Emulating Mary’s “Yes”: God Doesn’t Call the Qualified, He Qualifies the Called

Last Monday, March 26 was the Annunciation, the Christian celebration of the announcement by the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ. Despite being a virgin, Mary would miraculously conceive a child who would be called the Son of God.

As my friend and colleague Tom East said so well, “I think this is an important day for us as youth ministers. We have the chance to be like Gabriel and bear God’s message of love and promise to teenagers. We speak on God’s behalf as we tell a young person: you are beautiful inside and out, and God has a plan for your life. What a privilege, this ministry we share.”

Last week's feast day gave me a chance to spend some time reflecting on my calling as a Catholic youth minister. Continuing the thoughts expressed by Tom, not only do we have a chance to be like Gabriel, but we are also like Mary.

We may struggle with our calling sometimes, especially when things don’t go as well as we like. We fret about numbers. We worry about logistics. And we stress about our talk or teaching falling flat.

But we can learn a lot from Mary, especially in her faithfulness and trust in what the angel Gabriel was saying. We, like Mary, may consider ourselves unworthy or unqualified. But we are comforted knowing that God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called!

And it’s not just the trust and faith that we have for ourselves. It’s the same trust we have when we defer an important teaching to another youth ministry leader, it’s the same confidence we have in allowing a grade seven student greet the Archbishop at Spirit Day, and it’s the same faith we have that we are indeed making a difference in the lives of young people.

We are blessed indeed, we are truly highly favoured. And it has nothing to do with us…it has everything to do with God.

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30).

So when we’re asked if we like what we do or if we feel we’re making a difference…may our answer always be a resounding “YES!”

Clayton Imoo is husband to Gail and father to sons Sean Isaiah and Jacob Isaac and daughter Kayla Marie.  He has served as the Director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver for the past ten years.  Learn more about him at http://www.claytonimoo.com or follow him @claytonimoo

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Facing Feedback or I Want to be Like Jiro

Over the past three months I have been doing a 'post preach' debrief session with one or two other leaders. 

Its nothing crazy, after youth we grab a seat at a coffee shop or restaurant and I get feedback on the talk.

This has been one of the most difficult and helpful exercises to help me grow as a speaker and youth worker.

I recently watched a documentary called "Jiro Dreams of Sushi". Jiro is an 85 year old sushi chef from tokyo and he is considered, by some critics, as the best in the world.

He has been making sushi for more that 70 years and he says that he is still trying to improve his craft.  

I want to be like Jiro:  Always improving. 

Of course, all of this applies to more than speaking.  The same can be said of our small group questions, games, worship, leaders training and every other component of our youth ministry.

Here are some ways to help receive good feedback

1. Ask Good Questions
Don't sit down and aimlessly discuss the youth night. 
Approach each aspect specifically and ask pointed questions
-What worked well?
-What did not go well?
-What can I do better next time?
The more specific the better! For example consider the preach.
-How was the introduction?  Did it grab the audience?
-Did the analogy make sense?
-How was my tone?
-Was the application age appropriate?
-Did i accomplish my goal of "..."?

2. Pick the Right People
The people that you welcome to give you feedback is crucial.  Pick people who are honest - you need someone who won't tell you the stuff you want to hear. Pick people you trust - you need to know that they have the right motives and they are not looking to tear you down.  

3. Just Take It
This is the hardest part for me.  I am always tempted to explain away every piece of feedback and provide an explanation for everything I did or did not do.  If you do this you will never get anywhere and over time those giving you feedback will get fatigued and give up and you will never become better.  

4.  Do Better
Getting the feedback is like ripping off a band aid -Its stings but it goes quick.  Applying the feedback is like doing physiothearapy - it can be slow going and uncomfortable. We all have patterns and part of applying feedback is breaking those patterns and building new ones.  
To make changes we have to be intentional.  For me, I need to take time to chew on the feedback on separate occasion.  Soak it up, wright it down and pick it up latter.  

Jason is the director of campusfire, a ministry partnering with local churches to empower high school students to reach their schools. Jason graduated from Simon Fraser University in 2010. He has been married to Rachael for two and a half years.  They have a desire to see students live out their faith in the midst of culture, and to encourage them to lead their friends to Jesus.



