How I Plan Curriculum

curriculum, lessons, youth ministry

One of my biggest strengths is that I am a Master Curriculum Planner. In my setting, I kind of have to be. We have a Sunday School-style program in that because we have one main hour of programming each week, and we have Confirmation smack dab in the middle of our middle school years. So, we split off into three groups: 5th & 6th grade, 7th Grade Confirmation, and 8th grade. We still have large-group teaching and small groups, but each group has their own curriculum and discussion questions… which equals a lot of work! Fortunately, I’ve had the ability to work on it one or two years at a time, and refine the previous year’s as I work on a new year.

You might be saying, “Heather, why don’t you just purchase curriculum? That’s what it’s for!” My answer: I love most purchased curriculum out there. I’m a huge fan of Orange, Sparkhouse, LIVE, Credo Confirmation, The Thread by y360, and other comprehensive curriculums.

But for us, I assessed the needs of our context and decided to do a four-year comprehensive curriculum. 5th & 6th grade rotates Old & New Testaments, 7th grade does Confirmation, and 8th grade addresses their identity through Spiritual Gifts. You can read more about how I develop a long-term curriculum by reading my article published in YouthWorker Journal.

Here is a look at the way I format curriculum over the course of 4 years:

56 Year 1 – Old Testament
56 Year 2 – New Testament
7th Grade / Confirmation
8th Grade – Spiritual Gifts

On top of Sunday mornings, we also have lots of retreats–it’s one of the hallmarks of our ministry! I typically plan the curriculum for our retreats, as well as for Middle School Mayhem, our weeklong Day Camp. Again–I could buy curriculum for these events, and I do for some retreats. But for Middle School Mayhem, I like to mimic what is happening in Vacation Bible School since it happens the same week. This year we’re branching off from VBS week, so I may have more freedom in the future.

But again…I enjoy writing curriculum and am good at it.

Today I want to share my favorite way to plan curriculum over a series.

  1. Basically, I fold a piece of paper into the number of lessons that I need.
  2. I write the things that I need to plan: Date, Title, Bottom Line, Scripture, Notes, etc.
  3. Then, I fill in the blanks. My big secret for finding scriptures that match themes is the Topical Bible.

Easy, right? Here are some examples:

IMG_3891

This is how I planned our 8th grade year on Spiritual Gifts. I divided up the 15 gifts (from LeaderTreks) into 5 categories: Leaders, Teachers, Movers, Judgers, and & Helpers. Then I planned out some scriptures.

mayhem 2018

This is how I’m planning Mayhem for this upcoming summer! I’m drafting this on paper, then I’ll form it into a document (like the next two)

Mayhem 2015

This was our first year of creating Mayhem, a day camp, so this was my first way of formatting what I drafted on paper into a document, with additional details: like, notes and games. This year’s camp was MOUNTAIN themed!

Mayhem 2016

This year’s Mayhem was CAVE-themed. As you can see, I added “Snack” and some other categories to plan all aspects of the camp.

Hope this helps someone out there plan their pwn curriculum! For me, I always find looking at the week as one comprehensive piece and viewing its parts as part of a whole helpful. It’s allowed me to be really imaginative and thorough, whether the series has been exegetical or topical.

Cheers!

Students’ Letters to Congress about School Safety

lessons, social activism, youth ministry

The other day I published a list of ideas to help talk to students about school shootings. As I stressed, I believe that the church should be a place where students feel safe–on both a physical level but also safe to have hard conversations…even about the most controversial issues.

School safety is one of those; everyone has a different idea of how to make our schools safer from mass shootings. But I know that all of us do believe that there should never be another mass shooting again…especially on a school campus.

Right now in our 8th grade class we’re talking about the spiritual gifts of prophecy, givers, and encouragement; gifts I’ve called the movers. Movers are people who speak out, who get things done, and who push for social and personal change.

At the end of each section of gifts, students have an opportunity to put those gifts into action. With recent events, I asked students to write letters to our Senators and Representatives.

I stressed repeatedly: I am not telling you what to write. I did provide a sample letter that I found online and beefed up a little. I also encouraged them to focus on one of the three main factors that people believe impact school shootings: gun laws, mental health, and general school safety. That was all I gave them.

