An Order for Prayer for Finals Week (Re-Post)

An Order of Prayer During Final Exams

O Lord, open our minds.
And our pens shall show forth knowledge and praise.

The Collect (In unison)
Almighty God, giver of all Knowledge and Wisdom,
we have come to a place where our knowledge must be tested
to prove that we have learned all we can.
Grant us the strength to endure long essay questions,
the clear thinking to tackle tough problems and formulae,
and the wisdom to rest between periods of intense activity.
As you led the people of Israel through the desert, show us a way
through this time of academic intensity,
that we may emerge on the other side, singing and dancing
your praises, all the days of our lives.
Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 34
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
   let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
   and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
   and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
   happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
   but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
   and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
   seek peace, and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
   to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
   and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord rescues them from them all.
He keeps all their bones;
   not one of them will be broken.
Evil brings death to the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
   none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

The Song of Zechariah
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 4:1-13 (Jesus is Tested by Satan)

The Word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.

Prayers

Together, let us pray:
For those who have exams in subjects they love, related to their major…
For those who have exams in subjects they loathe, unrelated to their interests..
For unfinished or poorly finished work…
For the grace to accept when we have completed our tasks…
For the strength to carry on and do what needs to be done…
For professors and instructors, who must grade our exams and papers…
For our families and friends, and stresses they may be going through…
For those who are not privileged enough to have the opportunity to attend college or university…
For the Church and the World…

Lord’s Prayer

Closing
Go now in peace, and as you learn more and more, may you be blessed to know that you understand less and less, and be comfortable knowing that God is in it all.  And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you now and always.  Amen.

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

“You Do You” (Thoughts on Becoming and Believing In Ourselves)

It’s been a whirlwind of activity lately, both on and off campus.  Last week was spring break, so I got to spend the week with 29 of my best friends in Davidson, North Carolina, on a Habitat for Humanity work trip.  We were able to help Our Towns Habitat for Humanity do about a month and a half’s worth of work in just five days, and we made some great friendships and personal connections along the way.

On a trip like the one I went on last week, I often take a behind the scenes role. I see it as the students’ trip, so I try to let them step forward and have the experience of helping out.  I pitch in when an extra hand is needed, but I have the belief that I should never deny a student the opportunity to learn and grow by doing something that they could be doing.  As a result, I spent much of the week going around the job site reminding people to drink water and take breaks.  When we are in our 20s, we tend to forget that our bodies are not indestructible, so breaks and water are often neglected.  I’m proud to say that not one person passed out from dehydration last week!  I also had fun walking around with a big strong magnet on a stick, picking up nails that had fallen all over the ground.  My motto all week was “saving your toes, one nail at a time.”  While doing both of these tasks, I got to talk with each of the students, and often our joking and checking in with one another led to some serious discussions.

One of the most common discussions that I have with students is about what I call “Becoming and Believing in Ourselves.”

The first part, “Becoming,” is all about figuring out who we are.  The period of life called emerging adulthood (roughly the years between 18 and 25) is a time of tremendous personal, psychological, social, and spiritual growth.  Students come to college with a lot of questions, many of which are rooted in their growing sense of personal identity.

“Who am I?”

“What’s my purpose?”

“What does the future hold?”

These questions, and questions like them, offer students an opportunity to make choices, and those choices lead to a greater understanding of their truest selves.  In my conversations with students, I am often struck by how serious these questions are for them.  I sometimes forget how much such questions troubled me when I was their age, and I’m thankful for the reminder to never stop asking questions of myself.

Becoming is, in one sense, the easy part.  Becoming happens almost without us thinking about it.  Whether we are conscious of it or not, our bodies, minds, and spirits are developing (for good or bad), each day that we live on this earth.  Believing in ourselves is a different story.

So many of the young people I encounter every day are struggling with believing in themselves.  Because they may not be sure of the answers to all of the questions above, they may feel that they haven’t “arrived” yet, or that they are inadequate to the task of facing the world as an adult.  Or, they may have a false sense of belief in themselves, accepting a self image that is distorted, and doesn’t reflect their true self.  Athletes who put a disproportionate amount of faith in their ability to make it through the world based on their strength and endurance, or students who have chosen a major based on a belief that it will make them a lot of money in the future are just two examples of this overconfidence.  Confidence isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it can be destructive when it is inflated, and doesn’t reflect the person that God has called you to be.

