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Introducing the sound of silence in your youth ministry

Do you know what silence sounds like?

It’s a noisy world we live in. We’re bombarded constantly with sounds from cars, our neighbor’s dog barking, crying babies, phones ringing and music playing in stores.

For teens, even more so. They have constant auditory stimuli from their iPod, phone conversations, the racket a huge school full of teens make, games they play or friends they hang out with.

Silence is hard to come by these days. Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton calls silence ‘the fastest disappearing resource’ and he’s on a mission to record and preserve silence before it’s destroyed by man-made noises (look at this fascinating initiative One square inch of silence for instance). Continue reading Introducing the sound of silence in your youth ministry

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The power of Stories

When we moved from Holland to the south of Germany, we moved to a very Catholic area. Here in Bavaria the Catholic Church is the dominant denomination with the German Lutheran church at a distant second place. As a result, we’ve experienced some Catholic traditions and fests. Even though our son goes to a public Kindergarten, the religious influence of the Catholic Church is very much present at these fests, but in a positive way.

The story of St Martin

If there’s one thing the Catholics got right, it’s the power of stories. Take St Martin for instant, the famous Roman soldier who gave half of his cloak to a beggar to keep him from freezing to death. He then had a dream in which he encountered Jesus, wearing his half-cloak, recommending him for what Martin had done.

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Modeling Marriage to our Youth

What is modern culture teaching our youth about marriage? Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore reportedly had an ‘open marriage’ but filed for divorce after six years or marriage. Kim Kardashian was married all of 72 days when she filed for divorce. And they’re hardly an exception in movie- and show business land.

Meanwhile, on popular TV series marriage seems to mean nothing either. People get married and get divorced just like that. Think Alex and Izzie and George and Callie on Grey’s Anatomy. Think Mr Shuester on Glee, or Gibbs on NCIS.

There used to be a time where the most popular series were about families, marriages…The Cosby Show, Growing pains, Family Ties. But these days are long gone. What youth now sees about marriage it’s that it’s temporary, fleeting, meaningless. It’s fun until it isn’t anymore and then there’s divorce. They see it everywhere, including in their own families.

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Why you need to explain the ‘why’ of rules

My almost four-year old son is in the why-phase. Whenever I say something, his standard reaction is ‘Why?’. Why do I need to be in the car seat? Why do I need to to go to bed? Why does daddy get five meat balls and I only get two? Why can’t I take rabbit (his favorite stuffed animal) to Kindergarten? Why won’t you buy me that toy?

It’s sometimes annoying, it’s requires patience, but it’s also incredibly challenging. He has managed to make me think about the ‘why’ of things more than I have ever done before. And the funny thing is that when I take the time to explain the ‘why’ of things to him in a way that he can understand, he is often satisfied with the answer. He accepts rules much easier if we explain the ‘why’ of the rule to him. Continue reading Why you need to explain the ‘why’ of rules

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How to create unity in your youth small group

When we want our small groups to thrive, unity within the group is essential. If our small group members are aloof, combative or indifferent, realizing growth will be hard. But what can you do as a small group leader to promote unity? Here’s my advice, based on my own experience as a youth small group leader.

What can you do to create unity in your youth small group? (Photo: Stephen Eastop)

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Small group rules

For some reason, a lot of small group leaders are afraid to come up with rules for their small group. Sometimes even the mention of the word rule seems to throw them into a frenzy. There’s this idea that hospitality and warmth in a small group are not compatible with rules, that if you want teens and students to feel welcome in your house, you have to give them complete freedom.

I don’t agree with that. If you want you small group to function well, you need rules. Because a small group session that’s interrupted by the constant ringing and bleeping of cell phones really isn’t productive. And unless you want your furniture demolished, some ground rules about the use of your home might come in handy too.

Students don’t mind rules, they’re used to them. They have rules in their own homes, in school, in the sports they’re playing. They know about rules, so they won’t be surprised that you have some for small group as well.  And the great things about clear rules that you’ve agreed on together, is that you can actually tell people when they’re violating them.

You can only enforce the rules if you've made them clear

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Asking the right questions to get your small group talking

Everyone who has ever lead a small group will have run into this: a small group that is eerily quiet with too long periods of uncomfortable silence. Questions keep lingering in the air, without anyone offering an answer, or the answers are of the one syllable kind. For a leader, a small group that won’t talk, that won’t share, can be a real struggle. One of the reasons for a small group to keep quiet can be that the leader is asking the wrong questions. Because asking the right questions will get your small group to talk!

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Get your small group to share with awareness questions

You know what it’s like. You’re about to start with your small group with teens and you are sincerely interested in how they are, how they have been these last week or two since you last saw them. But the standard question ‘how have you guys been?’ will result in only one or two kids answering and even their answers will be shallow (unless you’re blessed with one of those over-sharing types in your small group, in which case you may have a different challenge all together). So what question can you kick off your small group session with to really get them to share open and honestly? Here’s my advice: ask an awareness question.

What is an awareness question?

An awareness question is a question you ask, that makes your students aware of a specific emotion or experience in a certain time period, usually the last week or two. Each session you can focus on a different emotion or experience, and as the group gets more open, you can make them more personal.

It’s important that you let each member of the group share his or her experience and that you determine a time limit to prevent long winding stories (2 minutes per person usually works). If you have a group of young teens or if you have a few kids that have a tendency to respond negatively to people’s weaknesses, you might consider telling them not to react to each other’s story with questions or remarks. Just make them listen to each other at first.

Awareness questions can help your small group to share and become closer

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