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The Gift of Lent

The Gift of Lent

My sons and I like to build Lego projects together. My 7-year-old is into big projects that are intricate and involved—the more pieces, the bigger the accomplishment. My 2-year-old is more into abstract Lego art—a few blocks here and a few there, and boom, it’s a lion, a sword, or whatever you can imagine. But one thing they both enjoy is building a tower, and seeing how high it can get before all the pieces crash to the floor. And inevitably, they do crash. They might not even get the chance to topple on their own because my 2-year-old Soren really enjoys playing the part of a human wrecking ball!

Continue reading The Gift of Lent

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Watching and Learning from Nancy Beach

I grew up in a faith tradition that didn’t have a model for a woman with leadership and teaching gifts. The roles available for women revolved around the kitchen and the home. In the church, women could display leadership by organizing potlocks and teaching children until they reached puberty. From an early age, I absorbed what would be my future.

Until God surprisingly called me into youth ministry when I was 16 years old.

There was zero framework for that calling. That didn’t happen where I came from. And it didn’t fit anywhere in my experience, or what I saw other women doing in their lives.

By the grace of God, my parents and others began affirming my calling and I was swept into pursuing that calling. The first stop of my training began at Willow Creek Community Church.

I was 18 years old.

In those formative early days of leadership, my first boss in the church was a woman, who’s since become one of my dearest friends. I also watched two Nancy’s use their gifts to lead teams and ministries, teach on Sunday mornings (gasp!), serve on the management team and elder board. It was revolutionary to me.

Nancy Beach is one of those Nancy’s.

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Nancy’s been a pioneer in her generation and mine. She was a founding leader at Willow Creek. She created and lead an arts team that revolutionized creativity in the church. People weren’t using drama and so many other creative mediums before Nancy did. She was invited to teach at churches and conferences all over the world on matters of creativity and leadership. She’s been one of the key women on the forefront in the evangelical church for three decades. That’s a long time to pioneer something.

For nearly 20 years, I’ve watched Nancy from a distance. I was astounded to see a woman – a mom even – providing such significant and important public service in the church. I couldn’t believe the anointing she carried when she preached on Sunday morning (and not just on Mother’s Day!). It rattled my thinking to know her voice actually influenced Bill Hybels, the senior pastor. I remember her carrying a critical role in the church as they set out to raise a bazillion dollars. I stood in awe when I saw her year after year pastor a Global Leadership Summit with tens of thousands of leaders. I remember her speaking at staff meetings, giving pastoral care to a staff of over 500 men and women.

I remember Nancy’s voice in my life as a young woman when she told me that my leadership and teaching mattered. It changed me. She showed me what was possible when the Holy Spirit intentionally gives you a gift.

In the past couple years, Nancy has provide a much more up close and personal role in my life. I count her among my wise counsel and I love her deeply. She’s provided perspective, wisdom, care, intimate personal experience, hope, challenge, and better skills for me in challenging leadership and personal seasons. She’s been quick to say “yes” to my request for a quick phone call or Skype conversation. She’s been generous with me in every way.

She’s shown and taught me to stay the course as a woman in leadership, even when it’s so.very.hard.

Yet with all of Nancy’s investment and influence – and hundreds running along beside her – there’s still a gap in the church. She so articulately laments,

Women church leaders tell me stories of small ways, and larger ways, in which they have felt overlooked, excluded, diminished, unfairly compensated, and misunderstood. There are also many stories of churches where the opposite is true, where women feel valued and empowered. Yet most female leaders who cross my path feel somewhat alone in their journey, and are occasionally or often tempted to just give up, bury their gifts, and quiet their voice.

This is why the Women in Youth Ministry Campference is so important. We need each other as we journey through these challenges. We need to be reminded we aren’t alone. We need our gifts to be emboldened so the church becomes all she must be. And we need to get better, stronger, smarter, more soulful as we faithfully lead and teach in our churches.

And this is why I’m beyond thrilled Nancy agreed to speak at WYMC this Spring. She was quick to say “yes” to coming and speaking and coaching to this next generation of female leaders and teachers. She’s so deeply committed to pouring her life into ours and this is just one of the ways she’s living it out.

What a gift to have Nancy with us. I know you’ll soak up all she has to offer. I hope to see you there.

