — can get into.

Although the book centers around the gospel narrative of the miracle Jesus performed that day, and the little boy who played a part; there are a number of other stories and related scriptures mentioned. This is a book that will raise the Biblical literacy level of that kid who hasn’t been paying attention at weekend services.

I suspect that Austin tells more of the story of Hoops of Hope in the first book, but there’s enough of it here that you don’t need to have read Take Your Best Shot to appreciate Live to Give.

This is a book that teens, parents and youth workers should be aware of.  Thomas Nelson, paperback, 197 pages. Great book. Amazing author.

A copy of  Live to Give was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin a Canadian agency that works alongside U.S. publishers like Thomas Nelson to promote key titles north of the 49th.

I wanted to step outside the review itself and add a few comments that may seem superficial, but which I feel are important. There’s a saying that you can’t tell a book by its cover, but there are three things with the back cover of Live to Give that I think need to be addressed.

  1. What on earth is Austin wearing in his publicity shot? And is that a tie he has on? Are they cool now? Please don’t tell me ties are coming back. It seemed an odd choice for the primary market they’re going after.
  2. The sticker price of $14.99.  Thomas Nelson has kept its youth fiction at $9.99 for paperbacks; I’d hate to see this price work against more people seeing the book; though I’ll grant you some prices are being set high with the full knowledge that mass merchandisers will be aggressively discounting, rendering the MSRP somewhat meaningless. Still, Pete Wilson and Max Lucado list at $15.99, $14.99  seems high for a youth market title.
  3. The use of the appellation “JUVENILE NON-FICTION” above the bar-code. I realize this is standard at Thomas Nelson; everything that’s not for adults gets this “juvenile” designation; but perhaps it is time to rethink that on teen/youth books. Heck, Austin just started at Anderson College as a poli-sci major; his peers — who would enjoy it — aren’t going to read his book when they see that category label. If that’s ‘policy,’ either change the rules or make exceptions.

To repeat, I enjoyed this book, and I intend to strongly recommend it, but I think the publisher’s choice for a back cover constitutes shooting themselves in the foot.

March 29, 2011

When Youth Ministry is Priced Out of Reach

Youth Pastor: …So guys, thanks for coming out tonight, I think we all had a great night, and don’t forget to bring five dollars with you next week. I can’t tell you what it’s for, but don’t forget… five dollars. Goodnight.


[30 Minutes later]

Student Youth Intern: So can you tell me what the five dollars is for?

Youth Pastor: Actually, I haven’t decided yet. But these kids all come from wealthy families and we’ll do something off-budget that we wouldn’t have done. Maybe we’ll just order pizza.

Youth ministry is pricey.

Or maybe it’s just that ministry is pricey.

A piece at this blog a few weeks ago about camp ministry ended up generating some comments about the costs of sending kids to summer camp, comments which were heartfelt, but a little bit of an aside to the intended main topic of that article.

Then last week, my review of the Passion 2011 Conference music CD resulted in some off-blog discussion urging me to tackle the subject of the cost of youth ministry.

There are three ways to look at this, the first of which I’ve hinted at in the introductory ‘skit’ for this blog post, which is to consider all the “extras” parents are expected to dig deep into their pockets for, both at church and school.

In the state province where I live, the Governor Premier has just ordered the Department Ministry of Education to follow a new set of guidelines with respect to what parents can be asked to shell out for their children’s education.

There are various articles online about this, like this one, which notes:

Fifty-three per cent of Ontario high schools charge fees for art classes, 41 per cent charge fees for physical education and 26 per cent impose extra costs for music courses…

This results in the new directive:

Ontario’s Ministry of Education has released new guidelines clarifying when a school can ask students for extra cash.

Under the guidelines, released Friday, schools cannot charge for textbooks, science lab materials, art supplies or musical instruments.

Schools cannot apply a fee to anything that is mandatory, essential for classroom learning, or the completion of a course, including a student registration fee.

“There should be absolutely no fee associated with any requirement for course completion for graduation,” Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky said.

It is in this type of environment that youth pastors have felt no hesitation in asking the kids — most of whom turn around and ask their parents — to bring money for this, that, and the other thing.

But there’s a second concern here: On budget, youth ministry can be staff intensive.  In a somewhat smaller church we attended a few years back, there were five staff positions.  Two were the senior pastor and the secretary.  The other three were for a children’s ministry director, a youth ministry director, and a youth intern.  In a town where many college-aged kids left town eight months of the year, it was not lost on the older people in the church that 60% of the church staff were ministering to the needs of people under age 18.

The third area where youth ministry gets expensive has to do with the costs of print materials and curriculum.   As someone who is employed in a business that sells youth ministry materials, you’d expect me not to bite the hand that feeds.  In truth however, the cynic in me sees a few hungry publishers simply trying to carve out their piece of the pie.  Sorry, but someone needs to say that.

