• March 08, 2018 2:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Michael Harper, PYWA Director

    I have to be honest about this whole Sabbath thing—I don’t really know much about it. And that’s not a good thing.

    I mean, I’ve heard a few sermons on the topic and I’ve been to a couple of spirituality retreats. I’ve attempted to join a meditation group no less than five times and talked myself out of sticking with it each time. In my mind, I value the concept of Sabbath and spiritual renewal, but my life certainly doesn’t reflect this value. Does yours? 

    I supposed that’s why it’s so important for youth workers to engage Sabbath practices. As Mich Phillips explains in a recent Presbyterian News Service article, youth workers have a lot on their plates. We spend our lives helping young people, often at the expense of our own spiritual lives. 

    My lack of understanding about Sabbath time as a spiritual practice has become obvious as we've made plans for the Youth Worker Sabbath. Luckily, my friend and colleague Gina Yeager-Buckley has lots of great experience in planning and leading Sabbath experiences. As I was explaining my frustrations with people looking at this opportunity as a day off, her response completely shifted my understanding of Sabbath. She said, “Instead of thinking about it as a day off, start helping people understand that it's a day of.”

    Think about it. It’s a day of spiritual renewal. It’s a day of reading Scripture. It’s a day of doing something that reconnects you with God’s love.  

    I hope that you’ll join us in claiming Thursday, April 5th—not as a “day off,” but as a “day of.”

  • February 14, 2018 8:23 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This blog post is brought to us by Rev. Shelley Donaldson at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, IL. We asked her to give us her thoughts as she was preparing to lead a Sexuality and Spirituality program for her youth program.

    When starting out in youth ministry, few of us were probably conscious of the fact that at some point, we’d have to talk about sex. I’m not talking about giving them the “birds and the bees” talk, no. I’m talking about helping young people navigate and understand that their sexuality and spirituality are inextricably linked. (You may need to say that last part aloud again just to let it sink in.)

    Our bodies are given to us, created by God. We are to care for them. In the first letter to the Corinthians the writer says, “. . . don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves?” (1 Cor. 6:19, CEB) What we do with our bodies and how we use them are important. And that includes what we do with or without our bodies when it comes to sexual intimacy.

    Here’s what I have found to be the most difficult part about doing this: I was taught (and I am sure most of you were too) that talking about sex is taboo. That you never talk about God and your sex life in the same sentence. I was taught that abstinence is the only way, end of story, let’s never speak of it. Ever.

    But for those of us working in youth ministry, we know it’s much more complicated than that. Sex and sexuality permeate our media and our culture. It’s everywhere and our young people are talking about it. Why not help them navigate the conversation from a faith-based perspective?

    That's what my colleagues and I are hoping to do as we prepare to lead a program that intends to help them make connections between their spiritual selves, their sexual selves, and our sexually-charged culture. We'll be using the Our Whole Lives and Sexuality of Our Faith curriculum from the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalists. If you have never heard about it, I highly recommend it. It’s a positive curriculum that focuses on awareness, education, communication, and being confident in the person that God made you to be when it comes to our bodies and what we do with them. It requires a training that can at times make you squeamish, but once you’ve gone through it, you decide how much and what parts of it you focus on with your faith community.

    How many times have you watched YouTube or listened to music or read a young adult novel just to keep up with your young people and what they are consuming? So, why are we not doing the same when it comes to sex and sexuality?

    Let's challenge ourselves to be vigilant in paying attention to the role of sexuality in the world in which our young people lie and bold in our conversations with our young people as we help them navigate it!

  • February 07, 2018 3:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Are YOU a Presbyterian Youth Worker?

    (Hint: The Answer Is Probably "Yes")

    Over the past few months, our Strategic Planning Task Force has done a lot of listening. And, I mean, a LOT of listening. They’ve gathered face-to-face groups, assembled groups for online meetups, and pored over 150+ responses to our survey. Though the task force has learned a ton, one of the biggest takeaways has been confusion about who the heck is actually a youth worker.

    Too often, we heard responses such as:

    • I’m not a youth worker, I'm just a parent who helps out on Sunday nights.
    • Oh, I wouldn’t consider myself a youth worker, I’m just a confirmation mentor.
    • Youth worker? Not me, I’m just the associate pastor who supervises the youth director.

    See the common thread here? Somehow church members and ministry leaders have gotten the message that the title of “Presbyterian Youth Worker” is reserved for people who get paid to work directly with young people.

    It’s time to change this perception.