Afterwards, I did give them some questions to process this. In truth, they didn’t have time to discuss my questions because they were so into the letter-writing and discussing their ideas for change. It was really cool to watch them think critically. Often times our kids only hear us diss our politicians, not think about how to constructively interact with them.

But the questions I gave them were about what it means to mold our politics and our faith together:

  1. How is this “speaking out?” How does this activity change your view of a “prophet?”
  2. Why is it our “Christian duty” to speak out against injustice?
  3. Why should Christians not only speak out, but also put their words into action?
  4. What else could we, as Christians, do to prevent school shootings?
  5. Often times we talk about a need for “separation between church and State.” When and why should your faith impact your political beliefs? How does your faith personally impact your political beliefs?
  6. When prophets predicted Jesus’s birth, they prophesied that Jesus would be a “great king” that would bring about “great political reform” to save them. It’s interesting that, even then, religion and politics worked together. What do you think Jesus would want to change today?
  7. (this question can get dicey, but let’s go for it) Why do you think religious people can have such different political beliefs? (be nice, don’t just blast Trump/Hillary/Bernie/Republicans/Democrats…think critically)

But onto the letters, because that’s the main reason I’m writing this post: I want to share some excerpts from the letters that these precious students wrote. I loved that our students had a range of political beliefs (I super-love that about my church), but that they were able to think really constructively and talk with one another about their differences. At the end of each teen’s letter they asked the senator/representative to write them back.

Aren’t you glad that these kids will one day rule the world? (Snapchat debaccles aside)

Here’s what they wrote:

“I am writing to you to ask that you help make school safer. I don’t know about other schools but the only form of security seems to be a police officer. I feel that we should have the type of security that airports do. Even if it will cost a little more it is worth it to keep us safe. I feel like kids should also be monitored better because the shooter in Florida had talked about it for months but no one did anything. I just feel like I should be able to feel safe while learning.”

“My friends are scared. They don’t come to school sometimes because of their fear. I am also spooked, by stomach aches and my head hurts because of it. It’s hard for me to focus and it’s hard for teachers to teach.”

“Recent events have sparked conversations on social media, at school, at church, and within my family. I recently learned something that had never occured to me before. It recently occured to me that this didn’t happen in past generations. My generation is the only generation that knows how to do a lockdown drill. I have memories from first grade of hiding in the corner of my dark classroom, being silent, and waiting until we got the all clear. A feeling of fear in my own school, a place where I should never be scared of losing my life, was planted in me at a young age. I do not feel safe in a place where I am forced to go every day. I should feel safe at school, a place I go to learn how to be functioning member of society. Giving guns to my teachers would not help that.”

“We are asking you to consider how we feel, and we are using our voices to the fullest extent that we can. We are asking you to do the same.”

“I am writing you to ask that you help make school safer. I am concerned that going to school can put my life at risk. That EVERY student at my school may be at risk of a school shooting. School should make you feel safe, not in danger.”

“I am currently aware of the political debate over gun control. I may just be a student, but I have a voice that needs to be heard. I want to speak up about my perspective on gun control. Our president believes giving more guns out to the teachers of our district can benefit our schools. I believe that there should be stricter gun laws. Putting more firearms in a harmful situation can only make it worse.”

“I hate that kindergartners have to know how to hide from a person with a gun, trying to kill them. School should be a safe and secure place where you don’t need to be afraid. Now days people can easily buy a gun as long as they have enough money. This needs to stop. I can’t imagine losing my best friend in a school shooting, or getting a call telling me there has been a shooting at my child’s school.”

“School should be a safe place to learn, not a place to question your safety.”

“I am writing to you after hearing of the shootings in Florida. Although I’ve supported Republicans all my life, I feel as though we need a flat-out ban on assault rifles. NO good comes from semi-automatic rifles. When our founding fathers wrote the second amendment, they had no army and therefore relied upon citizens to take up arms against enemies of the United States. Also they had muskets, not assault rifles back in the 1800s. We can protect ourselves without military grade assault rifles now. We also have a military to protect us, unlike back in the 1800s. We can protect ourselves with handguns, shotguns, crossbows, etc. I appreciate your help and ask that you please send me a response and maybe an autograph?”

