Thursday, June 25, 2009

Learning to ask the right questions

"Leaders do not need answers. Leaders must have the right questions," so says Lovett Weems. And that is exactly what a group of folks who love the UMC are trying to do...develop the right list of questions. Andrew Conard, a provisional elder in the Kansas West Conference who is currently serving in the Kansas East Conference, is spearheading a project to identify what the 6 best questions are for various groups within the United Methodist Church. Those groups are anyone from church members, to Bishops, to General Boards. No one is excluded (a sign of true Methodist spirit, eh?). As of 5 p.m. CST on the day of the launch of this project, 53 people have submitted 286 questions and cast 1,577 votes. Not too shabby for day 1. If you have an interest in the future of the United Methodist Church, you can have a voice in shaping this conversation. Go to the website and add a question. Or vote for some of the questions that have already been submitted. The future is being shaped by what we do today. These questions could have an impact on that.

Want to hear from Andrew about this vision? Check out his blog here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Three Months with Twitter

Been almost 3 mos on Twitter. Enjoying the connection w others w similar interests & levity thruout the day. Resisting addiction! :)

The paragraph above represents what I will say in the next several paragraph in Twitter-speak. Just shy of 140 characters, I’ve learned brevity in my first 100 days with Twitter.

It was late March when I signed up for an account on Twitter. I had begun noticing @ signs in status updates on Facebook and decided they must have some relevance. I’ve never exactly been an early adopter of new technology, but I like to stay somewhere near the front of the pack, so I began to investigate. I discovered that they had to do with Twitter. My first real exposure came at a meeting in Nashville of 10 young UMC clergy and a “liveblog” conversation. Several others in the room had Twitter accounts and I saw people joining in from all over the US simply because they had been invited via Twitter or Facebook. Several weeks later, some from this group had a live blog bible study where we used our Twitter accounts to sign in. This finally provided the motivation I needed to sign up. I followed a couple of the UMC young clergy folks and then they started introducing me to their followers. I found a couple of folks that were connected to circles that I was interested in and started following some of the people they followed, and voila, suddenly I had dozens of followers and I was following dozens of people. Initially, I tried to figure out how Twitter “works” by watching what others did.

I went on a mission trip in May and daily gave an update on Twitter (which also updates my Facebook status). My students ridiculed me for not being able to step away from Twitter, even during our trip. I didn’t see it that way. I did it on the off chance that someone might care the first day and then got quick notes from folks who told us they were praying, they enjoyed our updates, they were with us in spirit, which motivated me to keep tweeting. I’ve run into folks from Twitter or Facebook all over the area that have asked about our trip and it’s been a great chance to share about the good work that we did. Perhaps it was a shallow or vain connection, but it doesn’t feel that way at this point in time. I know that some believe that Twitter is almost too transparent. Who cares what my friend ate for breakfast? However, my stance has been that I only share what I want to share. If someone only wants to read my more “substantial” tweets, they can (which usually includes a tinyurl link). If someone wants to read my short movie review, then great! I can, however, see how Twitter can be addictive. Occasionally I find myself checking Twitter a mere 15 minutes from when I checked it the last time. But, as it is with anything, boundaries are important. I have found that Twitter can be addicting, but that it is not inherently a time drainer.

Twitter became a whole new ballgame for me in May when several others whom I follow were tweeting during Annual Conference. Given some responsibilities that I had during conference, I was not able to use my computer to follow the hashtag #kswumc, but I followed along on my phone when I could. I was amazed when I realized that people from other annual conferences were following along with the “transcript” being provided from about 10 different people present at AC. Amy Forbus of UMR even blogged about it after day 1. Since we were one of the earliest Annual Conferences, other people on Twitter began to generate interest in their own AC’s. Andrew Conard compiled a running list of conferences that would Twitter. The most interesting thing about this to me was the transparency that was a result because of the multiple eyewitnesses giving their perspective of conference. People often showed their allegiances by offering commentary on items of debate. Comments by Bishops, preachers, or delegates on the floor have now had their words “heard ‘round the world.” I’m actually a fan of this type of accountability. Sure, things can be taken out of context (but that can happen regardless of whether a running transcript is happening), but Twitter provided a clearness of communication that has heretofore been delayed by time or simply lack awareness of the information. After my experience with Annual Conference, Twitter became a place where action “happened,” as opposed to a place where what happened was being reported.

