I was asked the following question. What research have you come across that would be helpful for
youth workers to better understand how the systems and events of this culture are
Great question. A paper entitled Brands:
The Opiate of the Nonreligious Masses?, has been published in Marketing
Science.[i] The research team was made up of
scholars from Tel Aviv University, Duke University and New York
University. According to their
data they claim that religiously minded people are less interested in consumer
products that are branded by a major brand name. In the study those who claim to be non-religious are much
more reliant on well-known brand products, especially when they have the
financial means to afford major brands.
The research team theorizes,
“Brands and religiosity may serve as substitutesfor one another
because both allow individuals to express theirfeelings of
"’Brands are a signal of
self-worth,’ Fitzsimons[ii] said. ‘We're signaling to others that we care about
ourselves and that we feel good about ourselves and that we matter in this
world. It's more than I'm hip or cool,
he said: ‘I'm a worthwhile person, and I matter, and you should respect me and
think that I'm a good person, because I've got the D&G on my glasses.’"[iii]
The Christian faith
is to be lived within a community of practice. Being connected to a faith community says a lot about who a
person is and what they value. If
we don’t know who we are in Jesus Christ and if we struggle to make meaning out
of life through faith then, certainly Apple, Juicy Couture, Gap or Urban
Outfitters more than willing to help fill the void by providing some sense of
self-worth, right? Some marketers are actually attempting to attach
religious overtone to some brands in order to attract consumers looking for
meaning, identity and purpose in life – think True Religion.
Andy Root pointed out, at a youth worker training day
at Youthfront, that young adults are selecting and creating identities for
themselves. One can create their
own profile and craft an identity based on what they buy, wear and
consume. This raises the
importance of a renewed and vigorous emphasis on Christian formation and an
intentional theological exploration of what it means to help adolescents form an
identity rooted in Jesus Christ. I
believe a theology that focuses on what it means to live a cruciform life is
essential in the midst of our consumerist cultural realities.
I think this study is very interesting for those of us who
are involved in ministry to adolescents and young adults as we engage in
dialogue about what brings meaning to our lives. The researchers claims that those who are identified as
“religious minded” people are less likely to be enslaved by major status brands
is encouraging to me. Embracing an
ethos that Jesus Christ is enough will
help us counter the script that suggests we find meaning through the creed I consume, therefore I am.
My article was originally published in Slant33.
[i] "Brands: The Opiate of the Non-Religious Masses?"
Ron Shachar, Tülin Erdem, Keisha M. Cutright, Gavan J. Fitzsimons, Marketing
Science, articles in advance, Sept. 24, 2010. DOI: 10.1287/mksc.1100.0591
[ii] Gavan J. Fitzsimons; R. David
Thomas Professor of Marketing and Psychology; F.M. Kirby Research Fellow; Duke
Laura Larsen lives in Kansas City, working for Youthfront and
Second Presbyterian Church. Currently a DMin student at Fuller, she
would be happy spending every afternoon with students and tweeting from
@thelauralarsen. Laura is most spiritually disciplined in the fall when
she is busy praying and fasting for her beloved LSU Tigers.
Pastoral Vocation in Youth Ministry by Laura Larsen
Finding out about abuse has always been the worst-case
scenario for me. Over my years of youth ministry I have slowly knocked bad
situations off my list of tough stuff.
Take a kid to the hospital. Check.
Get in a wreck with students in the bus. Check. Walk closely with a teen through the
death of a parent, ask a volunteer to step away from the ministry, deal with high-schoolers
smoking dope on a trip. Check,
This summer I came face to face with the toughest situation
of all as I sat on the porch of a cabin and listened late one night. I had been bracing myself for this
moment for years – waiting for the day that I would hear about the brokenness
of this world invading the life of one I loved so dearly. Our conversation
ended much differently than I had always imagined, though. I didn’t make a
phone call to CPS or give my senior pastor a general heads up about what was
going on. I didn’t tell anyone;
actually, because the story of abuse I heard wasn’t from an adolescent in our
ministry, it was from a mom.
For a few years now I have wrestled
with my identity as a youth pastor.
So much of my training has insisted that my title is youthpastor – adolescent development articles, social media workshops, YouTube tutorials
breaking down the steps to the “Hoedown Throwdown” or “Gangnam style”. Often the implication seems to be that my role as pastor is
secondary to my ability to relate to youth culture.