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Male and female brains: different, but equal

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I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the feminist movement. Love because it truly bothers me that women aren’t equal to men in many areas where it matters, like pay, career opportunities, leadership options in the church, etc. But also hate, because I don’t always agree with the starting point of these discussions.

Many women don’t want to be seen as different from men. But we are. It’s obvious that our bodies are different, but now researchers have shown that our brains differ from those of men as well.

New technologies in brain mapping have made it possible to compare male and female brains when performing certain tasks. Here are a few of the interesting facts they discovered:

  • Women have more connections between the left and right side of the brain, which allows for a more holistic way of processing information. They easily ‘ping’ back and forth between intuition and verbal reasoning and then make a decision. This stronger connection was already detectable in 26 weeks old fetuses by the way.
  • Men have stronger connections between the visual centers in the brain and the executive areas in the frontal lobe. That’s why they are more likely to respond impulsively.
  • There are big differences in brain structure and grey matter between men and women. Women have more white matter for instance, the stuff that connects various parts of the brain.
  • The blood flow to regions critical for emotional intelligence is higher for women than for men, suggesting that’s why women tend to score higher in this. It’s a fact that women are faster and more accurate at identifying emotions for instance.

I have no doubt that more differences will come to light as technologies or brain research advance even further.

Women aren’t the same as men, we’re different. That’s not the problem. The problem is that female skills like fine motor skills, emotional intelligence, and linguistic skills are valued less than male traits.

I don’t know how to change this, but I do know where to start: by embracing the fact that I’m a woman, perfectly made in God’s image. Different, but equal, that’s the path forward.


Rachel Blom is from The Netherlands originally and has over 15 years of experience in youth ministry in several countries. She’s an author, blogger, avid reader and a walking encyclopedia of completely useless facts. She lives in upstate New York with her family and is on the core organizing team of the Women in Youth Ministry Campference. Find her youth ministry blog on www.youthleadersacademy.com

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Are we out of the woods yet?

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Maybe you don’t listen to my girl T Swift’s 1989 Album as often as I do. Frankly, I find that questionable, but I try not to judge too much.

There’s this song she sings, and she asks over and over, “Are we out of the woods yet?” She asks, “Are we out of the woods yet, out of the woods yet? Are we in the clear yet, in the clear yet?

Now, I’m not the most astute at interpreting song lyrics, to be honest. My 5 year old and I were all about that bass for a hot minute before my brain picked up on what I was singing. Sometimes it takes me embarrassingly long to figure songs out. But I think I get this one. At least, I get how it speaks to me.  Taylor’s trying to gauge in her relationship if they have reached some safe space yet. Have they, “arrived” yet? Is there a level of relational intimacy that they can trust?

And basically I think about that kind of thing all the time. And isn’t that what we’re doing in youth ministry? In all ministry, really?  We’re in the business of relationships, right? We’re talking every Sunday (I really hope we are!) about a relationship- a knowing and being known- with a God who is real and who is LOVE.

And whether we are paid youth ministry staff or volunteer youth workers, we are so in the trenches of relationships. We’re doing life with hurting, broken families. Our own families are hurting and broken. WE are hurting and broken. And in individual relationships, so many of our students and our parents are asking, “Are we out of the woods yet?” Have I found safety with a friend, with a pastor, with another family yet?

That parent whose marriage is on the brink of disintegration and who has shared part of his story with you- he wants to know; are we in the clear yet? Have we reached that place in our relationship? Can he say this stuff out loud? Can he trust you, youth pastor, not to judge him or hurt him, or gossip about him with the rest of the church staff?

That middle schooler who rolled up the sleeves of her sweatshirt and showed you the long, desperate slashes on her arm? She wants to know, small group leader; are you and she in the clear yet? Can she trust you? Do you have that kind of intimacy where she can share, without you freaking out or yelling at her or judging her?

That mom whose teenage daughter won’t speak to her? The single dad who is struggling to get his son to attend your weekly youth group event? The volunteer youth worker who is battling depression? The church staff member you work with who is going through a really hard season in her marriage? They’re all asking, begging for that safe place, that safe relationship that is out of the woods.

And we in ministry have decided to live right in the middle of that.