Twitter has become a diary of sorts and is filled with the important and the mundane. There are times when my important things can possibly be of interest to another fellow journaler. And there are times when I just take solace in knowing that my friend sometimes gets stuck in the slowest grocery line, too! The humanity revealed by Twitter has been a comfort to me. I’ve seen a bit of personality behind a name that I might know from the articles or books that they write. I’ve been clued in to subjects of interest from a link that is provided. I’ve even seen a picture of my friend’s toddler as he grows up far away. Twitter has become a medium to connect. Some have argued that it is a shallower connection. Perhaps that’s true. But the connection that has been made possible via a series of 140-character notations has allowed for a sense of camaraderie, a place for education, and dare I say, even inspiration, as people are given a new way to connect. And connecting is a good thing.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Young Adults: In Their Own Words

I'm working on several projects right now that have to do with ministry with young adults/college students. Earlier this week I posted this question on Twitter and Facebook:

What is 1 thing that the church can DO/BE to reach out to young adults?

I was very pleased with the response that I got from a variety of different people who range from age 19-late 30's. I've edited their responses only for clarity. Here is what young adults say to the church in their own words...
  • DO: Take care of children well. BE: Authentic instead of showy.
  • Young adults want community and a vision of God's Kingdom changing the world now, not just in eternity.
  • Don't meet at churches for small groups. Create programming that does not require young adults/college students to be Christians already or intense Biblical knowledge otherwise they may not want to attend. Be open minded to all different types of people & not judgmental of the way the dress, live, etc.
  • Get them out to fun events in the community.
  • Ask what they want to learn from a program/small group. Rarely ever are we asked what we want to learn about or any questions about the church/faith.
  • Um... food... lots of food :P
  • Ask them what they want! Then be willing to throw away your own entrenched ideas to make a place where they will want to come and worship. Meet at non-traditional times and places, because we all know God is not only present in church buildings. If you sincerely show them you want to meet their needs, I think they will get enthused and be active.
  • I think community and receptiveness is key to reaching out to young adults. Community can definitely happen through small groups. Small groups need to be about community through bible study and prayer, but they also need to be about fun and fellowship too. I also think they need dedicated adult leaders and a church body who wants to see the young adult population grow. As far as receptiveness goes, young adults need to be heard. They have a lot of ideas and need to be told that it’s okay to speak up. Then, when they do, their ideas need to be seen as important as everyone else’s.
  • Be real with them. Young adults can see through facades very easily!
  • I work in a congregation of over 200 where the median age is 29. We have small groups that meet at the church and outside the church, but more importantly across the board there is the repeated message that people can come where they are - questioning, confident, searching, skeptical - whatever. All are welcome and to question is not a bad thing.
  • Be authentic.
  • I think all you really have to do is something different. Don't do small groups at a church. Hold it at a hot spot... maybe a park or inside a restaurant. It's more expensive but it's not the same old boring thing and it intrigues them to actually come out and do it. Think of a youth group format. You usually have an activity and then a sermon. Take the activity to the next level. And rather than having a sermon, do a discussion table. Young adults get lectured at enough. It gets boring. Let them have just an equal of a voice as the leader. Oh and don’t do it in the morning…and weekend nights are packed too. I would suggest like a Saturday lunch or early dinner time.
  • Talk about the hot topics of today - for singles as well as married persons. My Sunday School class doesn't want to do a traditional Bible study for the summer, so this week I'm bringing my People magazine with a dozen questions regarding current day situations.
  • Well, my church has only been a church since September and we have drawn young adults out of the woodwork. For us, it has been very important to be real...casual, relevant, and challenging during worship services. Then, life groups meet in homes and are the heartbeat of the church. Everyone who goes is encouraged to volunteer with something...from parking lots to worship band.
  • Walk the walk. Get rid of the gimmicks and simply walk the walk. Outreach. Get involved. Do. Walk the walk.