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Modelling Generosity For Students

I, like you wish I owned a t-shirt that says "I tithe online" so that when I pass the offering plate that people would know that I do give to my church, just not in both services and not on Sunday morning.

That being said, I believe that modelling stewardship and generosity to students as a regular fixture of Pastoring them is vital to their growth as young Christians. High School students need to understand that while they feel that what little they have can make very little difference overall, we can help them understand that stewardship and generosity involves more than just our treasure (money) but also our time and talent as well.

I remind students that chances are that they have more time than money and what they do with that is their choice, but is ultimately a form of worship. With money we need to help students find ways to give, even a small amount and helping them understand the impact that it can have when many give what they can, big things happen.

This is why we have been talking about CHIMP Fund at our youth group lately. Its been tremendous to see students gifting money to one another with the purpose of empowering their friends to use that money to bless other organizations and charities. Students are able to support causes they believe in and encourage friends, parents, classmates to do the same.

You should really check out CHIMP fund and see what it could do for your students and developing their passion towards living a generous life.

Geoff Stewart is the Youth Pastor at Peace Portal Alliance Church in Surrey B.C. where he oversees Journey Student Ministries. He is married to Lavonne and they have two cats, Norman and Puff Daddy. Geoff Blogs all over the place and tweets often, but not TOO often. Follow him on twitter @geoffcstewart.

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Going Slow with Dr. Low

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday which marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent before the Season of Easter.  The word holy in Greek & Hebrew refers to “that which has been set apart”.  It could be a person or event or building which has been set apart for a special purpose, usually religious and usually in reference to worshiping God.  It is the idea of someone or something being separate from the ordinary, something sacred.  This is what Holy Week is supposed to be, a special week set aside that looks and feels different than the rest of the year as we prepare to honor the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Weekend.

You can't set something apart or make something special without slowing down long enough to pay attention to it and savor it.  This is why Christmas and Easter often sneak up on people so quickly and are over before you know it.  Holy Week is designed to slow us down and help us focus on Jesus so the Easter Celebration becomes a deeper, more meaningful experience rather than just another long weekend where we eat turkey and go shopping.

Over the next several days I encourage you to take a few hours, or at least several minutes, to focus more on Jesus than you normally would so that this week leading up to Easter would be holy indeed - set apart as a special time of personal prayer and reflection.

God bless you during Holy Week.

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Bullying in Youth Ministry

What do you teach from the bible about bullying?

If you don't have a plan, get one. Don't know where to start? Contact me, I'll help you. If you don't think it's worth teaching or even addressing in youth ministry, you should step out of your role in youth ministry and find another vocation?

Why do we only care about the spiritual lives of the kids in our youth groups and not their physical and emotional needs as well?

The Bully Project is in select theatre today.
MUST SEE movie for all youth workers.

Jeff Smyth is husband to Heather and father of one active boy Nathan. He has been involved youth ministry leadership for 15 years in both the local church and non-profit areas of Canada. He has been serving for the past 3 years as the coordinator of community initiatives with DOXAToronto.com the Scarborough are of Youth Unlimited (Toronto YFC). Learn more about him by visiting his blog ThinkYouthMinistry.com or follow him @jeffsmyth

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I knew it! :) 5 Reasons Why You Should Take a Nap Every Day http://ow.ly/9XAPU

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Giving Back

I used the charitable-giving website, CHIMP, a few weeks ago to send a donation to the camp I spent every summer at as a kid. This camp, Gull Lake Baptist Camp, was so central to my development as a person and a Christian - it shaped me in the deepest and most meaningful ways during my most formative years. Most of my closest relationships to this day (including my wife) began at summer camp over 20 years ago. I am now sending my two boys to camp every summer because I know what a valuable experience it is for them on so many levels.

When given the opportunity to send a donation through CHIMP it didn't take long to know who I wanted to send the donation too - I love supporting Gull Lake Baptist Camp because I know they shape hundreds of lives every year.

What I like about giving through CHIMP is it's so easy to use and has so many features. One of the best features is being able to send money to a friend or family member for them to donate to the charity of their choice. We all have friends or family members who do things for us but refuse to accept money from us, like parents or grandparents. CHIMP allows us to say thank you by sending them a donation to pass onto whomever they'd like.

Check it out here!