    PYWA has launched a new initiative called the “I'm a Presbyterian Youth ButtonsWorker!” campaign. Over the next year, we’re going to be connecting with volunteers and ministry leaders to help them claim their role and impact as Presbyterian Youth Workers.

    Whether you’re paid or volunteer, full-time or part-time, or short-term or long-term, YOU are a Presbyterian Youth Worker.

    If you’re a confirmation mentor, youth committee member, Sunday School teacher, or trip planner, YOU are a Presbyterian Youth Worker.

    If you’re on a church staff in any capacity, YOU too are a Presbyterian Youth Worker.

    In the coming months, we look forward to connecting with all of you as we work together to connect young people to Christ’s grace, hope, justice, and love.     

  • January 25, 2018 11:02 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Our blog post is brought to us today by Rev. Rocky Supinger at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, IL. We asked him to give us his thoughts on why he does trips for youth.

    Summer is trip season at the church I serve. We have four of them scheduled for students ranging from 5th-12th grade, a fourfold increase in the number of youth trips since I started here in 2016. Clearly, I’m a fan of trips as a vehicle (no pun intended) for growing youth discipleship.


    Every trip has a mission, but not every trip is a “mission trip.” The annual youth conference isn’t a mission trip, although its mission of connecting youth to a diverse community of disciples with whom they share meals and deepen their faith is critical. Likewise, the cross-cultural trip that focuses on relationship building but that never lifts a hammer has a very significant mission, even if participants seeking a “mission trip” might not get what they’re looking for out of it.


    Mission trips have traditionally been conceived of as groups of teenagers travelling to some needy destination to paint houses and serve meals before returning home to share how they “got more than they gave” out of the experience. That model has come under useful critique in recent years, most forcefully by Robert Lupton’s much-lauded Toxic Charity. As important as Lupton’s insights are about the inadvertent damage caused by well-meaning Christians who do things for others what they can and ought to do for themselves, I believe short-term service trips can be a powerful tool for good. Here’s how I try to maximize their benefit for all involved.


    1. Elevate education. Youth who serve for a week in Appalachia ought to return home more knowledgeable about the culture and people they served than before they went. They should be able to describe both challenges and assets involved in living there, not just the things they fixed. There’s a growing network of organizations hosting mission trips the emphasize learning in an immersive cultural experience that I think are doing this education piece right, including Urban Youth Mission in Chicago (where I work), The Center in Baltimore, and The Pilgrimage in D.C. (in addition to dozens of others).
    2. Go back again (and again). The critique of mission trips has a lot to say about the kind of “mission tourism” that motivates participants who eagerly await news of this year’s exotic destination. So remove the anticipation and go back to the same place again. Returning to work with the same people and the same leaders year after year builds mutuality and mitigates against both the tourism motive for mission trips and the pernicious assumption that “we” go to help “them.”
    3. Don’t just go. Host. It was one thing for high school youth to talk and pray with Abel in Ayacucho, Peru, during their mission trip there. It was a whole other thing for those same students to talk and pray with him where they lived a year later, when their presbytery hosted him as part of its delegation to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium. This gets messy and complicated (a second student planned to come with Abel but had Visa trouble), but it’s worth it.


    Mission trips are powerful experiences for the youth who go and the saints who receive them. Insisting on education and long-term mutual relationship buildings only makes them more powerful for everyone.

  • January 09, 2018 2:48 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    As far as I’m concerned, one of youth ministry’s most powerful moments can also be one of the scariest. I’m talking about the moment we expect confirmands—often very young teenagers—to crank out a written statement that explains what they believe about the almighty, triune God. And, it’s not like this faith statement is a private journaling moment. The statements get read (and sometimes published) for a group of adults who will be taking a vote on whether the kids should become full members of the church. No pressure!

    But, wow, what a privilege to get to accompany young people as they dig deep to articulate their faith. It’s a blessing to sit with them and struggle with some of life’s biggest questions and then have an opportunity to see God through fresh, youth-filled eyes.

    Since we’re in the time of the year that many of us are either focused on writing faith statements or will soon be focused on writing faith statements, here are some things to consider on the journey: 

    Practice EmpathyWhen’s the last time you wrote a faith statement? It’s not easy. Before expecting your confirmands to write anything, spend some time writing or updating your faith statement. Putting yourself in their shoes will help you be a better accompanier.

    Include All Personality TypesGod created us to be unique individuals, which means that one writing approach may not work for everyone in the group. Let the verbal processors talk it out and create space for the internal processors to ponder. Be sure to develop a writing experience that will include everyone.