(that one made me laugh)

“I’m already a very paranoid person and school is scary enough on its own, but with the threat of a school shooting my brain goes crazy. Columbine, Sandy Hook, and the most recent school shooting in Florida are some of the worst and most terrifying. I shouldn’t have to worry about going to school, and while I don’t believe we need to band guns I do believe we need to make a change. From my observations, some of these kids that are planning to or actually do commit these crimes are social outcasts, people who don’t know how to fit in, people who are bullied by what they believe to be “popular” people. For example in Columbine the shooters wanted revenge on their popular peers. We, the schools, need to stop talking about laptops in the lunchroom, we need to be talking about caring for people, we need to destroy the whole “I’m popular and you’re not” philosophy. Maybe then, after making these kids feel loved and helped, the problem won’t be so bad.”

Y’all… let’s do right by our kids. Let’s give them an opportunity to use their own voice, from their own perspective, to speak their own truth. For some of these kids, their truth was a little different than my own. But that’s why it’s important that I listen to them–because that’s the only way to learn from them. And I think in this situation–it’s the only way to bring about change that can positively impact their lives.

Addressing School Shootings in Youth Ministry

lessons, youth ministry

I have two major philosophies in youth ministry:

  1. The church should be the safest place in the world. Every kid has the right to have a place where they belong, where they can be themselves, where they can share their story and feel known. I work with middle schoolers because no place feels safe to this age: home can feel like a war zone, friends change more than their underwear, and the need to compete and be perfect in academia and extracurriculars is making our children anxious. Plus… their bodies are betraying them.
  2. In order for the church to be the safest place, we have to have the toughest conversations here. Conversations that are otherwise untouchable become essential to understanding our human condition and our calling as Christians.

And while I hate that I have to write a blog post about how to discuss school shootings, I do so because I recognize that (a) our kids literally don’t feel safe right now and (b) it’s our duty to make sure that students can talk about this at church.

As I process the latest school shooting, my heart is full of grief and lament. My love lost a long-time dear friend in that shooting, a man who lost his life protecting children. When I initially heard the news last Wednesday, I quickly moved on. This happens all the time. It hit me at Ash Wednesday service, when our pastor began the service with a lament. I was sitting next to two middle schoolers, and I almost felt like it was inappropriate to remind them of their reality. Isn’t that crazy? And when PJ found out his friend’s life was robbed, I still hadn’t quite connected it all. It wasn’t until Sunday, when PJ was grieving in worship and our pastor stood up and called it our Christian duty to react that I realized: I had been numb. Apathetic. And that is nothing more than pathetic. 

Today I repented of my apathy, and committed myself to doing whatever it takes to make sure that those who are grieving have the space and resources to turn their grief into holy work. And since the voices of this movement are young, I feel like it’s only appropriate that we make the church a place where students can react and take action.

Here are some ideas and resources for both discussion and action:

Tools for Discussion

Ideas for Action

  • Partner with other churches. Contact your denominational office, nearby churches, etc. to see how you can partner.
  • Partner with “March for our Lives.” More information will come out about what this looks like, but do whatever you can to make sure that your church has a presence.
  • Collect money. March for our Lives is also a great resource for that.
  • If you partner with one main local school, consider making your church a hub for the walk-out on April 20th. Definitely ask parents how they feel about this before you condone skipping school. I remember in high school we did a “walk-out” once, and most of my friends ended up rioting; so if you have a place where students can come grab snacks and hang out, then that could be helpful.
  • Pray over the names and pictures.
  • Adapt a “Safe Shooter Policy” at your church. We went through this a few years ago, and it was really difficult for me to sit through a seminar on what to do if a shooter walks into your church…but it’s important.
  • Write letters with students to local congressmen. Click here to find your representatives. You can also use the “Town Hall” feature on Facebook.
  • Research to see if there are any Town Halls, or if you can get school shootings on the agenda at your local town meeting. Show up with students.
  • Whenever you can, make sure that students are leading the efforts within the church. This is THEIR concern, let THEM tell the story from their perspective. The only way this will change is if it gets personal–and we needs kids telling adults their story.
  • Allow students to write prayers of lament.
  • Support campaigns of students as they come up with them, like this Facebook page students started or this one that killed Kmart sales of guns after Columbine.
  • Create an evening of prayer stations. Here’s one (created for All Saint’s Day, but still amazing).
  • Or these prayer stations, created for the Belgium terrorist attack.
  • Go OT and build an altar on your prayers.
  • Share this article with parents from PBS.