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Praying Passionately for Daniel Sedin: A First-Hand Account

Much has been made in the last couple of days about the Passion Vancouver event that took place at Rogers Arena last Friday evening and in particular the prayer for concussed-Canuck Daniel Sedin led by the founder of the Passion Movement, Louie Giglio.

And while a couple of blogs have done a decent job of presenting and analyzing what happened, I can offer you a perspective that they can’t:  a first-hand account as I was present at the event. Not only was I in attendance at the Passion event, I also attended a pre-event dinner hosted by Louie.  But more on that later.

As part of my job as the Director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, I sat on the Advisory Team for Passion Vancouver.  Per the official website, “Passion exists to glorify God by uniting students in worship, prayer and justice for spiritual awakening in this generation.”

We had been meeting and praying for the success of the event for months prior to last Friday and as a gracious gesture of appreciation I was invited to the pre-event dinner held in the Rogers Arena Captain’s Room.  I met a lot of great people including Miss Canada 2011 Tara Teng.

One of us seems a tad happier than the other.  But I digress.

During the dinner, Louie Giglio went out of his way to thank all of us for our work and service in helping bring Passion to Vancouver.  He mentioned that Vancouver is the only city outside of the United States where Passion has held events three times – largely in part to the willingness of the Aquilini family to host the event in Rogers Arena.  Louie thanked Paolo Aquilini (who was in attendance at both the dinner and the concert) and then segued into talking about the Vancouver Canucks and their massive popularity here.  He then reflected on how his hometown of Atlanta was particularly good at grooming NHL teams to move to Canada (the Flames and more recently the Jets).  I chuckled as Louie said “So once we get another team we’ll get them ready and ship them back up to you.”

As dinner completed we hastily made our way to our seats in the Arena…but not before I snapped my picture with Tara.  Okay…I’ll stop mentioning that now.

After worship leader Chris Tomlin opened the event, Louie made his way onto the stage with a couple of items in his hands.  One, we quickly learned, was a Canucks jersey signed by the entire team  – a gift to Louie from Paolo and the Vancouver Canucks.

The other was the helmet of injured forward Daniel Sedin.  Louie didn’t announce how he obtained the helmet; needless to say it was likely with the permission of Paolo Aquilini after the Passion organizers held their pre-event prayer time in the Canucks’ dressing room.

After publicly thanking the Aquilini family in front of the 12,000 people in attendance, Louie shared a few words about the Canucks and Atlanta’s knack for losing their hockey teams to Canada (similar to what he shared with us at dinner).  Then, he suggested that we pray for Daniel’s recovery from his concussion.

After allowing for 35 seconds of spontaneous prayer, Louie led the attendees in a prayer of thanksgiving for the Aquilini family and for the arena, the city and team.  He ended off by praying for Daniel’s recovery.  At the time, I felt that it was a very powerful and genuine gesture.  It didn’t feel out of place for the main reason that this was a gathering of Christians praying for a Canuck player AND NOT a gathering of Canucks fans with some Christian prayer in it. There is a HUGE difference.  If people were not interested in praying for Daniel’s recovery then it was their prerogative not to join in…much like any other element of the night.

Also, Louie didn’t pray for the Canucks to win their next game, to win a playoff series or two, or to win the Stanley Cup.  He didn’t pray for Daniel the hockey player; he prayed for Daniel the human being.  For full healing and recovery.  For goodness and fullness of life.  For his heart, and everything going on his life.
You’ll hear from the video Louie saying “And we pray God that You just let him know…there are people praying for him tonight – not for what he can do, not for how he can score, not for how many assists he has, but we just love him tonight God because he is Yours.”

Immediately after the prayer concluded, I was happily surprised at what had just transpired.  It was quite moving to be among 12,000 people praying together.  I went to both Twitter and Facebook with a simple post:

12,000 people at Rogers Arena praying for the health of Daniel Sedin…powerful stuff.
Unbeknownst to me, my buddy Joseph posted the video up in the Canucks.com message boards and in 24 hours it had accumulated over 13,000 views and 300 replies.  Everyone seemed to have an opinion as to its appropriateness, its effectiveness, or its relevance.  It’s come to be expected when talking sports and faith.

Was the prayer genuine?  Absolutely.  Was it a way to show Vancouver that Passion was in tune with the city and culturally relevant?  Without a doubt.  Was it a strategic and smart way to engage the crowd?  Certainly.