    Pay Attention to Different NeedsWhile some confirmands will blow right through this assignment with flying colors, others may struggle. Pay attention to the different needs in your group and create a plan to enable each to. Who struggles with anxiety? What learning challenges exist in the group? What can you do to accommodate each person’s needs to make the experience positive for them?

    Offer Templates and Writing PromptsStaring at a blank sheet of paper or computer screen is the hardest part of the writing process, right? Prevent the wasted time by offering a template for writing a basic faith statement or get them started with a writing prompt. (PYWA members, click here for a template example.)

    Get CreativeInstead of writing a faith statement, tap into the creativity of the Holy Spirit by giving the confirmands an opportunity to express their faith through producing a video, writing a song, or creating some kind of visual art. These kinds of creative expressions of faith often provide a deeper dive into spirituality.  

     Most importantly, remember that we’re in this together. We'd love to hear your ideas and best practices!

    Blog Writer: Michael Harper serves as the director of the Presbyterian Youth Workers' Association.

  • January 02, 2018 4:03 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I recently stumbled across the official notes from the Pentecost Summit, which was the event that launched PYWA in November 2005. Though I enjoyed reminiscing about the event, I was caught off guard when I read about the moment that the meeting participants adopted PYWA's mission statement:

    Connecting, upholding, and inspiring Presbyterian youth workers to faithfully serve the one triune God among young people.

    Before the statement was approved, it turns out that someone suggested that we replace “Presbyterian youth workers” with “each other.” Let that sink in a moment. We exist to connect, uphold, and inspire each other to faithfully serve the one triune God among young people. That’s powerful stuff.

    Though I completely agree with the decision to use "Presbyterian youth workers" in the mission statement (it's important that we clearly articulate who we are instead of leaving it open to interpretation), I'll never again be able to look at the statement without thinking about the implications of "each other."

    At first, I couldn’t articulate why the suggested change in wording struck such a deep chord in me. I just knew deep in my soul what it meant. As I kept reading, however, I came across a couple of phrases that brought it all to life. Buried in the notes captured from the conversation about what it means to connect, uphold, and inspire are the phrases, “I’ve got your back” and “you are not alone.”

    That’s when it hit me: Youth ministry is often lonely and spiritually draining. That's nothing new. But, the challenges of youth ministry are no match for us when we create space to connect, uphold, and inspire each other. You are not alone because I've got your back. I am not alone because you've got my back. We're better together.

    So, here’s to 2018. Here’s to the meetups, Bible studies, webinars, and email blasts that will bring us together.

    Here's to our Strategic Planning Task Force who will soon have a road map for the next leg of our journey together.

    Here’s to the Youth Worker Sabbath Day in April when we'll rest in God's love together.

    And, here’s to the Christ-filled roller coaster we know as “youth ministry” that we get to ride together! 

     This banner was created at the Pentecost Summit after the mission statement was adopted. The hand prints are from the people who attended the event.


  • November 04, 2017 9:15 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I clearly remember the first time I attended a national gathering of Presbyterian youth workers. As a college student, I had just begun serving as a youth leader in a local congregation. I knew I had a passion for youth ministry, but had no idea that anyone else shared that passion.

    You can imagine how blown away I was when I walked into a hotel ballroom filled with 200+ people who were also passionate about ministry with youth. With so many people to meet and so much to learn, I slept very little that week. I had found my people and, over the years, I discovered that I needed those people. 

    If you're reading this, my guess is that you've had a similar experience. Maybe not at a conference with tons of people, but maybe a quiet conversation with another youth worker or with a team of volunteers who are reflecting together on a recent ministry experience. 

    The truth is that youth workers need each other. And, though it's helpful to have people with whom you can share ideas and best practices, the need goes much deeper. Whether you're paid or volunteer, your passion for youth ministry sets you apart. Not everyone understands the deep well from which passion for youth ministry rises.

    As a mentor from that first gathering that I attended taught me, "When you're a youth worker, you 'bleed' for and with the young people around you. The best way to stay healthy, is to be with people who understand this peculiar calling and that's why we're here!"

    That's why PYWA is here. We exist because we need each other to do the work that God has called us to do. We're here because all youth workersvolunteer, paid, full-time, part-time, all of us—need to be in community to be healthy. We're here to create a space for renewal together. We're here to huddle together to fulfill our peculiar callings.

    How can PYWA create connect, uphold, and inspire you in the months ahead so you can be faithful to what God has called you to do in ministry with youth?


Michael Harper

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