My two cents? There’s one relationship where we’re totally out of the woods. Sunday school answer, right?  Jesus! Jesus is love, so He loves and forgives us perfectly. I am SAFE there.

But otherwise, I mean, we’re never really 100% out of the woods, are we? In life, I think most people do their best to be trustworthy, to be people of good character. In the Church, we use words like accountability, transparency, and grace. And I know in my church, people try to love each other well. People are transforming and becoming more and more like Jesus. And that is freaking amazing and beautiful and world-changing stuff.  But we blow it, of course. So we’re never totally out of the woods yet in our relationships with other people.  And that used to cause me to shut down and think, “Well, forget it. I can’t trust anyone. Definitely not the church.” Some of your students think that. Some of their parents do. Maybe you’ve thought it.

And I think we’ve got to dismantle that. I think that the trust that those parents and those students are looking for starts with us helping them see it. I think we’ve got to live lives that model trust-radical trust in God.  Friend, our lives better show that. And trust in community that is counter-cultural and makes people take notice. And really deep trust in a few that allows us to confess and share and flourish.

Here’s the thing. I feel like I’ve got two choices to make, because in every relationship I’m almost always both the truster and the trustee.  I can choose to do the hard work of developing relationships with a few people and trusting anyway (obviously, with the exception of abusive relationships). And I can choose to do the hard work of surrendering more and more of my life and self to Jesus so that I can become more like Him and thus, more trustworthy.

At least that’s what I’m learning anyway. See, trust has always been a thing for me. It’s always been a BIG, SCARY THING. But more and more it’s becoming an opportunity and an opening for me. I know that people are looking for it. They are craving those safe spaces. So let’s be honest about that!  Let’s start talking about it. How are we being people, pastors, leaders, and volunteers who are trustworthy? That’s birthed out of continual surrender to Jesus.  So how are we nurturing our own relationships with God and our trust in Him?  How are we helping students trust Jesus better? How are we providing opportunities for parents to get to know each other and start to trust each other with the difficulties of parenting? How are we harnessing the power of social media to promote trust and not hurt?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my thing. But 2015 is in a big way about trust for me. If that speaks to you, and you want to chat about it, email me. Better yet, if you’re a woman in youth ministry, join me at the Youth Cartel’s first Women In Youth Ministry Campference in April. We NEED events like these where we can just be- with God, together, with ourselves, and maybe start doing some of the hard work of learning to trust better.

Oh, and for what it’s worth. I googled the lyrics to, “Out of the Woods Yet.” Turns out it’s about a snowmobile accident. Yep. Really, Taylor? I kinda like my thing better. But still totally love the album, girl! Hit me up if you wanna hang when you’re in DC this summer!


 

About Heather:

Heather Henderson is the associate pastor at Journey’s Crossing Christian church in Germantown, Maryland and also serves actively in the youth ministry there. For two years before that, she was the associate youth pastor at the same church. If you don’t find her working or hanging out with students, you’ll find her spending time with her brilliant, kindergarten-age daughter or handsome, almost one-year old son and her husband, Devin.

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Experimenting in Youth Retreating

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Yesterday, I returned, along with a whole bunch of high school kids, on what, until last year was a pretty standard youth retreat. There was worship, a speaker, camp food, bunk beds and plenty of ridiculously messy and/or dangerous games.

Retreats and camps are a bedrock of youth ministry for a reason. Students get a chance to literally retreat from their crazy-busy lives, while leaders get a chance to dive into relationship and discipleship in ways that just aren’t possible back home. Our group has been very happy with both our partnerships with the local churches we attend with and the camp that hosts the retreat each year. So happy, in fact, that I wasn’t actively looking for ways to improve a model and experience that was clearly working for our students.That is until about halfway through the retreat a couple years ago.

Our speaker (who is a close friend of mine and an incredibly gifted communicator) was standing up on stage in front of ~250 high school students sharing compelling Truth through story and Scripture and it hit me:

She’s nailing it and most of the kids here just don’t care.

It wasn’t that they didn’t care about being challenged in their faith; it simply became evident that one speaker, no matter how gifted, couldn’t effectively produce content for such a large number of high school kids who were all entering into the weekend in completely different places.