And I loved every minute of it.

Clayton Imoo is husband to Gail and father to sons Sean Isaiah and Jacob Isaac and daughter Kayla Marie.  He has served as the Director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver for the past ten years.  Learn more about him at http://www.claytonimoo.com or follow him @claytonimoo

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Money for Monkeys

One of the coolest gifts I have ever been given was some Chimp money.
chimp money is not a currency that is used by chimps.
Chimp is a online tool that allows you to give money away in a fun and thoughtful way.
I got an email one day saying that my friend gave me $30 to give away through chimp.
I signed up and there it was, thirty big ones, sitting in my account ready to be given to any registered charity I wanted.  I spent half an hour looking through different charities that I like.  I think I gave that first gift to a ministry called Gospel for Asia.  Since then, I have been able to use chimp as a platform to share the fun of giving with others and to help my wife and I give more thoughtfully.
Another thing i love about chimp; when I give to chimp, I get one tax receipt at the end of the year and I can give to organizations anonomously so I don't end up on lots of mailing lists, even though it feels cool to get mail.

Chimp is one little tool that can help create a culture of generosity.

You can find out more about it at chimpfund.com

Jason is the Director of Campusfire and Youth Alpha in Canada. He and his wife Rachael live in langley.  

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Students Long To Be Known

If you have been in students ministry for any amount of time, you know that relationships define the existence of teenagers. They live and die by the drama, by the BFFs and new worst enemies and it’s a constant wave of excitement and devastation as the seasons of their friendships come and go. We have all been teenagers before and know how vital those relationships are and how important friends are to having a great or miserable high school experience.

With the understanding of the value of relationships we need to be abundantly aware that students who come to our youth groups are less concerned with our deep v-neck worship team and sweet stage setup and more about finding meaningful friendships. The stats for adults and teens are similar in that a student will likely try your youth group 3 times and will leave if they d o not make a meaningful friendship in that time.

For us reaching out to community students, how will we ever help students enter into a relationship with Jesus if we can’t even help them develop a friendship with another student. Fellowship is very underrated and the more that we can help foster community, the more we can foster relationship and the more we can foster a culture where students are known. Where students know each other’s stories, know their past and pray for their future. Where students understand that they are acceptable because of Jesus.

Geoff Stewart is the Youth Pastor at Peace Portal Alliance Church in Surrey B.C. where he oversees Journey Student Ministries. He is married to Lavonne and they have two cats, Norman and Puff Daddy. Geoff Blogs all over the place and tweets often, but not TOO often. Follow him on twitter @geoffcstewart.


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Detox Headache: Releasing the Toxin's of the Mind

I found it hard to focus on the court with this pulsating pain tormenting me from the eyes up. This wasn’t a normal headache, it was a DETOX headache. Yep, my body was revolting because it wasn’t getting its usual five cent candy feed. During a detox the toxins in your body are shown the way out, but during this process your muscles tighten causing headaches.

Week Two into this Egypt Detox: Releasing the Toxin’s of my mind, I am experiencing these mental headaches. My BlackBerry decided to take a dip in my glass of water. I thought I saved it! Made a couple calls and then later it died. I called on my miracle working God to save my Smartphone. I put my phone in a bed of rice for the day and then took the vacuum cleaner hose to it and sucked the water out (Youtube says this speeds up the process). The next morning, I powered it up and the green light lit up! I danced, but realized the charge wouldn’t hold. So I charged it over night and in the morning I discovered it short circuited and now it’s dead...Not mostly Dead... Really Dead.

I am currently using a friends old phone. OLD. With annoying rings, a multiple letter keypad. It can’t read my SIM Card because the memory is too small. It’ll cost me $339 to replace my phone which is money I do not have. My phone provider said, “We can order it for you today and just put it on your phone bill and you can pay it off later.” My head starts throbbing. Tempting. It’s so easy to take matters into my own hands. I could have a new phone right now through credit!

God’s been teaching me to expect from Him. I’ve been reading the story of Joseph and the main message is to Trust HIM! The principles I’ve been meditating on and what God has shown me and taught me the last couple of weeks are being challenged and It’s not just the phone, it is my friend and a family members health, it’s one of the teens who has been admitted to the mental health unit, its promoting and covering the costs for a girls conference I’m organizing.