Both of these tasks, Becoming and Believing in Ourselves, are of critical importance during this life stage.  It is the job of mentors, chaplains, parents, professors, and other caring adults to help emerging adults navigate these waters.  With a guide who has “been there and done that,” the pitfalls of this life stage can more easily be explored.  Not that it will be all sunshine and roses, but it will certainly be better than without a guiding friend.

Accomplishing a task like helping to build a house goes a long way in helping students Become and Believe in themselves.  I’m always amazed by the students who go on a work trip with little to no knowledge of construction–some of them have literally never even used a hammer before!–who suddenly become experts in using saws, hammers and nails, and many other tools.  To see a young woman who has always believed that she’s “too girly” to do manual labor transform into a confident hammering pro (complete with muddy jeans and sawdust-covered hair) is a wonderful thing.  To watch as a young man suddenly grasps the concept of being able to walk on a roof after being afraid of heights all his life is a joy to behold.  Building homes also builds lives, both for the homeowners of Habitat, and for the students who volunteer their hands and their hearts to the job.

So, every year before I go on a work trip, I say to myself (and my long-suffering wife), “I think that next year I may not go on a work trip.”  Then, at the end of every trip, I come home and say, “Forget what I said, I’ll be going again next year.”  It’s not because I enjoy bugging people about resting and drinking water, or that picking up nails is that vital a task to be completed on the job site.  What I really get out of these trips is the feeling that I have done something useful, helping my small group of emerging adults make it through this time of their lives, as they both Become and Believe in themselves–one nail at a time.

Things your church might be doing wrong (and why it’s o.k.)

These days, there seems to be no end to the ever-growing stream of articles (usually heavily accented by bulleted or numbered lists), telling churches, pastors, and Christian leaders what they are doing wrong.  In the spirit of being helpful, most of these writers are trying to help churches to reach out to their communities, grow, and be intentional about the whole church thing.  That’s great—to a point.  As a college chaplain, I have taken many of the points in such articles as helpful hints for us when we think about welcoming the campus community to our worship and programming space.  However, I can also relate to those pastors and church leaders who read such articles and throw up their hands, saying, “Forget it!  There’s no way my congregation would ever go along with any of these suggestions!”

Bless you, pastors and lay leaders, if you have ever felt inadequate because of what someone once said you were doing wrong in your going about being the church in the world.  For you, I offer the following numbered list of things that you are probably doing “wrong,” along with explanations of why that’s o.k.

  1. Providing unprofessional, sometimes messy and slightly out of tune music.

I remember the church service where we heard the most out of tune, tremolo-filled, and scratchy solo ever forced upon the people called Methodist.  The soloist, however, was quite proud of having been asked to sing, and sang her heart out to the Lord, with all her might.  Everyone there understood in that holy moment that it was not the quality of the “performance” that mattered, but the heartfelt expression of this person’s love for God and her fellow Christians.

Church, it’s good to have clear and singable worship music, and musicians who show a level of care and professionalism in their leadership of singing, but we shouldn’t idolize perfection in the name of “excellence.”  Yes, God wants us to bring our best, but our best may not always be professional quality.  Some of us could use a reminder that the scriptures tell us to “Make a joyful noise to the Lord,” (Psalm 100:1) sometimes with extra emphasis on the “joyful,” even if that joy sounds to our ears like a lot of “noise.”

  1. Not having seventeen “touch points” for first-time visitors.

I know what the research says—people need to feel welcomed in worship if they are ever to come back.  Make sure your visitors make six new friends in the first six weeks.  Have a welcome gift that someone takes and gives to first-time visitors within 24 hours of their first visit.  Connect.  Touch base.  Whatever you do, don’t let them get away!  That’s all well and good, but some of us are terrified by such things!

