Talking Points for Pretty Little Liars

I know my students watch “Pretty Little Liars.”

Here’s a secret: I do too.

I don’t WANT them to watch it. I think it’s too mature in content for them.  I think parts of the show are trash and it irritates me, yet I watch it.  I don’t advertise that I do it, but I do it.

But what happens when a student tells me that they love that show?  Personally, I’m not going to say, “OMG I DO TOO” because I don’t want to advocate it.  I’m not going to say, “That show is trash. Dump it” because that shames them and they’re just going to do it in secret.

So why not have a redemptive conversation about it?

The Premise

Pretty Little Liars is a show about 4 teenage girls whose 5th best friend went missing. Since a body that was assumed to be that friend was found, they’ve been receiving mysterious text messages from “A.”  These messages use all of the secrets they told their missing friend to blackmail them to do things for A.  Meanwhile, the Liars have many relationships, all of which are broken or inappropriate.  One is dating her teacher, one a female, one the town freak (the only guy she dated who was actually of legal age), and the last a flaky sketchy guy.  The show glorifies all of their relationships, and draws viewers in. The Liars also have a ridiculous amount of money, crazy fashion, and participate in underage drinking.

You probably are like, “Heather, why do you watch this smut?” Well, because the story-line itself is fascinating. There are many twists and turns that keep viewers like me in.  I also will defend myself by saying that I am very picky about what I watch, compared to your average Millennial. I’m very sensitized towards unnecessary crudeness, and I don’t think PLL crosses that line.

Talking Points

What do you like most about the show?
What do you not like about the show?
Have you ever told someone a secret, and then they used that secret against you?  How did that make you feel?  Have you ever done that to someone else?  How do you think that made them feel?
Can you relate to any of the lies they’ve told?
What does the show teach us about the lies that we tell?  They come up eventually, and we can’t hide from them forever.
Are their relationships healthy or toxic?  Why?
Which character can you relate to the most? Honestly, it’s hard to relate to them, because their stories are so wild.
How do the Liars treat each other?  Are they quick to blackmail each other, or do they stand by each other no matter what?
What does the show teach us about friendship?
How realistic is this plot?
What would you do if someone was bullying or blackmailing you through text messages?  Have you ever experienced this?

The best thing to do when talking through this is to not condemn or shame students for their answers. Ask them questions and help them work through it.  Ask questions in a way that is provocative enough to engage thoughts, and leaves some room for grace.

Is Youth Ministry Killing the Church?

It seems about this time every year, I begin to see a lot of blog posts about how Youth Ministry is killing the church, how Youth Ministry is fundamentally flawed, and how students are leaving the church in record numbers.  Youth Ministry is always the scapegoat in this conversation, the sacrificial lamb to blame for all of the woes plaguing the church.

I will be frank and tell you that this trend of blaming Youth Ministry for the mass exodus of young people from the faith is honking me off.  While I see the trend, and am disheartened whenever I see one of my former students straying from the faith, I am not convinced that Youth Ministry is the root cause for the decline.  I’d like to offer some rebuttals to the idea that Youth Ministry is the root of all evil, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Here are some questions I think need to be asked.

1.  What would the statistics be WITHOUT Youth Ministry?

While studies like Sticky Faith and Barna continue to show the alarming trend of students leaving the church, I wonder if those numbers would be exponentially worse without Youth Ministry in the mix.  If you follow the same logic many do when it comes to Youth Ministry, you could have some interesting conclusions.  For instance, people are dying of obesity-related illnesses in large quantities.  Clearly, doctors are killing America.  We should get rid of doctors and start over.  You see the absurdity of such logic, as it doesn’t really get to the root cause of the issue at hand.  I argue that Youth Ministry is not the root cause of students leaving the church.  It may simply be a symptom of the greater disease.  I contend there are other factors.

2.  What about the culture around us?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this isn’t 1950 anymore.  Wally and the Beav are long gone.  Shows like Dick Van Dyke and My Three Sons have been replaced with the Real Housewives and Modern Family.  But the list of cultural changes isn’t limited to our entertainment.  Absentee fathers, single parenting, gay marriage, and a plethora of other “hot button issues” are waging war on our students.  Many well-respected pastors, researchers, and social commentators have even called this a “post-Christian society.”  Are we so naive to think that these other factors don’t contribute to the droves of students leaving our churches?

