Youth Specialties Blog

Confessions of a Hypocrite

By Jeremy Del Rio on May 27 2009 | 1 Comments

Confessions of a Youth Pastor Hypocrite on Loving the Least of These: Meeting Jesus on the Lower East Side

[The following is an excerpt of Jeremy Del Rio's latest article originally published in the May/June 2009 issue of The Journal of Student Ministries. Read the entire article here, or subscribe to The Journal here.] Salvation I often wondered why God sent me back, why God valued the delay on my walk to work. What really happened that day? Did anything change for her? Maybe. Maybe not. But something changed for me. That day God saved me from myself, and in the process reacquainted me with God’s kingdom. Hopefully, she experienced it, too. Salvation visited me in the person of a homeless runaway who forced me to confront my tendency, even as a youth pastor, to live for myself instead of those around me. My tendency to gravitate to people, places, and partners that could add value to my ministry. To pursue relationships for what I could get rather than what I could give. The most marginalized and vulnerable among us, like smelly teenagers who act out or hide out or check out, are easiest to overlook. But they are also the very ones God most desires us to love. ... Why Love the Least of These? Why does Jesus require us to love the “least of these”? Is it because he needs us to save them? Or is it because we need them to save us? During my thirty-something crisis, I rediscovered that when all else fails, Jesus can be found within arms reach. Not only does he live among inner-city kids, but also he similarly identifies with the ADHD student that interrupts a youth pastor’s sermon. He sleeps beside the homeless teenager and burned-out stoner. The latchkey kid is Christ’s constant companion. He’s sitting next to the loner who attends youth group because mom makes her, but she hasn’t said more than two words to the youth worker, ever. Jesus weeps for the thug teen’s heartache. His broken body, which hung naked and exposed, can be seen among the disabled. His visage reflects in the Goth kid’s mirror. He accompanies the bicurious and the “out loud and proud.” The good kids, the pretty ones, the smart and talented ones, the cool ones—we’re told that they bring the most bang for our youth ministry buck. They’re the influencers, the ones with the greatest perceived potential. So why not invest a disproportionate amount of our time and energy in them? For the same reason that Jesus hung out with prostitutes and sinners, the racially despised and socially outcast, the broken in body and spirit: Christ’s kingdom belongs to such as these. If young people have been labeled, rejected, disrespected, or otherwise demeaned by those around them, God chooses to reveal himself through them. The Kingdom’s Agenda As we learn from them how to love God and others well, God’s kingdom advances. There’s no formula for how to love well, no three steps to make it easy. Being kind demands sacrifice. Being available demands inconvenience. Extending grace, mercy, and forgiveness is painful sometimes. Pursuing justice for others may require paying for it ourselves. Being among them necessitates forsaking what’s comfortable. Salvation brings with it a cross.

By Jeremy Del Rio on May 27 2009 | 1 Comments


Numb to Numbers

By Shawn Michael Shoup on May 26 2009 | 1 Comments

1056141_90056114 Are you thinking numbers?  Many youth workers are — especially as the summer draws near and several youth groups see a seasonal drop in attendance. Does measuring success in youth ministry = playing the numbers game? I’m a firm believer that the fruit of ministry does NOT boil down neatly into how many warm bodies are in a room at one time. Numbers are important, yes... but that's only because numbers — in this context — are people. And hopefully, these “numbers” are lives that are being influenced. Measuring this kind of influence isn’t easy. How do we know when we’re growing? When we’re succeeding? I suppose it comes down to… (I’d better stop and think here. I’m supposed to be a paid “professional”. I should know the answer to this.) …Jesus.
Jesus showing Himself larger in a student’s life than the influences of the culture. A student becoming the hands and feet of Jesus through outreach, serving, and loving people that everyone else rejects. A student that desires daily communion with Jesus. Jesus living through a student that stirs up some old, religious thinking. A group of students that have Jesus' heart for others more than they are interested in getting self-gratification out of a weekly service experience. A group of students who value worshipping Jesus, not just by singing songs, but with their lives. Student’s who have given their lives over to Jesus on Mondays and Tuesdays, not just Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. Students who don’t just pay lip service to the words of Jesus, but act on them. Lives that have been transformed and set free by the incredible, extraordinary love of Jesus.
Numbers are good. They help us to measure things. But numbers aren’t everything. I’d much rather have Jesus. NOTE: This post was originally posted at Youth Min Blog.

