Youth Ministry

Re-post: Ladderball and the Case for Intergenerational Ministry

This blog is a re-post from a previous entry post-choir tour back in June.  As a new school semester starts, what steps are your church taking to bring the generations together?  As a young adult in ministry, who's often the youngest person in the room (or nearly) during choir practice, I know my generation is hungry to work with those kingdom members who've already been where I am.  There's a lot to be learned from the older generations, but assumptions are often made on both sides of the generational divide, the big ones being:
1)  The young people just want to take over.
2)  The old people have nothing to teach me.
Vital congregations mix things up across the societal divisions from race to economic to generational.  What is your church doing to build the bridges?  Our faith family, through our youth and seniors ministry is beginning to bring in some innovative ideas, for which I'll be telling stories later, but to start with - what is your church family doing?

I just got back from youth choir tour to Nashville!  The first choir tour that I've ever planned and run as a worship pastor.  There were lots of precious moments, and many Aldersgate experiences along the way.  This is the first post of several focused on one of the best ministry experiences I've ever had.

Let me start off by saying that this tour was very different from previous tours that this youth choir had been on.  This was the 19th youth choir tour for my church, and needless to say it's become a juggernaut of a tradition.  It's become foundational in the fabric of our youth and music ministries and much of the year is devoted to fundraising and planning the trip.

The first major difference in the trip was the number of youth on tour.  The tour had had upwards of 80 students in the recent past, 35 last year (my first tour, I attended and directed the music, but our youth pastor ran the trip as it was my third week on the job).  We took 17 students this year.  There were and are multiple reasons for the small size, but there you go.

The second big change was that due to the  size of the group, the huge tour bus was out of the question.  Our church has even had the same bus driver for nearly all of the choir tours.   But we couldn't really justify the expense, and had to go with vans.  Very different, but turned out to be totally awesome.

The third big change was that we weren't able to book churches to sing at.  Many church were able to, and did, lodge our group, but no one (out of more than a hundred churches) was able to host a concert.  There were also many totally justifiable reasons for this, but again, there you go.

So where did we sing?  Retirement villages and nursing homes.  The youth had done the occasional retirement home, but how would they take to a tour entirely devoted to ministry to the elderly and disabled?

Our first gig was at a very nice retirement community, more of a condo living set-up.  A good way to ease in to a tour with more of a missional vibe.  When we had called the place, recommended to us by the church that was hosting us that night, the activities director enthusiastically invited us to share a concert with them.  They would also feed us dinner and would love it if we would play ladderball with the residents.

What's ladderball, you ask?  Apparently it's quite the phenomenon.  You can check it out here.  Think about it as a game of horseshoes that you can play indoors.

The concert was amazing.  The theme music to our tour this year was devoted to the Beatles, although we do a substantial sacred set during our concerts as well.  But the Beatles music was very important to the tour ... Not only are the Beatles awesome and the choir sang the music extremely well, but the Beatles were the soundtrack of the residents' youth.   We encouraged the residents to sing along, and they sure did.  Often times during that first concert our choir swelled from 17 to 75.  I couldn't see it, but I could see the looks on the students faces as we sang, and they were totally digging the joy in the room.

After a dinner of shepherd's pie came the real fun, a youth vs. residents game of ladderball.  A game that's more difficult than it looks.  The scriptures tell young people not to let people look down on them because they're young; I would add that we shouldn't let young people look down on older folks just because they have grey hair.  These folks had skills.

After an hour and four full rounds of ladder ball, the set was tied at 2 and 2, we came to a sudden death round.  One of our adults, all of whom participated throughout for the students' team, came in to give the students a win by one point.  I'm not going to lie, the win felt good,  but I did feel a little bad for winning.  But only a little.  There was a lot of heckling going on, on both sides, and it was hilarious.  Our youth were handing out nicknames like crazy.  Intergenerational ministry happened.  Something I'm starting to think of as the Promised Land for Christian Ministry.

The name of our tour this year was the "All You Need is Love Tour", and a whole lot of love was passed around that night.  The activities director said she had never seen her seniors so active, and I had never been so proud to be a youth choir director and worship pastor.  I've learned an awful lot about the goals of our youth pastor at our church ... doing what ever we can to get the different generations of our church to mix up and do life together.  It happened on our choir tour, at every gig in one way or another, and we aren't turning back from keeping it up in the years to come.

How does your church intentionally get different generations to work together?

7 Days of Ministry Memories

As a self-professed "Liturgy Nerd", I don't deal a lot in the theory of the work of the people.  I deal with the work in action.  Last week, I took 17 youth and 5 other adults to a lot of 'liturgical' locations.  Everywhere we went we were doing the work of the kingdom, be it singing to (and with) the least, the last, and the lost, to learning of our nation's civil rights struggle, to eating rocking awesome food, we worked and played together in community.  And did I mention that this is the first ever trip I've ever planned and run?  Yep.  Welcome to youth ministry for me.  That's not to say I didn't have a ton of good help before, during, and after the trip.