We aren’t living in an age where families just “attend church together” every Sunday as part of their normal family tradition.  There isn’t a standard expectation in our society to attend church.  Many of the students in our ministry at Hazelwood come to church without their parents.  A number of them have no positive spiritual influence to speak of outside of youth group.  To assume that Youth Ministry is somehow the reason these students don’t “stick with it” is to miss a lot of other contributing factors altogether.

3.  What about all the success stories?

I’ve seen too many amazing spiritual transformations in Youth Ministry to believe it is beyond repair or without merit.  Each year, we watch about 15-20 students give their lives to Christ and follow Him in Christian baptism.  Many of these students, as I mentioned earlier, have no real spiritual connection outside of our Youth Ministry.  I’ve seen students answer the call of God and follow Him into full-time ministry.  Many students from our church are currently serving in other ministries around the country and even around the world.  Through our ministry, students have had opportunities to serve on mission fields in various states, countries, and places of need.  In Youth Ministry, students meet every week to encourage, pray for, and laugh with one another in Christian community.  How can we throw out the baby with the bath water here?

Five years ago, a young lady went on a trip with us for the first time.  She met Jesus there, and her life was never the same.  I watched her pursue Christ faithfully despite adverse conditions spiritually in her home, and financial difficulty at every turn.  Our Youth Ministry often helped pay for her registrations so that she could continue to go with us and grow in Christ.  This past year, she came into my office with a smile on her face.  She had a job her senior year, and had saved her money so she could pay for her own way on our Adventure Trip.  She walked into my office, and gave me THREE stacks of cash.  The first was for her trip.  The second was for her sibling.  And the third was to pay for another student who couldn’t afford to go.  Youth Ministry isn’t completely broken.

4.  Isn’t there another solution?

One of my biggest complaints about most of the “Youth Ministry Stinks” articles is that they rarely offer solutions.  While I don’t think Youth Ministry is to blame for our loss of students entirely, I do think we need to make strides forward, and take Youth Ministry to the next level.  This is where I appreciate solutions-based research like Sticky Faith.  It gives tangible, proven ideas that I can implement in my ministry in the hopes of hanging on to more students in the future.

By connecting our students to the larger body, giving students opportunities to wrestle with questions of faith, and more effectively partnering with parents in ministry, we can make Youth Ministry even more productive in the future, and hopefully watch more students remain faithful after high school.

Is Youth Ministry responsible for the exodus of students from the church?  I’m not so sure.  Can it be better and more effective?  Absolutely.  And that, my friends, is something I think we can ALL agree on.  So let’s get out there and change the world…one student at a time.

How to Respond to Social Media Criticism Towards Your Ministry

For the past three months, I have been working at the headquarters of Youth for Christ as their Social Media Specialist to learn how to better engage people with social media and blogging at a local and national level as we work to improve engaging with teenagers and the whole community to share the Gospel alongside the church. One of the first missions I had for the position is to put together an all-encompassing social media and blogging policy for the organization that will not only protect the students and families we minister to, but also help the staff people do good ministry and protect themselves as well.

Let’s be honest, if we are serving a God who loves teenagers unconditionally, are willing to say the hard things to parents and senior pastors, or push the youth to do more with their lives than texting and sexting, we are going to rub people the wrong way. We will post events on Facebook, photos from the latest camp trip, a video blog entry on Twitter sharing the upcoming sermon, and people are going to leave mean responses. So instead of deciding to react to how to each individual situation, lets figure out what the steps should be when it is not a crisis situation.

Let me quickly note that there is a difference here between someone being rude, mean, or negative to your ministry on your social media and blogging comments and people directing their words to specific people in your ministry, be it teenagers, parents, or volunteers. The policy below is coupled with a cyberbullying policy that states an immediate removal of posts directed at students that include sexual harassment, verbal attacks, or threats of any kind, mandated reporting when necessary, and direct conversations with the parties involved over the phone or in person.

The following entry into the policy became as follows:

Do Not Delete Comments
A comment, whether positive or negative towards the ministry is still something that can be of value. If it is negative towards the ministry and not vulgar, immediately respond with an apology of the situation (note that we are not admitting guilt here as clarification needs to be made), let them know that you will contact them directly through a private communication through Facebook message, Twitter direct message, or the like, and then immediately contact them. If the situation warrants, discuss what has happened with your supervisor and follow their guidance on the situation.