By Shawn Michael Shoup on May 26 2009 | 1 Comments


Prescription Pill Abuse Among Adolescents

By YS on May 26 2009 | 24 Comments

Smart, beautiful, and the life of the party, Gabby was only 20 years old. She had a permanent smile and whenever she was near; you could not help but be drawn to her. As it turns out Gabby was an opiate addict. In March of 2009, six of her friends carried her casket to her grave site, a life cut short by a prescription drug overdose. Gabby was my cousin. The good news is that pot, alcohol, cigarettes, meth, ecstasy and LSD are being abused less nowadays by American teenagers compared to the 1990s. However, we are not out of the water. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which has surveyed adolescents and young adults from across the country since 1975, misuse of prescription drugs is on the increase. Vicodin has been particularly popular recently; a study by the University of Michigan in 2005 found that nearly ten percent of 12th-graders had used it in the previous year and more than five percent said they had used OxyContin. These drugs are prescribed regularly by physicians for minor and major pain management. Both drugs are now more popular among high school seniors than ecstasy and cocaine. Ritalin and adderall, used most often to treat attention-deficit-disorder, are also being abused at an alarming rate. Even drugs you might not associate with “getting high,” such as those used to treat anxiety disorders such as Xanax or Valium, are prime targets for teens. Why are teens switching to prescription drugs nowadays? Teenagers may feel there is less of a stigma about taking pills because they see them as medicine. They’re also just easier to get. Many teens experiment with the prescriptions from their very own parents' medicine cabinets. Adults often forget about the pills once they have recovered from whatever malady they were prescribed for. These prescription drugs are also worth serious money. The estimated street value of just one OxyContin pill is about $40. In May 2002 authorities at a high school in Mahomet, Illinois, discovered that 16 students were distributing Ritalin, OxyContin, and hydrocodone to other students. The school principal was alerted to the students' activities after he received a phone call from a parent who believed his son may have taken OxyContin from the parent's medicine cabinet to sell at school. According to the school superintendent, the students were selling their own medication or medication belonging to their parents or siblings. (Source: Associated Press, 24 May 2002.) Even more shocking are the reports of “Pharm Parties” or “Skittles Parties where young people are encouraged to bring pills to share with the other participants. The pills are allegedly dumped into a bowl or bag and the partiers grab whatever catches their fancy, often mixing drugs that, in combination with each other or with alcohol, can have a lethal effect. Here are three important things youth workers can do to prevent kids from misusing prescription medication: EDUCATE: Educate yourself about medications that kids are abusing. Learn about the signs and symptoms of certain drugs. Share this information with others who are in contact with the kids in your ministries such as parents, school administrators, coaches and counselors. Create an expanded network of support for the students in your community. COMMUNICATE: Talk with teens and find out if they, or their peers, are using medications without doctors' orders. Make sure they understand the dangers of taking any medication that has not been prescribed specifically for them. They need to understand that they could become addicted, suffer health consequences, or even die. Sadly, many kids simply do not know this. Need ideas? Here’s what we did at my church. With the help of area experts who agreed to come and speak for us, we developed a “Coping With…” series for our teens, which addressed many heavy issues that are not typically talked about in church. We invited students, parents, and outside youth workers to join us. Topics for discussion included suicide, depression, self-injury, eating disorders, addiction, and other “dark” material. We received such tremendous feedback from all the participants that this event has become a bi-annual series at our church. SANCTUARY: So much of the drug-abusing culture is communal. It is a bonding experience among friends and students who are often left to fend for themselves. Using drugs may be the easiest way for some teens to connect with other students. In order to combat this problem, make your ministry a safe place for your students and their friends. Cultivate an alternative community that meets the students’ need to belong. They need to feel accepted, regardless of what they believe at that given moment. When young people seek relief and connection through maladaptive means, it is our job to face that fact and to do something about it. It requires people who are willing to enter the messiness of walking with adolescents regardless of what it cost. It also requires us to model the love of Christ in such a way that they won’t need or settle for anything less. Chris Schaffner is a Recovery Specialist, a youth worker and founder of Conversations on the Fringe. Conversations on the Fringe (CotF) is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.

By YS on May 26 2009 | 24 Comments


An interview with Jen Howver, co-author of Secret Survivors (and my thoughts on the book)

By Sara Eden Williams on May 25 2009 | 3 Comments

A few months ago I had the privilege of interviewing Jen Howver, one of the authors of Secret Survivors.