I'm going to try and pull out my favorite memory from each day.  This might be difficult!

This will be the third entry in my musings on choir tour, and probably my last one for now.  You can read the first two entries here and here!

Day 1:  Lift off!  Duncanville, TX to Hot Springs, AR
I've written a whole post about the ladderball episode.  It was a riot of a time.  Probably the best part of the proceedings was the random nickname calling.  It was just fun to watch the fellowship, and the heckling that passed between the residents and our students.  I'm still laughing about it.

Day 2:  Hot Springs to Memphis, TN for some fun
I'm not gonna lie, the whole reason for this trip destination was so I could partake of the God-blessed pork ribs at Rendezvous in Memphis.  And partake I did.  I ordered a full slab, and a few of the youth doubted I could finish it.  I probably could have taken on another slab.  But then I wouldn't have had room for the desert at TG Friday's later that night with the crew that were watching the NBA finals.

Day 3:  Gig in Bartlett, TN
We had prepared the students ahead of time for the type of gig we were doing this year.  While our first gig was for elderly folks, it was in a retirement community with people who were still on the move.  We enjoyed a wonderful time with those folks talking and laughing about life.  Our second gig was different though; it was in a true assisted living center (or nursing home).  We sang for them in their dining hall and the room was full of people, the vast majority in wheelchairs or the like.  Probably the most emotional moment of the trip for me was during our Beatles "Legends" medley.  While we were singing out Let It Be, I turned around to see a man singing so hard with his arms up that he was just about falling out of his chair.  It was a beautiful moment.

That morning we had also visited the National Civil Rights Museum on the site of the Lorraine Motel, the place where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.  I wasn't prepared as I walked the museum to find myself staring out of the very balcony on which the great man was shot.

Day 4:  Memphis to Nashville, with a gig in Franklin
The evening on this trip was an important one.  It was Junior/Senior night, the night when the juniors and seniors are rewarded for being great leaders throughout the year and on the trip.  After conferring with the YC President beforehand, we decided on BB Kings Restaurant and Blues Club.  There was live music from and All Star Blues Band that night ... The highlight for me was when the guy started singing "The Thrill is Gone" ... If you closed your eyes you would have thought that BB King himself was there.

Day 5:  Nashville for some more fun
The one true request made by the youth when we chose to go to Nashville for the tour was to go line dancing.  You probably wouldn't be surprised by this, but it's not easy to find a place to line dance that's both fun and family friendly.  After doing our homework, we landed on the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville.  And it couldn't have been a better choice.  We asked for a cater meal and they set us up in a 'private room', which was actually a section partitioned off right next to the dance floor ... Could not have been better seats!  And the BBQ ... So stinking good.   But Footloose takes the cake as the highlight of the night. 

We were staying at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, which is is full of all kinds of fun, so I'd planned to get out of Wildhorse earlier rather than later so we could all have fun running around the hotel.  But then the dance instructors announced (right after we got there) that they'd be teaching the epic-level line dance scene from the latest Footloose movie, later in the evening.  And like that my plans for an early return to the hotel were shot down.  But I tell you what ... watching nearly all of the youth out on the dance floor learning the moves was priceless.

Day 6:  Heading home!  Nashville, TN to West Monroe, LA
This was the long day of travel ... An 8 hour ride from Nashville to Monroe.  Full disclosure here ... I'm directionally challenged.  So when traveling, anywhere, I'm completely dependent on my GPS.  With good reason, I'm very trusting of the GPS, but, while you know it's always going to get you there, how it gets you there can be very sketchy.  Because a GPS unit knows all of the roads.  Even the dirt ones.  While we didn't drive any dirt roads, it sure wanted us to.  Probably the best part of the drive was a 20 mile trek through backwoods Arkansas.  I drove as fast as I could to get through it ... But slowed down a bit when I saw a man mowing his ginormous lawn on his riding mower, with his son, and both of them were shirtless.  I felt like we invaded some special and bizarre ritual.

Thankfully we did end up in Monroe on time, and partook of some awesome crawfish cooked up by some dear friends in ministry.

Day 7:  Homecoming!
The best moment of coming home was seen my wife and son for the first time in seven days.  Our boy is almost 6 months old and is learning new stuff every day, so it was crazy hard to be away for that long.  But they were there in the parking lot waiting for us, and when I took the little man, he couldn't stop laughing.  Best thing ever.