A story about an 8th grade boy

junior high ministry, lessons, youth ministry

In my last post I talked about sharing stories of hope. So here’s a nice one for you–

In our church we teach Confirmation in 7th grade (which, for my evangelical friends: Confirmation is a “coming of age” process where students affirm the vows made at their baptism by their parents to raise them in faith, and then pledge to own their faith as their own).  One of the crazy things about Confirmation is that people come out of the woods for the process: while a class could average 25 in 6th grade, it can average 45 in 7th grade. It’s kind of insane. And one of the big problems with Confirmation in our church–and others–is that after Confirmation, that number typically goes down dramatically–to 15 students weekly.

Lots of smart minds have put their heads together trying to figure out why there’s such a big drop-off after Confirmation, but no one really has tons of answers. And that’s sad, because I love my church and think it’s exactly what a teenager needs as they go through puberty and get a car and question their entire existence before they go off to college. So, I got creative and tried to figure out: How can we keep kids after Confirmation? But there was another question: What do students need after Confirmation? And since we do Confirmation in 7th grade, we ask: What doe an 8th grader need? 

We identified that an appropriate response to Confirming your faith would be to discover your Spiritual Gifts. This makes perfect sense for the 8th grade year, since ending middle school and entering high school brings about several questions of identity: Who am I? What am I good at? What do I have to offer the world?

Of course, there are no year-long courses on Spiritual Gifts (and especially not for students). And my colleagues thought I’d be crazy to talk about this for an entire year with middle schoolers. Will they care? Are they going to get bored? Shouldn’t we talk about stuff they want to talk about? 

What we realized was: this is kinda perfect. But we also decided to make sure that an 8th grader has a way of practicing their spiritual gifts as they are learning about them. So, I did several steps:

  • We used the Spiritual Gifts assessment and resources by LeaderTreks
  • I split the 15 gifts into 5 categories
  • Each of the 5 categories is a “unit”
  • At the end of the unit, we practice the gift in a hands-on way
  • (yes, I’ll go into this more into detail later. Shoot, I might even market this jank or give it away for free)

This month we did our unit on “Teachers” and focused on the gifts of Teaching, Evangelizing, and Mentoring/Pastoring. For the end of the unit, the 8th graders took over The Modge, our program for 5th & 6th graders. I decided to ask an 8th grade student to teach that day, and then have their peers lead Small Groups.

Who to ask? The class clown, obviously. Last year in 7th grade, Bob (not his name) would purposely troll the class. He was the kid that would shout things out, that would put silly questions in our “Ask Anything” jar, and who would be generally obnoxious. One leader even asked me if he could not be in his small group, because he can overwhelm things in a group setting.

But y’all. I believe in chaos. And when I got Bob’s gifts assessment back at the beginning of the year and saw Leadership, Speaking Out (prophecy), and Pioneering (apostleship). I squealed. I knew it. knew this kid was a leader.

And last month as I was teaching the lesson Evangelism, Bob shouted out “Heather, you want me to teach today?” And I laughed. And then I thought, “No, this boy should be teaching something.”

So I emailed his parents. And got his cell phone number. And talked to his dad. And told my leaders. And everyone thought it was equally crazy and equally possible that this could be the most brilliant thing to happen to our ministry. Maybe this could change things. Maybe this could solve our concerns about retention. Maybe this could just work.

And after meeting with him twice, high-fiving him 57 times, and handing over the stage? It did. It was amazing. At one point I took my eyes off of him to look around the room at all my leaders–who were all in awe with their mouths agape and grinning from ear-to-ear.

And when I asked his peers afterwards what they thought–they were impressed that their friend had the bravery to stand in a room full of almost 80 people.

Here’s another thing I love about this story: Bob’s lesson was on the shepherds at Jesus’s birth. The bottom line for the lesson was that God can use anybody to share his message with others. That shepherds had a lowly job, but they were visited by angels and given the only invitation to the greatest thing that has ever happened to our world–and then given the job to go share with with others.

Catch that? I didn’t even realize it until he was sharing his “underdog story” that we crafted together: God can use anybody to share his message with others. Even an 8th grade boy.