As a chaplain, I have the opportunity to visit many churches for the first time.  It’s always nice to be greeted by smiling friendly faces, and even to be introduced around a bit.  But it can be really disconcerting to a newbie to be confronted by 30 such smiling friendly faces within the first three minutes of arriving at worship!  It’s good to have greeters, but consider having greeters who are sensitive to the fact that people respond well to different levels of welcoming intensity is key.  If you don’t always provide seventeen “touch points” for every single visitor, that’s fine, as long as you are keyed into the fact that different visitors require different approaches.

  1. Preaching that is sometimes dull and “teachy.”

I get it—dull preachers not only turn away new folks, but they might just bore away the faithful committed members.  I also get that not every sermon hits it out of the park (a metaphor that went over like a lead balloon when I used it in a sermon in England once—they don’t so much know about baseball metaphors!)  Even the greatest of the great preachers have a bad day, and sometimes certain passages of scripture just lend themselves to more extensive teaching rather than three points and a poem.  You know what?  Sometimes, the sermons that I thought were the dullest and least inspiring, some of my very worst stinkers, were the ones where someone from the congregation would come up to me and say, “That’s exactly what I needed to hear today!”  God works through even the driest material sometimes.  If what was required of us as preachers was to give an awe-inspiring sermon every seven days, regardless of what has been happening in the parish or in the community, then we would go through ministry without paying much attention to what’s going on around us.  Those weeks that I had three funerals, two pre-marital counseling sessions, and a visit in every hospital in the county?  Those weeks did not have very polished sermons, but they were the weeks when my preaching most relied on the work of the Holy Spirit to get us all through.

  1. Traditional music/worship.

The experts all tell us that traditional is dead.  Hymns are passé.  Robed preachers and choirs are on their way out.  Formal liturgy is off-putting.  If you recognize yourself in any of those statements, then everyone knows you’re doomed to a slow and painful death, right?

Not necessarily.  I have experienced beautiful so-called “traditional” worship–with robes, choirs, Eucharist, liturgy, and all the smells and bells–which has lifted the worshippers closer to God than any contemporary-music fest worship in which I’ve ever participated.  Done well, such traditional worship can be breathtaking, inspiring, and yes, will attract young people.  Traditional doesn’t have to mean boring, and ritual doesn’t have to become rote.  To me (and I suspect, to others as well), one of the most beautiful expressions of worship can be found in the ancient words of Orthodox prayers being said in an incense-filled nave, while the priest enacts the ancient liturgy of the miracle of Christ coming among us from within the sanctuary.  Such worship can seem totally foreign to modern sensibilities and style, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing—sometimes we could all use a little mystery in our faith.

  1. Contemporary music/worship.

On the opposite side of the coin of the above comment is the notion that so-called “contemporary” music and worship are wrong.  Comments such as, “It’s all just a show,” and “There’s no theological meat on those bones” are quite common among the worship snobs I know and love.  I’ve even caught myself saying such things, and I work in an environment where we encourage the use of contemporary music and worship forms!  This idea is as empty as the previous one, because it doesn’t necessarily hold true.

Contemporary worship and music don’t have to be banal and shallow expressions of the faith.  Indeed, some contemporary worship music has taken me to new heights of theological reflection that I had not encountered before.  The first time I sang the David Crowder band’s lyrics “heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,”* I was thrown into a long theological reflection on how God meets us in the “thin places” of our lives, and how God’s love meets us in unexpected ways.  Such lyrics can be deep sources of theological reflection if we just give them a chance.  Contemporary music is no less dangerous to the overall message of the Church than is traditional music.

Church, it’s time for us to stop listening to the list-makers and the ecclesiastical pundits, and time to start listening to the Holy Spirit.  In the still small spaces of our sanctuaries and chapels, if we are quiet long enough and seek after God’s heart fervently enough, we might just occasionally find the Spirit moving among us, enlivening our communities and enriching our worship.  No technique or gimmick can ever replace the powerful transformation that takes place when a person meets the loving God for the first time within the context of a community of faith.  No list of do’s and don’ts could ever give an exhaustive account of what we need to be about, because what we need to be about is helping to usher in the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven.  If we only listen to the naysayers, we run the risk of not being open to the fact that God just might take our messiness and turn it into something beautiful that is exactly what the world needs right now.