Everyone is tripping over everyone else trying to be first in line for a piece of the action.  After all, the churches have the money, right?

The pastor’s wife had rarely not been at his side in their nearly 40 years of ministry, but bedridden with the flu, he trudged the walkway from the manse to the church alone that Sunday night.

When he returned two hours later, she asked him, “Did you give an invitation?”

He smiled and replied, “Yes, and I had two-and-a-half people come forward.”

She stared at him for a few seconds, and then said, “You mean two adults and a child?”

He winked at her and responded, “Nope.  Two kids and an adult.”

The above story is meant to convey that, with their whole lives stretched out before them, the faith steps of a child or teen are vitally important.  And many people who espouse this will say that you can’t put a price on reaching a young person with the saving message of Jesus Christ.

But somewhere along the line, that evolved into a thinking that ministry can take place on a fee-for-service basis. And it’s further complicated when the fees have to be paid “up front” before a child or teen can attend or participate in the event in question.  And it’s even further complicated when the group is a mix of “have” and “have not” families; wealthier families mixing with people who have had to deal with foreclosures or evictions.

So it’s not surprising that some people are concerned about the effect of all this on the poorer kids on the fringes.

I’m concerned about the message that it sends to all the kids.

…Last time I checked, the gospel was supposed to be free.

(NLT) III John 1:7 For they are traveling for the Lord, and they accept nothing from people who are not believers.

October 25, 2010

Traditions that Don’t Make Sense

Tradition Bible Church is probably the most well-named church we’ve visited.   It had everything you want in a 1930s church service:   Women in long dresses and hats, King James English, classic hymns and a large church kitchen that was regularly employed for what one person called “all day dinner on the grounds.”

It was also a dying church; we didn’t see any young couples and there were no children, to speak of, anywhere in sight.   Most people seemed to be at or near retirement age.

But there were a few middle aged couples and curiously, a row of teens in the back row; their presence explained to me later by the couple who invited for lunch being due to the fact the nearest ‘contemporary’ service was at least a 25-minute drive, and that church was looked on with suspicion.  These teens had all grown up in TBC, and regarded each other as family.

So when a woman who I think was maybe 80+ years old announced it was “time for the children to come forward for their story;”  I looked around again to see who exactly she had in mind.

“C’mon, Taylor; come up Melissa… where is Justine?” she beckoned; and one-by-one the teenagers — average age approximately 16 — arose from the comfort of the back pew and sauntered up to the front.

I learned later from our lunch hosts that the youngest among them — two boys 12 and 13 — were the ‘last’ kids that had been born in that church, and that there was a time when all of them had simply refused to come forward after Mildred would issue her summons from the platform, feeling they had reached a point in life where being asked questions like, “Do you think you could hit a giant with a slingshot?” were a bit beneath them.

But Mildred would not be denied the chance to tell her story; she had been doing so for 48 years; and so a few years back she started calling the teens by name, and rather than suffer that embarrassment, they returned to going forward and being dismissed to their service, which also got them out of having to sit through the sermon, and granted access to the aforementioned large kitchen.

It probably looked like this once; but that was then...

Phillip and Mark, the two youngest boys, simply sat on the far right of the platform sharing some kind of portable game console with the volume off.    Derek, who was about 16 occupied the other end of the platform and simply stared at the back wall of the sanctuary as though caught in some kind of mystic vision.   I turned around to see if whatever he was seeing might be of interest to all of us, but saw only a wall.

In the middle was Melissa, chewing gum loudly and whispering to a girl who looked 18 or 19, whose name I didn’t get; who laughed at something Melissa said, but then started a contagious yawn which I noticed spread to the adults.

Brianna, the niece of our lunch contacts, sat texting during the entire story and at one point her phone erupted with a loud chime that caught everyone by surprise except Mildred, who didn’t miss a beat telling the story of Samson and his long hair; a story which brought a question from the rather shaggy Nicholas, who looked about 17, and who asked as to whether Samson’s story indicated that he should not need a haircut; a question that Mildred apparently hadn’t anticipated and didn’t answer.

I think Kayla, who introduced herself to me personally after the service, just before trying to sell me a $5 chocolate bar to raise funds for the cheerleading squad, spent the whole story time rummaging through her bag in search of lost treasure.   This is just a guess, but I would say that, like so many of the ten of teens up there, she didn’t hear a word, but I couldn’t pay much attention to her because — and this is also a guess — I’ll bet her cheerleading skirt is longer than whatever it was she was wearing sitting on the platform.

Amber had a pair of ear buds attached to an mp3 device which we couldn’t hear until she decided to scratch an ear itch, and then we heard a few bars of a rapper saying, “I’ve got what you need;” which caused Amber to blush and quickly return the offending bud to her ear.  Near the end of the story there was also a shorter few seconds of drums when she pulled out the other ear bud and simply jammed it in Melissa’s ear and loudly whispered, “Check this out.”