Go Counter-Intuitive And Win!

This kind of a response is something that is counter to the immediate reaction to the situation. I feel in my heart that they dislike me, that others will be swayed, and I have to stop it now. I worry that my faith is in need of protecting and I have to respond bold, if irrationally. The person just does not get it and I need to fix their line of thinking right now.

But what are you missing out by responding this way? With a thoughtful and quick response, you are showing everyone else that reads this comment that you are listening and care about the person. You show that in the midst of controversy and crisis, you want to dialogue more and get it worked out right. A teenager could read this and think, “Maybe, just maybe, my even scarier problem that I have not told anyone could be heard and not judged by my youth worker.”

I call that a win.

If you find that you want to take the next step with your social media and blogging for your ministry, I would love to help you. We have a track of working with numerous churches, ministries, and blogs(including our very own Youthmin.org!) We are offering social media and blogging consultations here exclusively for ministries to help you effectively share the Gospel and better build relationships.

The difference between Faith and Trust

My passion for Family Ministry was brewed almost immediately upon entering the Youth Worker field, and, oddly enough, when I first encountered Facebook. I had had myspace, like every other college student, but Facebook was specifically for college students at the time, and that meant the only people I could connect with were other College students. So I got reconnected with all of my friends from Youth Group that I hadn’t seen since my Family had moved from California to Chicago.

It broke my heart to see the way so many of them were living. Maybe it was judgmental of me, but I could go down a list of names and view their profiles and, in my head, know which ones were still living for God and which had given up on the church. It forced me into questioning what it was that caused that to happen?

Because some of the ones that had fallen away were at Christian colleges similar to where I was at, and some of the ones who were still chasing God were at notorious party schools. We all had the same Youth Pastor, the same sermons every Sunday, and we were all part of the same Student Leadership Team. Each of us got poured into the same amount as the other by our leaders, and when we all graduated, we would have looked like the greatest group of teens heading off to college to change the world for Christ.

But two years later, 4/5th’s of that group was no longer living for God. The best solution I could find, and 7 years later I still hold to, is Family Ministry.

But this post is not about Family Ministry. Because although I believe that to be the best approach, after seeing another close friend who has fallen away from the Faith of their Father and Mother, and the Faith they swore was their own all through High School, and hearing about not just the decisions being made, but the decision making process, I’ve been left with one thought that has rattled around in my head.

It’s not enough to have Faith in Jesus Christ, you have to trust him, too.

I believe that, especially during High School, it’s easy for students to place their Faith in Jesus Christ, place their Faith and hope that Jesus has paid the price for all of their sins, wants the best for them, wants relationship with them. Faith, really, is the easy part, and the inverse of that is that Faith is also easy to fake for many students.

But Trust, that’s a whole different ballgame. Trust has a whole lot more to do with the decision making process. If I have two choices in front of me, and the world says to make decision A, it’s a lot more fun, it’s a lot easier, and everyone else is doing it, but God says make decision B, then I’m going to have to really ask myself “Do I Trust God in this?”

Sadly, I think a lot of Youth Ministries are helping students have Believe in God, have Faith in his existence, but we miss the mark by not helping them learn to Trust God above all else.


 

This post is an adaptation from a section in my upcoming book  Offensive Youth Ministry. I’d love your help with answering the two questions below and I might feature your response(s) in the sidebar of a page.

1) How would you define the difference between Faith vs. Trust?

2) How can we help students develop Trust in God?

The difference between Faith and Trust

My passion for Family Ministry was brewed almost immediately upon entering the Youth Worker field, and, oddly enough, when I first encountered Facebook. I had had myspace, like every other college student, but Facebook was specifically for college students at the time, and that meant the only people I could connect with were other College students. So I got reconnected with all of my friends from Youth Group that I hadn’t seen since my Family had moved from California to Chicago.

It broke my heart to see the way so many of them were living. Maybe it was judgmental of me, but I could go down a list of names and view their profiles and, in my head, know which ones were still living for God and which had given up on the church. It forced me into questioning what it was that caused that to happen?

