an encouraging trend in youth ministry over the last 5-10 years has been the growth of contemplative practices in youth ministry. one of the real pioneers in this in the usa has been mark yaconelli who developed and ran the youth ministry and spirituality project for 7 years. the question he wanted to explore was what would happen if you took youth groups in a range of denominations and worked to introduce them to ways of contemplative prayer. would this have any transformative effect? the results were dramatic... youth ministers and young people that learned how to pray were transformed.
mark has written a book contemplative youth ministry (which has just been published in the uk) in which he shares his insights and approach. it is a wonderful book. if you are involved in youth ministry you must get it. i actually think you should get it and read it if you are in any kind of leadership in church. this isn't really another model to buy off the shelf as the latest quick fix solution which is probably the last thing we need. it goes much deeper than that.
mark says that
contemplation is being with god within the reality of the present moment. contemplation is about presence. it's about attentiveness, opening our heart's eye to god, ourselves, and others. contemplation is an attitude of the heart, an all embracing hospitality to what is...
and so contemplative youth ministry is simply being with god, and learning to be attentive to god's presence in the lives of young people. mark suggests that youth ministry needs to slow down.
i have observed too many churches and youth ministries who embody a sense of urgency that communicates a god who is either a relentless taskmaster or completely incompetent... this is the endless parade of duded up rock stars, hyperactive activities, word heavy programmes... there is a tangible sense that god must be dressed up or hidden behind high energy music, and charismatic speakers. our churches and ministries seem to be deathly afraid of any kind of downtime. all silence and stillness is eradicated for fear that young people might find god disappointing, boring or absent. it's as if our church and ministry leaders have an anxious suspicion that god has left the building and so they stall with jabbering words and meaningless activities in the hope that the crowd won't become restless. in contrast jesus isn't afraid of doubts, or downtime or disappointment or boredom - in fact i might even claim that he finds doubt, boredom and disappointment critical to spiritual growth! ... jesus asks us to stop, he invites us to come away to quiet and deserted places. he asks us to be still and know. he calls us to take a moment to do nothing. he calls us to turn our attention away from our anxiety and busyness and just simply notice the work god is already doing.
the book is full of encouraging stories and it's very practical. as well as outlining some specific practices of prayer mark suggests how to help a church start from scratch to build a youth team, help that team learn to practise discerning god's presence and voice in their midst, and then to begin to introduce that attentiveness to god's presence with the young people. this includes a simple outline for running meetings mark devised called a liturgy of discernment that looks very easy to use but shifts the emphasis of planning quite significantly. the last section uses a threefold approach taken from spiritual direction as a framework for working with young people - noticing (helping young people become aware of their experience of god), naming (helping them find a language to describe it), and nurturing (helping young people develop practices that deepen their understanding and relationship with god). the journey is as much about us changing and learning to pray and be attentive as it is about the young people.
if you think this is a consumer choice or personality type thing i.e. your young people won't be into it, don't dismiss it so quickly. it's really not about stopping having fun and just engaging in prayer and being serious all of a sudden...
the purpose of integrating contemplative presence in youth ministry is not to form kids into monks, nor is it to make us experts in contemplative prayer - it is to deepen our (youth and adults) awareness of god and others and self so that we might become fully alive.
what is encouraging about the stories and process that mark used in the youth ministry and spirituality project and written about here is that the churches that used this are not your uber cool ones. they sound like bog standard denominational set ups, in some cases with no youth ministry to speak of. and from the descriptions those with a call to get involved with young people don't need to be young and cool themselves.
this complements other books such as tony jones soul shaper, jenny baker and moya ratanyake's tune in chill out and kenda creasy dean's practising passion. together these are opening up a very hopeful way forward for youth ministry. i think it especially opens up very hopeful possibilities for youth ministry in traditional and denominational settings. it has sometimes felt as though the only way offered to do radical stuff with young people has been to get them into charismatic worship where they experience god. that is transformative for some groups but problematic for others. there are lots of traditions and groups of young people for whom that just isn't what they are looking for or going to get into or it cuts them off from their tradition. it may also be for more charismatic groups that this will open up whole new possibilities as well.
can i plonk this review on my youth ministry site?
ive prebooked the book on amazon.com released in another month :(
Posted by: darren | March 30, 2006 at 12:50 PM
BTW, the north american version comes out in may.
Posted by: marko | March 30, 2006 at 05:50 PM
sure darren - go for it...
hi marko - wonder why we got it first?!
Posted by: jonny | March 30, 2006 at 06:54 PM
big amen to what mark yac says.
Posted by: steve collins | March 31, 2006 at 12:01 AM
You have no idea how inspiring this post is. Living in Oz, where contemplation is a dirty word in most church circles, and living in a community where we are desperatly trying to live these disciplines, the fact that others are doing the same fills me,and us, with hope.
Peace to you, and thanks for your super site.
Chris and the TC
Posted by: Chris Kan | March 31, 2006 at 01:51 AM
i'm looking forward to the book, encouraged even more with your review. wish i could make the little promo retreat in nashville, but it is smack in the middle of our school graduations.