As for answering what to do after Confirmation, I’m not sure I have the magical answer. But what I walked away from Sunday thinking was, “I want to do this again.” I want to empower another student to lead. I want to see another student proclaim God’s promises from the stage. I want to see another group of students support their friend (even if they initially doubted him). I want to see another parent surprised at their kid’s potential. I want to see more Small Group Leaders rewarded for their investments pastoring these kids.

I want to see more. I need to see more. I crave more now. Because kids like Bob will solve all our problems but, more, they will readjust our hope for the church to be more about transforming lives and less about numbers.

When Students Ask About Trump

america, Evangelicalism, lessons, politics, social activism

The only thing Trump and I have in common is that we both cannot control our facial expressions.

One of my favorite parts of our 7th Grade Confirmation is the “Questions Jar” that students can put questions about anything in. It says on it “Write ANY question you have down on a piece of paper, and Heather may answer it on a Sunday morning! It can be about God, Confirmation, family, friends, a weird Bible verse, sports, the meaning of life, food, whatever you want! Think of this as a human Google machine.”

Students ask a variety of questions, and I kind of love it. I love answering their hardest questions on-the-spot (even if it makes me sweat and panic a little). We host three panels each Confirmation year and commit to answering all the questions.

At our last panel, I pulled out the question, “How does God feel about Donald Trump? What do you think about him?”

I handed it to my boss and said, “Do you want this one? Or do you want me to handle it?” I didn’t know what I wanted in that moment, whether I wanted to go for it or defer, but he told me I had it.

I read it out loud, took a deep breath as everyone giggled, and said something like this:

There’s a story in the Bible that goes something like this: A rich man came to Jesus and asked him, “What must I do to live eternally?” Jesus told him, “You must sell all your possessions and give them to the poor.” The rich man walked away from Jesus, and Jesus told the crowd “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19)

What does this have to do with politics?

Well, Donald Trump has a lot of money, like many other politicians. Many view running for president as a way to get more power and more possessions. And when you are fighting for power, often times you are forgetting the least-of-these that Jesus talked about. When you’re focused on getting more, you forget the people who have less.

We know that our purpose on earth is to take care of one another. Many politicians have lost sight of this. So what do I think that God thinks of Donald Trump? I think that God is very disappointed with him, because he could be using his money and power to help people. But I think God is disappointed with most politicians, because they all seem to be doing the same thing–taking advantage of others in order to gain more for themselves.

But the thing is–God still loves them a crazy amount. It can be hard to see at times, but they were also made in God’s image and God loves them very much. So as much as some politicians disappoint God and disgust us, they still deserve a certain degree of respect and honor. They are still our leaders, even if we don’t like them.

But let’s not forget that Jesus fought to change the political systems in place that oppressed people through his own actions, and that’s what infuriated people and got him killed.

So, don’t hate Trump or other politicians that aren’t taking care of the people. Be part of the solution by doing the things that Jesus asked of us, even if our government and president won’t.

I think that was about the best I could do on the spot. But the more I think about it, I think that the Holy Spirit guided what could be a really messy conversation (Trump literally makes me vomit and cry) into a conversation about our role in the world. We can’t rely on the president to fix our problems.

On a personal note, today in the primaries I voted for the one person in this crazy circus who I think resembles Jesus. But even if they were to make office, it doesn’t take away from my role on earth to take care of the least-0f-these.

No president will ever “trump” our role to take care of one another.

Introducing: The Thread!

curriculum, lessons, Resources, YouthMinistry360

I’ve written curriculum!

One of the most exciting projects that I have had the opportunity to contribute was to “The Thread” by YouthMinistry360. The Thread is a 52-week Bible Study produced to trace students through the Bible from the beginning to the end.

In each lesson there is the main narrative which takes place in time with the Bible as well as an additional passage that traces the Gospel through the entire narrative of the Bible. It’s really cool.

I had the privilege to write the lessons on: The Plagues, The Prophets, The Feeding of the 5,000, The Early Church, and Revelation… that was a tough one.

I’m really proud of this project, and I encourage you to check it out if you’re in the market for material!

Who is this curriculum best for? It’s definitely Bible study material, best for groups that are smaller or who have an hour to kind of segment the different parts of the hour for each activity. That said, it is adaptable enough for every environment. Every lesson that I wrote for The Thread has been tested by myself with students in some way or another.