Here is how the YS site describes the book…

Secret Survivors tells the compelling, true stories of people who have lived through painful secrets-things that they kept to themselves until they could no longer bear the pain alone. As you read their stories, you’ll be drawn into their journeys towards healing, and you’ll understand why it’s so important to share your secret with someone else in order to start your own healing process. Read the stories of people, who as teens and young adults, dealt with issues like:

  • Date rape
  • Physical abuse
  • Cutting
  • Pornography addiction
  • Eating disorders
  • Incest
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Abortion

You may find a story that sounds similar to your own secret pain, or you may learn more about secrets that a friend or family member is dealing with. Whether your own story is represented in these pages or not, you’ll feel a connection to the people in these stories, because we all have some kind of pain tucked away. But you don’t have to feel alone in your pain anymore. After you read the stories of these survivors, you’ll find the strength you need to share your own secret and start healing your heart and soul.

I read this book with two different perspectives. I read it as a youthworker and also as a survivor myself.  I can say with some credibility that Secret Survivors lives up to it’s description. The stories included in the book offer understanding and hope to those who feel like they have no choice but to suffer alone.

The honesty, transparency and hope found in the pages make this book a must read for students and leaders alike. We can never really know what it feels like to go through the things addressed in the book – unless we’ve gone through them ourselves. But the courageous testimonies of the young men and women in the book give us some insight to the struggles our students may be up against.

Here is my interview with Jen…

How did you decide to write the book and share your own stories as a part of it? Was it a clear call from God that you immediately followed or was it something you wrestled with?

I (Jen) actually felt for a long time that I needed to do something with my story, and since writing is what I do, a book seemed a natural choice. However, I always had good excuses as to why I wasn’t writing it…too busy, to nervous, to unsure of myself…and the list went on. It wasn’t until I had two people close to me experiencing some pretty traumatic stuff that I decided it was time to finally write the book. I emailed all my friends looking for good stories to include in the book, and Megan replied to me saying that she wanted to help me write it. I knew Megan and knew that she had an amazing ministry to hurting teens, so I welcomed the partnership.

I notice that there are more girls profiled than boys. Was that a conscious choice as authors or was it easier to find girls that would be open about their stories?

We initially chose the topics we wanted to cover. Most of those tend to be more prominent issues among girls than guys, although we certainly would have loved to find stories of guys who were victims of sexual abuse (and willing to talk about it). It’s definitely still more taboo for guys to talk about being victims of sexual abuse (often because it’s a same-sex perpetrator, and therefore issues of homosexuality and gender confusion tend to make guys even less comfortable to talk about their experience). So, to make a long answer short, no, it was not a conscious choice to have more girls than guys in the stories.

How did you go about finding/selecting young people to profile?

Megan obviously had a lot of people she knew who had gone through some pretty intense stuff and come out on the other side. Some were people who help lead in her ministry, Life Hurts God Heals, and others were former students in the program. We had some recommendations from friends of people to talk to, and of course, our own stories are there as well.

In so many of the stories, the young men and women struggle with more than one of the things your book covers. What do you think this says about the things we struggle with?  How do we help students avoid this snowball effect?

One of the things we were fascinated by as we finished each interview was the amount of similarity between the experiences each of us had as a result of carrying our secret. Even though we each lived through something totally different, as we held on to our pain, it became like a cancer that ate away at us in so many ways. Honestly, the pain of carrying a secret (which usually involves a lot of shame, guilt, and embarrassment), can become so overwhelming that you begin to look for ways to cope with the pain. I think that’s why so many of the stories also involved eating disorders or self-injury as a means to cope with the pain of the original secret. It’s like we were using these other coping mechanisms for two things: to punish ourselves for whatever it was we felt we had done wrong, and to exert some kind of control in our lives, which felt so completely out of our control.  I think one way to help students avoid the snowball effect is to help them understand how it all fits together. We don’t just cut because we are sad or angry. We cut because of something much deeper. We don’t decide to drink or smoke dope because it makes us feel good. We do it because it helps us mask the pain we’re feeling inside. Granted, not every kid is carrying deep pain like the people in our book, but we know that they’re all carrying something that often causes them to act out or shut down in one way or another. Honestly, the first step of telling someone about your secret is really the most important thing we can help teenagers do. By providing a place where they feel safe and loved and accepted—no matter what—we can help them open up. If we don’t know what they’re dealing with, we really can’t help them. So if we can help them find the courage to share their secret, then we can walk with them down a journey towards healing, towards becoming a survivor.