Posted by: gavin | April 02, 2006 at 05:25 AM
My passion is for contemplative prayer and I'm very much looking forward to this book arriving in the states. Thanks for the tip.
Posted by: Indigo | April 03, 2006 at 07:01 PM
I just linked both this blog and the book site on my Xanga. I'm planning on going to Nashville. Anyone else coming? BTW, when I registered, the site asked if I wanted a free copy of the book.
Posted by: Todd | April 05, 2006 at 03:06 AM
sadly it's a bit far for me todd... but i'm sure it will be great. i've not met mark but hope our paths cross at some stage.
Posted by: jonny | April 05, 2006 at 09:00 AM
I get concerned these days that we are creating a culture in church, for youth, that 'needs' all the noise. I love the noise! But I need the stillness to make sense of it sometimes. I tend not to find God in the noise but in the stillness. That said, I'm more introvert than extrovert (though don't label myself as either). One of my senior friends (and guides) said to me that, what you attract them with you 'need' to keep them with. Hmmm... This book sounds interesting.
Posted by: Stevie | April 05, 2006 at 09:21 AM
I don't think Mark was available for GB had they asked him last year, but maybe this year or next? I have mentioned it. You may want to talk to Diane about it too...
ps I will be hopefully hanging out at the tiny tea tent most of the time at Greenbelt this year with mine and other small cherubs, should anyone want to say hello.
Posted by: Moya | April 08, 2006 at 10:06 PM
When will the EC open its eyes and see that contemplative prayer is unbiblical and not of God. It is nothing more than eastern buddhist transcendental meditation with a new wrapper on it. Wake up people! Wake up! This is heresy in a handbag! Dont sell your soul or your faith for this garbage. May God have mercy upon you!
Posted by: A True Evengelical Believer | April 12, 2006 at 01:36 PM
Tony's book Soul Shaper has been a great resource for us, we used it as a reference extensively during our vintage faith series in January (I am really looking forward to having him here with us in Calary in October). I'll have to pick up Mark's book next month when it hits Canada.
Posted by: jeremy | April 12, 2006 at 08:37 PM
looking forward to reading it, thanks for the link and info jonny, as always brilliant...maybe see you sat.
Posted by: tim | May 08, 2006 at 12:16 PM
thanks tim - yes should be fun on saturday - communion by numbers!
Posted by: jonny | May 08, 2006 at 02:05 PM
Another recycling request: OK to use this in my Reviews section, please? Will link back and acknowledge, of course. Thanks in anticipation...
Posted by: Phil Groom | June 05, 2006 at 12:28 AM
sure - that's fine phil
Posted by: jonny | June 05, 2006 at 07:25 AM
Thanks jonny - fyi:
Posted by: Phil Groom | June 17, 2006 at 11:03 PM
I am currently reading Mark Yaconelli's "Contemplative Youth Ministry" and finding it a breath of fresh air! My wife and I are youth leaders in our CofE church with 10 youngsters from 11 - 17. Both of us are also involved with adult contemplative prayer groups. One is a mixed denomination group that meets in a Carmelite Monastery practicing Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina, the other is made up of some church members who meet in a front room. Both are beautiful places where the presence of God is tangible.
We are starting to introduce contemplative practices into our youth group. Our first attempt was to use the four stages of Lectio Divina to lead them into silent awareness and simply resting in God. The insights that the young people had from the scripture passage was wonderful and the sense of peace at the end was, well, just sooo good!
We are still using the meeting time for teaching and fellowship but the youngsters do actually seem to be interested in learning and are asking very pertinent questions. We have used Godly Play techniques which have been well received too. In the wondering sessions and the art work afterwards, it gives opportunities to listen to the deep thoughts and aspirations of the young people. Life indeed!! We are intending to introduce silent prayer and imaginative prayer. It should be an exciting year!
Posted by: George Hulme | January 26, 2007 at 10:42 AM
sounds great. i also love the way that mark suggests working as a team and using those times to listen to what god is saying and doing.
Posted by: jonny | January 26, 2007 at 04:19 PM
Our team of helpers come from either a traditional Anglican background or from a mixed evangelical "stock". It is interesting that none of them had experienced contemplative prayer before and that consciously experiencing the presence of God was quite unknown to them. Prayer for them was always about petitioning God, not simply being with him. It is amazing that they are open to new(old)ways. The PCC is another thing, there seems to be a silence of another sort when I mention contemplative prayer. Oh well, slowly, slowly ...
Posted by: George Hulme | March 15, 2007 at 10:05 AM
wow - that's amazing. mark yaconelli is coming to greenbelt this year by the way which i am excited about
Posted by: jonny | March 15, 2007 at 12:42 PM
It is amazing that your burden for the youth is fantastic. I am a pastor and founder of Gospel Word Foundation church in Nairobi. I desire that you come and help develop a strong youth ministry across our ministry in Kenya. Tel. +254-724-947-041
Posted by: Rev. Alfayo KInara | October 10, 2008 at 02:59 PM