So, are you doing some things wrong with your church?  Probably.  But we’ve been doing them for 2,000 years, and God hasn’t given up on us yet.  That gives me hope, and I pray that it gives you hope, too.

Blessings,

David

*Yes, I know that the original lyrics read “sloppy wet” in place of “unforeseen,” but those are the lyrics I first heard, so deal with it!  Either way, they provide interesting fodder for theological reflection.

Life on the Pendulum

According to this informative article on Wikipedia (my go-to for all things definitive!), a pendulum, when pushed away from its natural resting point (or point of equilibrium), will swing back toward the equilibrium point.  Then, when it swings past the equilibrium point, it swings back again, in the opposite direction.  All of this swinging has one goal–to get the pendulum back to equilibrium.  That’s a gross oversimplification of what I am sure is a very complicated physical concept, but hey, was a communications major in college, so you get what you get.

I have often compared the life of the Church to a pendulum, but only recently have I come to realize the implications of that way of thinking.  I have observed that the Church (and churches) sometimes sway back and forth when it comes to theology, biblical interpretation, and politics.  Sometimes, the Church is “conservative” (for lack of a better term), and sometimes the Church is “liberal” (same).  Both are extremes, and both are far away from the point of ecclesial equilibrium.  This equilibrium point is what theologians call the via media.  My Anglican friends like to remind me over and over again that the via media is their rallying cry, so I would like to thank them for preserving the concept for the rest of us until we are ready to embrace it.  Via media is what some would call the “radical center,” the “middle way,” or the “third way”–neither “conservative” nor “liberal,” but centered somewhere in between.  It’s a frustrating place to be sometimes, but I think it might be the place where the Church in the 21st Century needs to be in order to survive, thrive, and show the world the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For many years, I have lived on the pendulum, swinging first one direction theologically, and then another.  When I first became a follower of Jesus (I’ve always been a Methodist, but have only been a disciple of Jesus since my mid-teens), I was in what you might call the “conservative” or “traditionalist” camp.  I had problems with the direction I perceived the world was taking, and I was dismayed that anyone might think it o.k. to allow people of certain “lifestyle choices” to be a part of the church.  The pendulum began to swing for me when one of my best friends came out as gay, and felt comfortable confiding in me about his orientation.  To be honest, I was probably already moving away from my traditionalist position at the time, which is probably why he felt o.k. telling me this particular piece of information.  Soon after this, and into my college and seminary years, I found myself deeply entrenched in the so-called “liberal” wing of Christianity.  I participated in marches, signed petitions, made statements on the floor of annual conference, and generally got myself in trouble with the higher-ups.  As a liberal Christian, I couldn’t understand how anyone could ever read the Bible to discriminate against LGBTQ persons, and I saw myself as part of a battle for the heart and soul of the Church.

Fast forward to 2014.  I’m leaving a lot out, but that will have to wait for another blog on another day.

Now, I find myself as a university chaplain, not just to the “conservative” or “liberal” Christians, but to all the students, faculty, and staff, even those who do not share my faith.  Talk about walking the via media!  As I have interacted with university community members from a variety of walks of life and faith traditions, I have found that while I still hold many of the same convictions I have had for many years, I cannot bear to alienate my more conservative friends, students, and colleagues.  Without them, the conversation is not complete, in my mind at least.  Rather than tearing apart the Church I love and serve, I desire to bring people of all stripes together, to find the place of equilibrium within our community, and to move forward together in faith.  For me, that equilibrium represents common ground.  Not agreement in all things, but common ground.  What we share is more powerful and unifying than anything that divides us.  What we share is a love of God, and the desire to help others know Jesus Christ alive in the world.  We may speak different dialects and with varying accents, but we all generally speak the same language.

In the last few days, I have become aware of something called The United Methodist Centrist Movement.  This movement, made up of clergy and laity primarily from the West Ohio Conference, has suggested a platform for a way forward in the church I love:

1.  Fiscal Responsibility

2.  Connectional Realignment

3.  Itinerancy Reform

4.  Mutual Respect

I encourage anyone who reads this blog to read the platform, and consider supporting it.