And then there was Cody, the nephew of our lunch hosts, who simply read a comic book while sitting on the floor in front of the platform, kicking the communion table every 30 seconds or so, and never once looked up.

I really appreciated the fact the teens didn’t feel the need to feign interest in anything being said.   At least there was no pretense.

At one point Mildred interrupted herself and noticed that Justine still hadn’t come forward.   “Is Justine back there?” she asked, looking toward the back pew.

“No;” the kids replied as one, with Melissa adding, “She went into labor on Saturday afternoon.”

So maybe, finally, Tradition Bible Church will get a child to add to its cradle roll; the first in a dozen years; and maybe that will justify the continuation of the children’s story as part of the Sunday morning service there.  Justine is 16 and says she really wants her child to grow up in church like she did and Mildred says she really wants to say she’s done the children’s story for 50 years, and she’s only got a couple of years to go.

February 12, 2009

Sexual Abuse Hits Home

Filed under: Christianity, internet, parenting, pornography — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:18 pm

I make no effort to change or modify the story which follows:

The woman came into our store today seeking resources.    Her 14-year old son has sexually abused her 6-year old daughter.    End of story.   Where do you start with that one?

I wasn’t at the store, but fortunately both of the sales associates on shift today have training in counseling.   The one who served her, I’m sure, would do as good or better than I would have done in her position, and she also consulted with the other at one point.

I was called by telephone to suggest resources.    There are tons of books of sexual abuse available to Christian bookstores.   Almost all of them are written to adults.   She wanted a book for the 6-year old.   I could find only one My Body Is Special: A Family Book About Sexual Abuse part of the Elf-Help-For-Kids series from Abbey Press.

But then, the big request; she wanted a book for the 14-year old.

He did a very bad thing.   I’m not sure that book has been published yet.   I’m not sure he would read it.

Tonight I wrote back to my staff member who served the woman this morning.   I reiterated what I said by phone earlier, namely that the 14-year old, without any doubt, has been affected by online pornography; and unless that is dealt with, he will, without any doubt, act out again on what he is seeing online.

If you haven’t read my online book on this subject, in one chapter I mention that there are people producing pornographic websites aimed directly at teens which have a particular agenda:  breaking the incest taboo.   Making what we have, for generations, considered wrong to be acceptable and desirable.   That’s been in the book since it was first written and first posted online, but I’ve never said it here.

Now I have.

But I will accept book suggestions for either child if you have any.    Both of my staff members encouraged the woman that what was needed right now was live, in-person counseling, not merely books.

December 26, 2008

If You Like Relient K … Album Review – Capital Lights

Filed under: Christianity, music — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:15 pm

Capital Lights – This is an Outrage – Tooth & Nail Records, 2008


This is an outrage!   Yes, it’s also the album title, but it’s also an outrage that a band whose bio suggests that their goal was to “abandon commercial expectations” should produce something that is so upbeat and full of commercial appeal.    I mean, forgive me guys, but there’s not a lot of musical distance here between what you’re doing and what I hear on Radio Disney.  This is an album of feel-good, move-your-feet songs.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  After all, at my advanced age, I’ve just admitted to occasionally tuning in Radio Disney.      Listening to the band performing live on the second video — “Mile Away” — on their MySpaceMusic page you can’t help but notice the kids singing along with the band.   The song has a great hook.

Commercial music is not a bad thing, guys; it’s why they call it the music business.    Listening to lead singer Bryson Phillips deliver the lyrics on the title song, “Outrage” reminds me of the song “1985,” a major hit in 2004 for the band Bowling for Soup.   Commercial success isn’t a bad thing, either.   The instrumental work on this album, especially the guitars and added keyboards are, as the Brits say, ‘bang on.’

Lyrically, there’s a lot of  imagery to think through.   It reminds me of the lyric writing of the band Yes in the “Leave It;” or “Owner of a Lonely Heart” era.   Not a comparison the band would be expecting, but rather good company, I would say.   Though Tooth & Nail is a Christian label, I would say this is an album that Christians would enjoy, but not a “Christian album” in the sense that raises narrow lyrical expectations.   On the other hand, songs like “Night of Your Life” remind me of the advice the writer of Proverbs is giving to his son.


This is a debut album for a band from Tulsa, Oklahoma that you should purchase* and give to anyone who enjoys music with energy and life; whether they are the right age for Radio Disney or a ‘You’re never too old for rock ‘n roll’-er like myself.

*My first choice advice: Forget the downloads; spring for a whole CD!  The songs are all good!   Also check out Capital Lights’  “His Favorite Christmas Story” on the various artists album X-Christmas.

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