Since I work with college students every day, I wasn't surprised by the desire for connection, for a faith that is sturdy enough to carry them through hard times, and one that even requires something of them. May we, as the church, be willing to listen--to the Holy Spirit, and to the young adults in our midst--to show them that there is a satisfying answer in the person and work of Jesus.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Resources for Ministry with Young Adults

I have decided to start collecting some online resources for ministry with young adults. If you know of something that should be added to this working list, please feel free to post it in the comments section of this blog. Thanks!

UMC Resources
-UMC Young Adult Network
-General Board of Discipleship, ministry with Young Adults

-"Pockets of 'Youthfulness' in Aging Denomination"--report by The Lewis Center for Church Leadership
-"Survey of Campus Ministers"--report by The Lewis Center for Church Leadership
-Generation Me, research by Jean Twenge about people born after 1970
-After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion, Robert Wuthnow
-Demographics on Adolescent and Young Adult Health
-Ivy Jungle's 2008 report: "The State of Campus Ministry"

Campus Ministry
-College Union, a website for United Methodists in Campus Ministry
-Ivy Jungle, an association of people who minister to college students.

-Reading List for Campus Ministers
-Young Adult Network Resources
-Review of First Year Out, a book about the first year after high school by Tim Clydesdale
-"A Long Adolescence in a Lame Direction," by Chris Kiesling. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Monday, June 08, 2009

My Rule in Life: Stop to Smell the Roses

Each spring/early summer I am greeted with a nice surprise--blooming roses! The previous owner must have liked roses, as they were the only living plants in my yard when I bought the house--2 full sized rose bushes and 3 miniature bushes. The full sized bushes look quite old, but after some generous rainfalls the first spring I lived here, I saw buds start to come to life. I was excited to see them bloom and thought of my Grandma (who would have been 105 years old yesterday!) and her carefully nurtured backyard paradise. I noticed one day as I hurriedly ran out the door, that my roses smelled just like Grandma's backyard. I stopped, looked closer, and then drank in the sights and smells of my two blooming rose bushes. They were different types of roses, I noticed for the first time. One was pinker and the other a more peachy tone. The peachy ones smelled better, but weren't as pretty as the pink ones and they both offered their gifts of beauty to one who appreciated it, but was often too "efficient" to notice the offering.

I've lived in this house for three springs now and I've developed a rule--I cannot, under any circumstances, walk past my roses without stopping to smell them. In fact, sometimes their thorns even reach out and grab me as I hurry past if I try to ignore them. It's a small reminder to enjoy the beauty of creation and not hurry past all the unexpected evidences of God. I'll admit, there are times when I neglect watering them, and yet, they still bloom. Eventually, however, a dry spring or summer will come and they will cease their blooming. But when I water them, O how generous they are with their gratitude, blooming flowers sometimes even into the first snowfall! They are unexpected blessings and scented reminders of fruitfulness.

So it is with our spiritual lives. We can get by for a short time on "showers of blessings" but what a true spiritual blessing it is when we position ourselves for God's gracious outpouring of love and righteousness by turning our attention daily to God. In my prayer book today, I read Isaiah 50:4,
Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple's tongue, for me to know how to give a word of comfort to the weary. Morning by morning he makes my ears alert to listen like a disciple. The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear.

Even stopping to smell the roses helps me to listen and sustains this weary disciple with a word from God. And so, I have a rule. A rule to stop and smell the roses when they are in bloom. And to water them when they are not, so as to wait expectantly for when they are ready.