The last half of The Thread will COMES OUT TODAY February 23rd, but the first half has been out for a while. Check it out here to learn more!

Statement of Faith & Doubt

Confirmation, lessons, Theology

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
Hebrews 11:1

What does it mean to have faith? Growing up, this verse in Hebrews comforted me to have confidence even when I’m not sure of what I’m even confident about.

Working with teenagers means that you are working with doubt, and most teenagers feel like their doubt has no place in faith.  The church I grew up in told me that my doubts were normal, but that I also needed to “give my doubts to God.”

That statement basically told me, “Doubts are normal, but good Christians don’t have them.”

But as I read that verse in Hebrews, I’m comforted. The author says that faith is (1) Confidence that what we hope for will actually happen and (2) Assurance about the things we cannot see. Other versions say that we are convicted.

Put together, faith is simply when the acknowledgment of doubt convinces us to press on.

This year I added to our Confirmation experience for students to write a Statement of Faith. We had talked about doubts back in October in my favorite lesson of the year. As I studied Statements of Faith, I encountered this article by Fuller Youth Institute:

Another church from one of our Sticky Faith Cohorts is working hard to create space for doubt in the midst of its Confirmation program. At the conclusion of the six-month process, most students write a statement of faith. Last year one student felt safe enough to write a “Statement of Doubt” instead. This allowed her to share openly with the community that her own journey of faith wasn’t yet at the place of trusting Christ. Several months later, she came to the point where she had wrestled through her doubts and decided to be baptized as an expression of her newfound trust. Alongside her were several adults who had supported her, prayed for her, and walked with her through her valley of doubt to the other side of faith.

I talked about the possibility of doing this project with our Family Ministries Pastor, and I shared my doubts with him: that if I talked about doubts with our students, they would only come to realization that they doubt a whole hell of a lot (literally. hell is a huge doubt for all of us).

But he encouraged me to give this a go.

I’m so thankful to work at a church that says both “We believe” and I believe,” meaning that we have a faith that is both universal and connected by tradition, but also that is very personal and varies from our neighbors.

I knew that I wanted to give students space to write their doubts, so I launched the “Statement of Faith & Doubt” project. Here were the steps:

Introducing the Concept

On the day of Confirmation that I introduced the project, I had students take different creeds that I printed out for them, and in groups underline the statements they agree with, and cross out the statements they weren’t so sure about. We had them write a few of the statements on a large piece of butcher paper I had on the wall.

I shared about how when I was in high school, I would always skip saying the part of the Apostle’s Creed where it says Jesus “ascended to the dead.” I thought it was creepy, and I didn’t like it. So I didn’t say it. I shared about how sometimes we don’t like the things in the Bible, or we share different beliefs from others–and that’s okay.

Also–here’s the video of me teaching that lesson.

The Project Itself

Students would, on their own, look in the back of the UMC hymnal at the section where it says “Affirmations of Faith.” There is listed a handful of creeds and statements of faith. They would write down 8 statements they agreed with, and 2 statements they didn’t.

Students would bring these Statements of Faith & Doubt to their small groups on a designated Sunday to discuss.

We sent this home with Confirmands to give to their parents with ways for Parents to plug in. Parents and mentors had questions to discuss with students about these projects on their own time.

Outcome

Small groups shared these statements of faith and talked about how doubt plays a crucial role in faith. I gave them the following small group questions:

  • Was it difficult to choose things you believed in? What about the things you doubted?
  • What’s the difference between faith and doubt?
  • Read Hebrews 1:1-3 together. How does doubt have a place in our faith?
  • Have confirmands look at their statements. Do you think that there are some things that you aren’t allowed to doubt? Like, can you doubt the virgin birth and still be a Christian?

There were a lot of commonalities in their statements–every single person doubts or dislikes the judgement of sinners. But there were also some unique statements. Here are some of those. Some are funny, others remind me of the life stage middle schoolers are in, and some convict me of what I believe now.

Statements of Faith…

  • Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. (I don’t understand why they underlined virgin, but I found it amusing
  • Jesus was is God’s son.
  • We commit ourselves to the right of…and people with disabilities. (Loved this, since her older brother has a disability)
  • Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God.
  • For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
  • We are not alone. (Yes, middle schooler.)
  • Great indeed is the mystery of the Gospel. Amen.