How did you select the resources, helplines, etc. that are listed in the back of the book?

A few of these resources and websites were places that we had come across because of friends who were either running them or who recommended the sites or resources to us. Many of the resources are long-standing, respected support groups or networks that have been successful for countless people around the world. Megan did a lot of research for the resources she’s written, and that’s how a lot of the other sites/organizations were found.

What would you say to parents/friends who fear their loved one is fighting one of the battles you talk about?

The biggest thing they can do is to be a loving, encouraging, supportive, non-judgmental place for the one they care about. Each of us in the book kept our secret hidden because we were afraid of what people would think, or how people would respond, or how they’d view us after they knew our secret. Also, ask the person directly… They may deny it, or they may feel a great sense of relief that they no longer have to keep it a secret from you anymore.

Be loving, encouraging, supportive and non-judgmental. Important advice for all of us when we encounter these difficult topics.

I HIGHLY recommend this book. You can find it here.

By Sara Eden Williams on May 25 2009 | 3 Comments


Memorial Day 2009

By YS on May 25 2009 | 0 Comments

By YS on May 25 2009 | 0 Comments


Time Enough

By Brooklyn Lindsey on May 25 2009 | 4 Comments

I'm type "A" when it comes to work. The type A-ness helps me mostly, but some days it causes me to feel pressed for time and unable to really prepare for things as well as I would like to. I want to do more for middle schoolers, to be their spiritual guide and their goof guru. But there's so much to do, I say to myself, and often miss out on opportunities to really see students where they are. Today I was reading my cherished old school copy of A Guide To Prayer for Ministers & Other Servants when a reading from Henri Nouwen freed me up. I may have looked at this particular reading twelve times since college but it didn't quite arrest me like it did today. He says, "often we're not as pressed for time as much as we feel we're pressed for time." The opening line was interesting, I kept reading. He remembers a time when teaching at Yale when the demands felt so thick that he withdrew to the Trappist monastery at Geneso, New York. He planned on retreating from his planning, teaching, lecturing, and counseling so he could experience solitude and prayer. Then he recalls the second day of his retreat when a group of high school students arrive at the monastery and ask Henri to give them a retreat. Henri puffs to the abbot that he did not come here for the "enormous work" of preparing five meditations for these students. He said, "I don't want to do it." The abbot told him, "You're going to do it."And Henri replied, "Why should I spend my sabbatical time preparing all those things?" The abbots reply... ..."Prepare? You've been a Christian for forty years and a priest for twenty, and a few high school students want to have a retreat. Why do you have to prepare? What those boys and girls want is to be a part of your life in God for a few days. If you pray half an hour in the morning, sing in our choir for an hour, and do your spiritual reading, you will have so much to say you could give ten retreats." The question, you see, is not to prepare but to live in a state of preparedness so that, when someone who is drowning in the world come into your world, you are ready to reach our and help. It may be at four o'clock, six o'clock, or nine o'clock. One time you call it preaching, the next time teaching, then counseling, or later administration. But let them be part of your life in God--that's ministering." Like I said, arrested... *Reading from "Time Enough to Minister" in Leadership (Spring 1982)

By Brooklyn Lindsey on May 25 2009 | 4 Comments


Tough Topics

By YS on May 23 2009 | 7 Comments

tough-topics Youth Specialties brings your favorite discussion starters to the iPhone and iPod. Now you can kick off discussions wherever you are, anywhere your ministry takes you. Turn downtime into relationship building time. Tough Topics brings you over 600 thought-provoking questions that will challenge you towards a deeper understanding of the Bible, a richer relationship with God, and insight into his purposes in their lives. Version 1.0 Features:
  • 4 categories of topics: Psalms, Proverbs, Life & God, Jobs & Career
  • Going deeper: Follow-up discussion suggestions and Bible references
  • Favorites: Save your favorite questions to come back to later
  • Recents: Easily go back to recently viewed questions
Troubleshooting: If you experience any problems with Tough Topics, please leave a comment here or go to our troubleshooting area. Buy and rate now! app_store-badge Screenshots: screenshot2screenshot3

By YS on May 23 2009 | 7 Comments


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