Some were committed followers of Christ, some were hearing the name Christ for the first time. Some had incredible hurt in their lives and some were so carefree their only concern was getting enough tater tots at lunch. And some kids were so paralyzed by doubt and disillusion that they couldn’t hear a word she was saying.

At our debriefing meeting after that year’s retreat, I asked our leadership team if we could do it differently the coming year. What would the weekend look like if we kept much of the structure intact (games, meals, worship, free time & cabin times), but presented our content differently? Instead of hoping, and expecting, one person can stand on stage and engage 250 students in a personal and challenging way, what if we offered the students a few different options?

What if we used crowdsourcing amongst our students throughout the summer and early fall and asked them what they are currently dealing with in terms of their faith? Could we then use this pivotal weekend to target these student’s actual, specific contexts instead of hoping they’d find a glimpse of something to take home in a general way?

So we did it. We gave it a try and are thrilled with the outcome. Students were able to pre-select which content option they’d like to wrestle with throughout the weekend and were encouraged to truly select what mattered to them- and not simply to go where their friends went. And guess what? They engaged. They wrestled. And they spent an entire weekend thinking and discussing a faith forming topic that mattered to them. Not only do we, the leadership, feel good about this fundamental change to our youth retreat but the students seem to as well. These past two retreats were the highest attended in the camp’s history. I think we may be onto something.

Content options for the weekend included:

  • Our Neighbor’s Faith: Why Jesus in a world with so many religions?
  • Without a Doubt? Is it ok that we doubt? If so, how can we doubt well?
  • Identity Crisis! Not only “who am I?” but “why am I?”
  • Exploring Prayer: what is prayer and what are some creative ways to engage it?

There are certainly some areas of growth (for example, how do we do small groups within each content option while still allowing for the sacred “cabin time” to happen?) but overall it felt like the time, energy and money put into making a memorable weekend was better used in terms of discipleship and forward movement in their faith. We’ve all heard the old adage that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But sometimes in our comfortable world of youth ministry traditions your students are better served if we take the risk to break some stuff.

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The Power of Story

power of storyHave you ever wondering where stories come from and why they are so powerful?

The origin of story is found in something we lovingly refer to as oral tradition. From the dawn of time, human beings gathered together to share in story – story of life’s origin, story of purpose, story of definition and story of hope. Every human culture that has ever existed has elevated story to be the capstone of their existence. We are immersed in story.

Story is in the sinew that binds the human narrative together.

One of my favourite things to do as a parent is to tell stories to my children. Sometimes these stories are about my own childhood memories; sometimes the stories I tell are focused on producing some sort of desired response; and at other times stories are simply about celebrating something.

Stories are powerful because they matter to us. Here are three ways the power of story is revealed.

Story inspires. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’ve gotta great story to tell?” They proceed to dive into a great tale of some triumph or failure, evoking emotion, engagement and wonder as a result. Great stories are ones that inspire us in some way. Inspiration is a fickle thing. At times it demands an active response, and at others it invokes a pensive state. In all its forms, great story-telling catapults the listener into an emotively saturated climate called inspiration.

Story celebrates. The best stories told through image or words are those that seek to elevate a cause, an individual or a dilemma that is worth celebrating. While Hollywood has done society a great disservice is many regards, what Hollywood does do well is celebrate great stories. Historical turning points, social awareness issues and personal triumphs have been captivated in print or on-screen in ways that have allowed millions of people to be influenced in some way. Awards shows like the Grammys & Emmys provide a platform through which the telling of story is honoured, and the stories themselves may gain the recognition and joy they deserve.

Story breathes. Stories are alive. Don’t believe me? Try telling someone a story and see what happens. Stories evoke question, wonder & hope at the drop of a hat. What we say, how we say it, and how we choose to live in response to what we’ve experienced are signs of life…life that is wrought into existence by the power of story.

One of my goals as a leader is to learn to harness the power of story in my own life – knowing that what I say and what I do are stitching together a narrative that influences the world around me. More importantly, knowing that my life as story exists within the context of a greater unfolding story known as human existence, which has been authored by a creator God in a loving and determined fashion.

It’s this story that all of human kind finds itself immersed in. Which leaves me to ponder how we are engaging the power of story in all its forms to inspire, celebrate & breathe in present reality and the not so distant future? What do you think?