Is it perfect?  No

Will it remain unchanged between now and General Conference 2016?  Most certainly not.

Does it provide a place of conversation for the kind of change that is needed in The United Methodist Church?  Most assuredly yes.

I’m tired of life on the pendulum, continually swinging back and forth, searching for that which can only be found in the restful center.  The idea of having a spiritual center is paramount to the theological construct for my ministry, and the idea of a theological and political center for the Church is appealing to me.  I want to rest in the center, the point of equilibrium, at the heart of Jesus Christ, with all of my sisters and brothers (left, right, and center) with me.  Will you join us?

Rest in the Center of Peace,

David

Pastor Appreciation (For All the Saints)

October, as everyone on  the face of the earth knows, is Pastor Appreciation Month.  It is usually during this last week of October that many people make one of two realizations:

1.  (If a member of a congregation):  Oh NO!  Pastor Appreciation Month is almost over, and we didn’t do anything for our pastor!  At least I don’t think we did?  Did we?  No, that was last year.

2.  (If a pastor):  Well, another Pastor Appreciation Month is almost gone.  Guess I’ll put away this big basket I had set out for all the cards and gifts that didn’t show up…sigh.

(Your mileage may vary–you might have a pastor who is so awesome that you never forget to appreciate her/him, or you might have a congregation that is so awesome that they never forget to appreciate you.)

Well, I haven’t forgotten.  Since this weekend also marks All Saints Day (a much more well-known holiday), I’d like to dedicate this post to all the pastors who have had, and currently have, an influence on me.

Take Paul Whipple, for instance, who was the first pastor I remember having as a child who was “my pastor.”  Rev. Whipple was a fiery preacher, with a passion for social justice.  Though I was young when he left my home church, I credit him with being the person to place in my head the notion that the church is truly for all people.

Or, there’s George Lee, who was the first pastor to encourage me to consider that I might have a call to ministry.  He also encouraged me to stretch beyond my comfort zone, when he helped me sign up for Ministerial Recruitment Institute, which was a camp primarily for African-American students, but which ended up confirming in me the conviction that God had truly called me to be a pastor.   When I was ordained, George was the Elder who held my stole, and helped the bishop place it on my shoulders as a sign of the continuation of the ministry from one generation to another.

And then I remember Bill Ross, who helped me through a tough patch in my life, and who taught me that I wasn’t crazy after all.

And, Bruce Batchelor-Glader, who showed me how to step away from the pulpit and make preaching fun, and who fostered the connection between faith and social justice in my theology.

I think of Valerie Stultz, my first district superintendent when I was a young student pastor, who encouraged me to find my own voice, and of Jim Humphrey, who was our family “pastor” when I served my first congregation back in the U.S.A.  Jim’s encouragement of my family really made the difference during a time when we weren’t sure that local church ministry was where I really ought to be.

I’m grateful for Pat Christ, who has become my parents’ pastor, and whom I call my pastor, too, who has graciously allowed me to be a part of the Firestone Park UMC congregation as my charge of record while I am in extension ministry, and I’m grateful for Bryan Bucher, whom I have the privilege of hearing preach most Sundays, and whose theological depth and caring for humanity astounds me.

These are but a few of the people who have been pastor to my family and me, and I thank God for each and every one of them.  They are the saints whom I celebrate, during Pastor Appreciation Month, All Saints Sunday, and throughout the year.  Without them, I surely wouldn’t be where I am today, and their ministries are extended on to the campus of Ohio Northern University every day, because they helped form me into who I am.

If you are reading this, and there is a person who has been that kind of pastor to you, please stop reading now and go thank them.

Happy Pastor Appreciation Month, Saints!