While the larger
conversation often wants me to believe that I am a youthpastor, my experience as taught me the opposite. In almost all of my most significant
ministerial moments, I have acted as youth pastor. When tragedy strikes a family or a teen admits deep existential
doubts, no one seems to care if I know the difference between “LOL” and
“YOLO.” In those moments it matters most that I can extend grace,
that I can sit in the sacred silence and listen. My role as youth pastor is as much about pastor than it is
The conversation on the
porch that night was enough to put me over the edge -- it was a deeply pastoral
experience that had almost nothing to do with adolescence. It pushed me to contemplate which word
in my title was more important. My
passion calling to be a youth pastor didn’t change, but the way I approached my
vocation experienced a significant shift.
I like to think I am still a
pretty hip youth pastor but I now make a concerted effort to spend more time
cultivating my pastoral imagination than my youth culture relevance. I still read a little Epstein and Arnett
but mostly I’m soaking in Peterson and Buechner and Nouwen. The responsibility of my vocation is
pastor. Youth is just a helpful
adjective to describe those to whom I pastor.
What is the future of Christian proclamation in a society increasingly driven by networked technologies and 140-character communications? What place does preaching to young people have in such a society, and what form might it take? How might we move from mere sermons and “youth talks” into affecting the lives of young hearers?
I'm excited to participate in this important Conference. COME JOIN US.
Immerse is a proud sponsor of the National Youth Worker Convention Theological Forums again this year. Over the next months leading up to the conferences we will be having some of the panelists that will be at the forums sharing some pre-cursory thoughts on some of the questions they will be asked. This week our friend Andy Root lets us in on his preparation for the up coming eschatology panel.
As I was preparing for my eschatology panel in Dallas at the National Youth Workers Convention, I got an email from a youth worker asking for some insight on why he was so uncomfortable with a youth mission trip he had just gone on. He explained that his young people spent all day working, motivated by rhetoric from the leadership on how big a difference they were making, how they were changing the world. The kids were told over and over again that if they really believed in Jesus and really wanted it, they could do anything.
Yet, he explained, “I’ve now been back there six years in a row, same place, and honestly things aren’t getting better but worse. So what are we doing there?”
I thought it was a great question and one that could only be answered through an eschatological perspective embedded in the resurrection of Jesus. As I’ll say on that panel in Dallas on eschatology, the only way for eschatology not to be weird (like a poorly done Christian Apocalyptic movie) is for all our eschatological assertions to be embedded in the person and action of Jesus. Jesus is the man of the eschaton because Jesus is the new Adam. Unlike his friend Lazarus, who is raised to die again, Jesus is the man of the future, man of completion because, now alive, death is no more. (Death is no more for him, and because we are in him, as Paul says, we are promised that one day death will be no more for us too. But this is in our future, in the eschaton, though it is now for Jesus—because he is the man of the future).
What did I say back? Something like this: (which, by the way, comes from an upcoming book, Unlocking Eschatology and Mission in Youth Ministry [Zondervan 2012]).
A mission trip in youth ministry is about witnessing to the resurrection; it is not about bringing the resurrection. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the resurrection. The mission trip is about joining in God’s action by entering death with people, trusting that our actions are windows into the promise of God to take all that is death (hungry stomachs, sagging roofs, parentless children) and bring life out of it. Promise can happen only within reality, only within bearing death. But promise honestly enters into the death of this reality, hoping and waiting for the next, the new reality.
It is about what is coming. The mission trip is standing in reality while, through our action, witnessing to the action of God, who promises to overcome death in all its forms.
The youth ministry mission trip possesses no power to bring forth justice. But it nevertheless bends its life toward justice by seeking the person of Jesus who brings forth the coming of God’s future, when all will be fed and cared for. So now, today, we feed and care for others as a sacrament of the fullness of God’s coming future.
There is a Youth Director position open at Second Presbyterian Church in the Brookside area of Kansas City. I have had the privilege to participate with the great team at Second Presbyterian in developing this position. There is some flexibility with this position concerning the amount of hours per week.
Paul Rock is the pastor at Second Presbyterian and he is a visionary and thoughtful leader. I'm excited about working with Paul, the congregation and the new Youth Director in designing a theologically robust youth ministry at Second. As the President of Youthfront, I'm also interested in exploring the possiblity of discussing a Youthfront role for whoever is hired for the Second Presbyterian position.
Immerse and Youthfront is a proud sponsor of the National Youth Worker Convention Theological Forums again this year. Over the next months leading up to the conferences we will be having the various panelists that will be at the forums sharing some pre-cursory thoughts on some of the questions they will be asked. This week our friend Amy Jacober is speaking briefly to her experience with interpreting scripture.