Statements of Doubt (Don’t believe / Not sure about / Don’t understand / Confusing)…

  • And in Jesus Christ his only Son. “I have always been taught that we are God’s children and this sentence contradicts that. It says that he only has one son instead of us being his children.”
  • He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. “What is under Pontius Pilate?” “What is a Pontius Pilate?” “When reading John, I found that Pilate didn’t care, it was the people that crucified him.”  (That last one made my HEART. MELT.)
  • He shall come to join the living and the dead
  • We look for the resurrection of the dead
  • We believe for the forgiveness of sins
  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or famine…?
  • …where we are all brothers and sisters
  • Proclaimed among the nations
  • One Catholic church
  • You have to be baptized to go to heaven
  • That he was put in a grave. “Wrong! He was buried in a tomb.”
  • That God was conceived by the Holy Spirit. “What does conceived mean?”

Last, I had two people who ignored the Creeds and made their own Statement of Faith and Doubt. This one was precious:

I believe in God,
that the thoughts in my head are sent from him
I believe he creates feelings of love
but for others, feelings of hate
I believe he puts pain onto others
but he usually spreads love
I believe that he first expected we’d sin
but not this much
I know what he expects,
and that he can only take sin in reasonable doses
I know he’s holy
I know he does love
but I believe,
after so many sins – We get a bad memory in life
He is trying to make us learn,
We just have to accept it

This project is risky–when we talk about doubt, we get vulnerable. We admit that we don’t know everything. We have to say out loud things that we don’t think we are allowed to say.

But it is rewarding–because if we can’t admit out loud our doubts to one another, then we’ll never be able to face them on our own. I noticed on a few papers that as small groups shared their doubts with one another, a few students crossed theirs out because they reconciled them just by talking about them out loud.

And that’s what it’s all about, really.

#ThrowbackThursday: The Time 20yo Heather taught on the Armor of God

lessons

Last week I gave my intern, Zach, an especially difficult lesson that he was to write from scratch and then I would watch him teach (this was the first time for either in a very long time): The Armor of God.

I forgot how difficult that passage was, and last week when I sat down with him to talk about it, I wanted to show him how taught on it when was his age. Except it would be a lesson of What Not to Do.

The Armor of God was the first curriculum series I ever wrote. I was 20 at a small Southern Baptist church and only halfway through my youth ministry degree. You can already tell this won’t turn out well.

I am so grateful that this church trusted me to lead their youth group. Really. But I look back at the things “20 year old Heather” did in ministry and LAUGH. This church allowed me the space to us their students as guinea pigs. I’m happy to say that they all have turned out to be functioning young college students, but that’s because they had a really great community to support them.

So, here are 7 things about that series that I did that is kind of silly. I dug through pictures.

1. I took this series and drug it out over 12 weeks. Yep.

2. I creatively had them create “armor” out of things I found in my dorm’s recycling bin.

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3. And made them fight.

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4. I taught them that the belt of truth was for chastity. So, they created “belts” that covered everything. Look above.

5. I created an armor guy out of poster board and added a piece to him each week. HE hung up in there for the next two years.196512_1669217652438_6213234_n.jpg

notice how I added extra papers on “the armor of God.”

6. I actually wrote on the board “Be prepared for the apocalypse.”66969_1472194286977_3206936_n.jpg

7. This was a good part: I had them take the armor of God and get creative, drawing their own.75697_1507400007098_8201961_n.jpg

The boys drew a riot cop. The girls drew a conductor.

I’m sure that in 5 more years, I’ll laugh at 26-year old Heather. But for now, it’s fun looking at these pictures and remembering how God used a newbie in ministry to create a fun atmosphere and great dialogue with students who were probably smarter than I was. And as I coach newbies in ministry now, I can assure them with history to back me that God can use you even if you get it wrong.

What are You Fishing For?

christianity, church, Culture, Evangelicalism, lessons, lgbtq, politics, Theology

When Jesus first called his disciples, they were fishing. Jesus performed the miracle of filling their nets, proving that he was able to provide for their physical (and even financial) needs. Then Jesus said, “Follow me, and I’ll make you a fisher of men.”