–David

The Theology of Creation and Youth Ministry

There are people out there who are much smarter than I who are talking and writing and teaching about youth ministry.  I admire the work of many, including Kenda Dean, Andrew Root, Mark Ostreicher, and MTSO’s own Tim VanMeter, just to name a few.  Many, like Tim, have done great work on thinking about ecology and youth ministry, and have delved into the depths of theology surrounding our relationship to the creation.  But lately, I’ve been thinking about how a theology of creation, and specifically the idea that human beings are created in God’s image, can have a profound impact on youth ministry.  So, I wanted to share a few of my thoughts here, in the hopes that it will at the very least help me to clarify my own thinking, and perhaps might get others thinking about it, too.  Here goes…

“So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
–Genesis 1:27

In Genesis, we learn of the creation of humanity by God.  Now, I don’t want to get embroiled in a debate about creationism vs. evolution here, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you might as well stop reading now.  Suffice it to say, I believe that a person can hold that the earth is billions of years old, and that life has evolved over eons and eons to get to the place where we are now, and still believe that God is the Creator, and that we are created in God’s image.  How?  The short answer, to quote my first theology professor in seminary, is “It’s a mystery!”  In fairness to Sarah Lancaster, however, I should note that in the same breath, she also stated that this is an inadequate theological response.  If you want a longer answer, stick around, because I intend to one day write down why I hold those two beliefs…but that is a different blog for a different day.

Back to Genesis.  If we hold that God created human beings in God’s own image (what classical theology called the imago dei, then such a belief must have an impact on how we approach the world, and thus ministry, hence the relationship between youth ministry and the theology of creation.  If we hold that we are all created in God’s image, some of the very first thoughts/questions that come to mind are:

1.  Since God is Creator, each of us is also a creator in some way, and the ways we all create are different, and as varied as the human race.  Some people create by making works of art, or making music, while others create by growing food for others to eat.  Some create sermons or theological treatises, while some create clearly written and easy to understand directions for how to set up your TV set (Yes, they do exist out there somewhere!). 

2.  If each of us is created in the image of God, then we are obligated to treat each other like that’s true.  If I see you as having the image of God, and you see me as having the image of God, then it is nigh impossible for us to kill each other, lest we do violence to the very foundation of our humanity.  (A theology of broken souls, compared with Harry Potter’s quest to kill Voldemort’s horcruxes would be good here.)

3.  Seeing God’s image within others also forces us to recognize that God has a variety of ways of approaching the world, and does so through a variety of gifts.  Paul’s encouragement to the Church to recognize the spiritual gifts within the body of Christ is an example of this concept being played out in a specifically Christian way. 

4.  What happens if I meet someone in whom I just can’t seem to find the image of God?

Those are just a few preliminary thoughts.  Please don’t take this blog post as definitive–it’s a work in progress!

Now, if we turn to youth ministry, and look at our work with young people through the lens of a theology of creation, there are some insights that bubble to the surface.  First of all, it is important to note that our work with young people is part of the creative spirit of God, helping to create and co-create communities of love and care with others who also posses the image of God.  This relieves us of the notion that youth ministry is somehow about “keeping the kids occupied so they don’t get into trouble.” *(Actual quote from an actual congregation member)*  Second, it forces us to confront the fact that every young person we encounter has been given gifts by God–gifts that may be undiscovered and unused–but gifts nonetheless.  Those gifts may come out in ways we don’t want them to (such as the young man who has the gift of compassion, but instead uses his natural tendency to relate to others’ problems as a way to prey on the girls in the group), but it is our job to help young people recognize those gifts, and put them to use for the kingdom (or kindom) of God.  Third, a theology of creation in youth ministry confronts us with the mission to help young people overcome the brokenness of their lives and their souls, in a way that helps them embrace the “original blessing” given by God to all of humanity, but which we lose whenever we allow greed or arrogance to get in the way.  For us as Christians, this means a relationship with Jesus Christ, who overcame the horrors of torture and death in order to offer new and eternal life. 

I guess what I’m getting at is that youth ministry is pretty deep (I probably didn’t need to tell most of you that), and that a youth ministry rooted in a theology of creation can transform a dull and lifeless “keeping the kids busy” kind of ministry into one that embraces the frustrating and diverse nature of working with people who posses the imago dei within their souls.  So the next time “that kid” shows up at your door, or confronts you in the school parking lot, or causes havoc in your small group, remember that he or she is not just a problem to be dealt with, but a precious gift from the Creator, called from before the beginning of time to be in relationship with God.  Go, and help “that kid” become a child of God!