Friday, January 9, 2009

Contemplative Youth Ministry?

Here at ignite student ministry, we have been working on a more contemplative approach to youth ministry. After we (myself, my wife, and Tom and Jess Leick) heard Mark Yaconelli speak at the National Youth Workers' Conference in Sacramento this year, we were struck by the power of his opening prayer. He lead all of us in an imaginative prayer, that calmed our thoughts and gave us all a chance to talk to Jesus before he did his speach. This struck me as weird. I've never seen someone give a talk to a huge audience and spend probably 10 minutes in a prayer time. We decided to pick up some of his books and see what it was all about. I've always been into leading kids to meditate more in prayer, but had never found a good way to communicate it.

After I had read the first book, ( )I realized a few things and decided to do a little experiment in our youth ministry. I don't have a huge ministry, and we were kind of at a plateau so I thought it would be a good time to try something new.

We started first of all, by changing the way we look at our ministry. We stopped looking so freaking hard at numbers and started looking at students through the eyes of Christ. We realized that encountering students one at a time, and fully listening to them was very important. So we worked on ourselves first, spending more time in prayer, encouraging each other to pray more and tried more consciously to Notice God in our ministry and in our lives. What a huge difference that made to our ministry.

Second, we started a weekly prayer time (suggested by my genius wife, of course) where we would spend a half an hour (that's right, 30 minutes) minimum at the end of every meeting, to lead students through a prayer time and let them fully encounter silence as a group. I think every one of my volunteer leaders, my boss, and myself, were completely nervous about this move. We thought it might work for a week, but really expected kids to be fidgeting, farting, giggling, etc.

We were wrong. Our first prayer service with the High School students proved very powerful. Students were in deep reflection, and got a lot out of the prayer time and Lectio Divina (another post, another time) exercise that we did. Later that week we had our middle school meeting, with about 30 6,7,and 8th graders. I expected chaos and misery, but instead was in awe of the students grasp of the silence and prayer time. We did a Center Down Prayer (again, another time) which led into a lectio exercise based on Romans 12:1,2. I was pretty impressed that some of our more gaseous, distractable 6th graders stayed in silence. After some time into a silence in the lectio exercise, I started to hear sniffling. It spread and by the time that we turned the lights back up, we found many students weeping. (of course, we blamed it on teenage horomones and excessive emotions). After I gave some students a chance to share with the group what they got out of their prayer time (wow) I spent some time with the kids who were crying. "I've never had peace like that before..." was my favorite remark, among others about being at peace and really encountering Christ.

All this was in the first week of our "experiment" with a contemplative approach! Needless to say, we have continued in our prayer times, and have even hosted a spiritual retreat weekend, for high school students, where they got to learn a lot of prayer exercises and participate in hours of silence (that's right, I said hours). I will blog about that specific weekend and maybe about some of the details of our prayer exercises, but most of my resources have come from the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project, led by Mark Yaconelli. Check out their website.

I am wondering if there are any out there who might read this blog, that have anything to say about the contemplative approach and whether or not they have tried it. comments please



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