There were a whole lot of other fun memories from the tour, but this is the big stuff that sticks out to me.  I've been home for a week now, and things just pop up at random in conversation, and I think that that's what's fun about a trip like this that was so full of ministry.

I will say in conclusion that this felt like a Youth Ministry Graduation for me.  It was a blessed trip and I'm already working on next year!

Let's Talk About Water

This would be post #2 regarding our most recent Youth Choir Tour to the great state of Tennessee.  You can read the intro here.

An important teaching moment came up the day before we got home on choir tour.  I want to preface this entry by saying that I love the youth in my choir.  They are outstanding young people, every single one of them.  But a decision was made by a few created a situation that we had to stop and talk about for a moment.

It started earlier in the week.  It was a shorter trip than usual and we would be making frequent stops, but there was still a need for snacks and water on the trip.  My assistant went out and bought the usual things, chips, fruit snacks, crackers, bottled water and Gatorade.  No sodas.  It seemed all good, just stuff to get us through when we would be sleeping in churches.  But on night one, a problem was brought to my attention.

All the bottled water was flavored.  And apparently this was a huge problem.

It started small, with sad glances and sighs.  But it soon became clear that I was going to have a rebellion on my hands.

I'd thrown out various suggestions during the week to deal with our unfortunate situation.  I suggested drinking down one bottle of the stuff (which really wasn't bad) and filling it at the water fountain.  When things got particularly frustrating, I simply said, "When we run out, I'll buy you regular bottled water."  I think that this was the suggestion that got the proverbial ball rolling.

On Friday of the tour I went over to grab one of the bottles of watter, still in the cardboard box with the others, and I opened it.  I immediately noticed that it had already been opened.  Then I looked and saw that many others had been opened as well.  I took a sip and found that the bottle in my hand had been filled with tap water, as had the other open bottles.  I'm not going to lie here ... I was fuming a bit.  Because I knew that the flavored water inside that bottles had not been drunk, it had been poured out.

I was fuming, but it was just about time to get on the road.  I was going to let it slide.  We were heading towards fun day in Nashville, and there were bigger fish to fry.  It was just a prank.

Then came Saturday.  One of my chaperones had filled up the cooler in the back of his van, unbeknowst to him it was with the already opened bottles.  I was thirsty, so I grabbed a bottle to find out what it was.  You see, I always carry my water bottle with me.  I'm not scared of water out of a tap, but I had already drunk it and we were making a rest stop and I needed the water.  Needless to say, I'm the only one that touches my personal water bottle.   I know that these bottles of tampered-with water are full of clean water from a fountain, but yet again, I'm fuming.

I walk back to my van to tell the adults riding my van the tale, and they inform me that not only had the bottled water been tampered with, but a full package (60 bottles) of the offensive flavored water had been left behind two days ago with a note to the church thanking us for letting us stay there.  And I officially boil over.  Awesome sauce.

Thankfully, the two adults in my van talk me off the ledge that would have been snapping at the students in that moment.  I take a deep breath, but this has touched a real nerve with me.  We need to do some quick teaching on water scarcity.  We load up, and I call my wife to look up some statistics regarding water needs worldwide.  Here are some of the shocking things she sent me, via the World Health Organization, the UN and various places around the internet:
  • 3.575 million people die each year from a water related disease - that's equal to the number of people who live in Los Angeles
  • 884 million people lack access to clean water - that's almost 3 times the united states population
  • 780 million people lack access to an improved water source; approximately one in nine people.
  • 3.41 million people die from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes each year.
  • An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day.
  • Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness
When we got off the vans for lunch, I gathered everybody up and laid on them a few of those stats, and a few things I know from my time in Louisiana.

Post-Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav, bottled water saved lives in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas.  Bottled water also saved lives after floods in Iowa, Nashville, and Atlanta.  Bottle water saved lives after natural disasters in Haiti and Japan, and continues to in countless other places in the world where people don't have access to clean water.

I tried to impress on them that the world's water problems are huge ... A lot bigger than we realize in our Dallas suburb.  So I wasn't mad at them ... These problems seem like a world away from where we live, so how could they really know?  But I did leave them with a point ... The least we can do is not pour our a resource that's so precious to the rest of the world.  A water-starved kid in Africa wouldn't care if the water tasted like raspberries.  It's just water.

So, next year we won't be bringing flavored bottled water on the trip.  I learned my lesson there!  Instead, we'll bring water bottles.  I'll probably have some made or encourage students to bring their own.  I mean, clearly tap water doesn't bother them either!

I also learned that keeping counsel with an adult team is essential to any trip (and ministry, period).  They helped me do as the Apostle Paul directed in his letter to Ephesus and "speak the truth in love".  At the heart of Christian ministry is truth, love, and teamwork.