I have had more than one conversation about a concern regarding me allegedly not taking scripture seriously enough. Ironically, it is because I have such a high view of scripture that I end up in such conversations. It is always a little uncomfortable for people when they learn they have aligned their lives around biblical beliefs that are, well…not biblical.
While I can think of several times this has been the case, early in my ministry career an incident took place that has become a theme in my life. Years ago I served as a Bible Study leader for my denominational camp. What this meant was that for 10 weeks that summer, new groups of churches would trust their youth to our staff and we got to lead them in Bible study, recreation and a whole host of other really fun and silly things. Relationships were formed and theological questions came up daily.
In my very first week of camp on the very first day of Bible study, a student asked if the Bible allowed drinking. I mustered every bit of wisdom my 21 year-old self had and said I didn’t want to speak out of turn and would do some research and return the following day with an answer. That night I checked with my roommate, our director and every translation of the Bible we had, not to mention a commentary or two. I came ready to share what I had learned. And what I learned was that drinking was not forbidden but drunkenness was (Ephesians 5:18). I also reminded the group that in this country, we are also called to obey the law of the land and the legal age for drinking was 21 so the issue of their drinking was not an option for any of them as high school students (Romans 13:1). I then shared that as believers, we sometimes are held to higher standards and that our entire staff had signed a contract promising to not drink throughout the entire summer. I was proud of all that I had shared, thought I had offered a solid response that under no circumstances should a high-schooler be drinking and backed it up with scripture! Recreation came next and lunch followed.
Before I could even finish getting my lunch there was a clearly ticked off woman making a beeline for me. She grabbed my arm and pulled me over to her table with a few other angry leaders waiting. She asked why I had told all her youth that it was OK to drink. Stunned, I listened to her vent for a few moments and then offered my explanation of what had happened. I pointed out my careful study of the passages and that I had said it was okay to drink but not get drunk, that we must also obey the law of the land and even go above that sometimes as Christians. She looked at me and said I had undermined all her church had been teaching. Slowly and calmly (and in a moment of clarity I still can’t explain) I asked her to show me which passage she had used in her teaching as I would love to follow suit if her teaching was based on something more than personal opinion. She simply said to me that I was wrong and that I clearly didn’t know what the Bible said. There was no reasoning with her at that point. She asked for all of her students to be removed from the Bible study I was leading and called for me to be fired.
While I managed to maintain my job I was told, by my supervisor that it was better to share the opinions of the churches even when they seem to contradict scripture. That was the only time in my career that idea was instructed to me explicitly but over the last 20 years it has been implicitly communicated to me numerous times and in numerous ways. Including from inside some of the academic institutions where I was teaching.
James K.A. Smith from Calvin College writes for Duke Divinity's Faith and Leadership about how innovation requires grounding in tradition if it is going to truly flourish. The article is entitled, "Tradition for Innovation" and I guess I'm posting it because I really agree with the core of what he's saying. Here are some of his thoughts:
"The entrepreneurial independence of evangelical spirituality leaves room for all kinds of congregational startups that require little if any institutional support. Catering to increasingly specialized “niche” audiences, these startups are not beholden to liturgical forms or institutional legacies. Indeed, many proudly announce their desire to 'reinvent church.'”
"If the church is going to send out 'restorers' who engage culture for the common good, we need to recover and remember the rich imaginative practices of historic Christian worship that carry the unique story of the gospel."
Smith also describes "many ways in which the liturgical tradition nurtures and replenishes the imagination:"
"• Kneeling in confession and voicing “the things we have done and the things we have left undone …” tangibly and viscerally impresses upon us the brokenness of our world and humbles our own pretensions;
• Pledging allegiance in the Creed is a political act -- a reminder that we are citizens of a coming kingdom, curtailing our temptation to overidentify with any configuration of the earthly city;
• The rite of baptism, where the congregation vows to help raise a child alongside the parents, is just the liturgical formation we need to be a people who can support those raising children with intellectual disabilities or other special needs;
• Sitting at the Lord’s Table with the risen King, where all are invited to eat, is a tactile reminder of the just, abundant world that God longs for."
This is the quote I wish I could have tweeted but it was past the character count.
"We cannot hope to re-create the world if we are constantly reinventing “church.” Instead, we will reinvent ourselves right out of the story. Liturgical tradition is the platform for imaginative innovation."