Because some of the ones that had fallen away were at Christian colleges similar to where I was at, and some of the ones who were still chasing God were at notorious party schools. We all had the same Youth Pastor, the same sermons every Sunday, and we were all part of the same Student Leadership Team. Each of us got poured into the same amount as the other by our leaders, and when we all graduated, we would have looked like the greatest group of teens heading off to college to change the world for Christ.

But two years later, 4/5th’s of that group was no longer living for God. The best solution I could find, and 7 years later I still hold to, is Family Ministry.

But this post is not about Family Ministry. Because although I believe that to be the best approach, after seeing another close friend who has fallen away from the Faith of their Father and Mother, and the Faith they swore was their own all through High School, and hearing about not just the decisions being made, but the decision making process, I’ve been left with one thought that has rattled around in my head.

It’s not enough to have Faith in Jesus Christ, you have to trust him, too.

I believe that, especially during High School, it’s easy for students to place their Faith in Jesus Christ, place their Faith and hope that Jesus has paid the price for all of their sins, wants the best for them, wants relationship with them. Faith, really, is the easy part, and the inverse of that is that Faith is also easy to fake for many students.

But Trust, that’s a whole different ballgame. Trust has a whole lot more to do with the decision making process. If I have two choices in front of me, and the world says to make decision A, it’s a lot more fun, it’s a lot easier, and everyone else is doing it, but God says make decision B, then I’m going to have to really ask myself “Do I Trust God in this?”

Sadly, I think a lot of Youth Ministries are helping students have Believe in God, have Faith in his existence, but we miss the mark by not helping them learn to Trust God above all else.


 

This post is an adaptation from a section in my upcoming book  Offensive Youth Ministry. I’d love your help with answering the two questions below and I might feature your response(s) in the sidebar of a page.

1) How would you define the difference between Faith vs. Trust?

2) How can we help students develop Trust in God?

Making SYATP Mandatory

I tell my students that they must go to the See You At The Pole. It’s a mandatory step.

Let me back up for a second. See you at the pole is a student led initiative where high school students go 15-30 minutes before school starts to the flag pole on campus. The student then individually or corporately pray for the school and its occupants, the community and the churches that have the impact for the kingdom of God, and that God can reveal Himself through evangelism, discipleship, worship, outreach, community service, and prayer.

At its basic components, it is a very non-threatening opportunity for teenage Christians to take that little public action of praying for their students as we are called by Christ to be public witness for Him. Its a less direct but great first step for someone that has not shared their faith with people directly. For me, this event as a middle school student was the first time I had prayed with classmates that did not go to my youth group and was an eye opening moment where I saw people making a statement that they are Christian.

Avoid Doing It Wrong

What it is NOT is an adult organized event for teenagers where we bribe teenagers with donuts to come to the event. We should not focus on the early meeting time and leave the idea of prayer as a formality. And this is not a time where we turn a public gathering into a formal preplanned evangelism mentoring moment.

So the idea of making SYATP mandatory may seem contrary, but let me explain. I actually have a clause in my student leadership contract that teenagers are required to agree to and sign to be a formal student leader in my ministry. This clause states that they have to go to the SYATP event.

A Model To Be Mandatory And Yet Life-Giving

The contract honestly is only the beginning of the process. I always have a meeting with my student leaders a week before and a couple of days after the SYATP event to intentionally push them to go the next step. Normally these are group meetings at a coffee shop that are very informal, but usually follow a similar structure every year that is outlined below.

  • Owning It All The Way
    I do make the teenagers go, but I also spend time with them before hand. We talk about what happens if they are the only one that shows up. What does that mean and what does God see in that faithfulness?
  • You Are The Body Of Christ
    I connect them to the larger body of Christ as they recognize that they are not the only ones praying. Thousands of people across the United States are praying at that exact same moment and they are a part of the bigger picture of the Christian faith.
  • Encourage Them To Invite Friends
    I do not do this for them, but challenge them to invite their friends to go. Its a neutral territory and no official Gospel preaching, so its an easier conversation.
  • Process Again.
    After the event, we process what happened, what was felt, and how they view their community and classmates differently. There is normally discussions of wanting to do more in the school system as well as the talk of being Christian but not showing it in school. Be prepared to have some long talks.
  • Keep Them Accountable
    If they say they do not want to be fake at school anymore, hold them to that. If they want to do a morning Bible study in the cafeteria, help them do that successfully. But keep them accountable weeks after the SYATP morning is over.

What is your view on See You At The Pole?