These men followed Jesus on a three-year long journey. During this journey, Jesus performed many more miracles and even equipped the disciples to perform miracles of their own. They fed crowds, healed the sick, partied with the poor, and ate with sinners. Slowly, they discovered that Jesus was the Son of God, and Jesus equipped them to truly be “fishers of men.”

But when Jesus died, what happened?

In John chapter 21, Peter says to the disciples, “I’m going fishing.” And the rest of the disciples go with him. Even though Jesus has appeared to them twice thus far after his resurrection, they go back to life as if the last three years didn’t happen. They go fishing. For fish.

And so Jesus does his classic “Jesus thing,” paralleling that first time he calls them. 100 yards from shore, the fog-hidden Jesus tells them to cast their nets out on the other side. The disciples miraculously fill their nets and are unable to haul it to shore.

And Peter does his classic “Peter thing,” and jumps into the sea because he knows that Jesus is alive indeed. Jesus makes Peter go grab the net (because of course Peter left the disciples to do it), and there are 153 fish inside this net. A net that didn’t break.

Scholars say that at the time, there were only 153 species of fish known in the world.

Biblical scholars say that this net–the net that didn’t break–is representative of the Church. The 153 fish represent the different types of people in the world. When the disciples were trying to go back to just “fishing for fish,” Jesus had bigger plans to show them why they are to continue “fishing for men.”

The net is big enough for everybody. No longer is the net confined to one type of person. Everybody is allowed.

What does this mean for the Church today?

Who are the fish that we are excluding from the net, that perhaps need the safety and comfort of the net? Why are we creating an “insiders vs outsiders” mentality in the church, when all of us were made in the precious image of God? We all deserve the net equally, and the fisherman shouldn’t discriminate from who he allows to be a part of the Church.

What is the baggage that we think will exclude us from the net? You see, the net can hold it all without breaking. It can hold all of your doubts, insecurities, sins, shortcomings, failures, successes, and anything else. Being a certain type of fish doesn’t get you tossed back into the sea.

Why are we not united like the net? One net, 153 fish. This is the Kingdom of God. This is the one net that can hold it all and won’t break. This is the one net that can hold you, me, your crazy uncle, and the person in the office next to you, the rude lady who flipped you off in traffic, your ex-boothang, that person on Facebook who has political views that make you want to hurl, your neighbor whose family looks different from yours, your landlord, and Taco Bell employees at 3am.

I’m so thankful to be a part of a congregation that acknowledges that we are all so incredibly different, but it’s one Kingdom that holds us all.

What are you fishing for? Are you freely fishing for men, all men? Or are you acting as if the resurrection never happened, and you’re back to exclusively fishing for fish?

On David and Bathsheba

faith, god, lessons, sin

We talked about David and Bathsheba yesterday with 5th and 6th grade…

…no, I don’t have a death wish.

When I heard this story growing up, I don’t think I got it. I think it was honestly told to me as a warning against sexual sin.

But to focus on the sin itself–whether we talk about the adultery, the murder, the lying–that misses the point completely.

And, as always, a sixth grader pointed it out to me.

When David confesses and repents in the 51st Psalm, he says, “You would be just to punish me.” He knows he deserves everything to be taken away from him-after all, it was God who gave it to him.

David also says, “You don’t desire a simple burnt offering as my sacrifice. What you desire is my heart and spirit to be broken for you–you will never turn that away.”

David knows that, although God could punish him and no one could call him unjust, that God can’t turn away a repentant heart. It is outside of his nature.

Sounds pretty simple, eh? God just requires our heart.

But it sounds freaking scary and outside of our nature.

It is really risky to be vulnerable with God.

It is scary to open our hearts up to anybody, but for some reason, it’s even scarier with the one who made our heart in his own image.

We have this tendency to smooth over our actions and admit they never happened. We move on with our life, and if we feel especially bad, do some sort of “penance” to pay for that sin–say something extra-kind, give extra in the offering plate, make sure we attend church that Sunday, pray more.

But God doesn’t want us to do more. He wants us more.

It’s like we’re back in the Garden of Eden, afraid to be vulnerable with God and let him see the “dirty parts” of us, and so we cover ourselves with fig leaves, thinking he won’t notice.

Because bearing our naked soul is scary.