We serve a God who wants us to walk into each day with specific expectations because He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us. (Eph.3:30) It’s a faith challenge and experiment. I will not cave in and go back to doing things on my own strength. He is the I Can God.

Youth Worker, Your Maker likes you and He wants to meet and supersede your expectations this year personally, within the youth ministry and out in your community. Trust the detox process, don’t reach for the coffee or the sugar representing our old habits. The headaches are a result of our old thinking and actions being challenged. God’s is using the circumstances of life to release the old ways of thinking, liberating your body from responding to life as the rest of society deals with life. You are set apart for His holy purpose, trust the God of the universe, that your mind may be renewed through new experiences.

Alison is a professional Youth Speaker, Co-Writer of the HEROES 2 Curriculum and Founder of the Young Woman of Power Conference. Based out of Calgary Alison is Inspiring Teen Greatness with a focus on youth in the community. With 15 years of experience her mission is to raise up a Generation of Confident Youth.



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Ages & Stages

We all know the "ages & stages" realities of youth today. Marko even wrote a new book about it called, "Understanding Your Young Teen".

Three quick questions about your approach to ministering to the young people in your current ministry:
  1. How do you program effectively based on youth developmental stages?
  2. How do you teach the spirituality of messiness and disciplines in the ages and stages?
  3. How do you integrate the realties in to the golas and outcomes of your overall ministry?
Do or do not. There is no try.

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Confessions of a Youth Minister’s Son

Last Friday, our Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry (OYYAM) for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver held its annual FREEDOM event: a unique reconciliation service that gives youth and young adults an opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ in a real and profound way through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

(A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace; there are 7 sacraments that we celebrate in the Catholic faith).

It was quite an amazing sight to see close to 400 people go to confession.  And it got me thinking of this story I wrote a few years ago:

Sean received the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first-time this past Thursday as he prepares to receive his First Communion in May. It was fortuitous timing that Sean’s First Confession was the day before FREEDOM, the OYYAM’s annual youth reconciliation event.

So in the midst of my last-minute planning for FREEDOM, I sat Sean down on Thursday night to ask him about his experience and to pray with him in thanksgiving.

“So what did you confess?” I asked him.

“Dad, I’m not supposed to tell you!!!” was Sean’s quick reply.

“Very good son” I answered, actually covering up the fact that I forgot that I wasn’t supposed to ask him about what he confessed.

“But if you really want to know…” Sean continued. I smiled sheepishly, not sure if I should encourage him, discourage him, or run and hide.

“Just give me a summary then” I said.

“Well, I confessed all the names that I call Jacob. You know, names like dork, dummy-head, clown, goofball…”

I cut him off while trying to maintain a straight face. “Okay, Sean, that’s enough! I get the point!”

Turning to the task at hand, I decided to probe a bit further.

“Hey Sean: why do you think we’re calling our confession event FREEDOM?” I was curious as to how he’d answer.

“Because Jesus died on the cross to free us from our sins” Sean replied, “and in doing so our hearts are made anew.”

I offered up a prayer in thanksgiving: Sean’s answer confirmed that he did indeed understand the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Good thing he didn’t ask me about my confessions!

Clayton Imoo is husband to Gail and father to sons Sean Isaiah and Jacob Isaac and daughter Kayla Marie.  He has served as the Director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver for the past ten years.  Learn more about him at http://www.claytonimoo.com or follow him @claytonimoo

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Happy World Storytelling Day & the first day of Spring http://ow.ly/9M80g

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5 steps to help your student start a prayer group

One of the best ways we can engage our students with the mission of Jesus is through encouraging them to be part of a school prayer group.

You might have had a student express a desire to start a prayer group for their school.  If you are wondering what to say check this out!

Here are the 5 P's for a starting a prayer group:

Find at least one friend that would be willing to commit to praying with you on a regular basis. Most prayer groups in canada are not large but are made up of a few people who have committed to meeting together on a regular basis to pray. Perhaps this person is someone from your church, or youth group or someone at your school that you know has a heart for prayer.  Together you can walk through the next 4 steps.  Jesus and His disciples demonstrated the importance of working together.  Remember, school prayer groups are not reserved for one church but are open to anyone who wants to meet and pray.

We want to respect the people who lead our schools, so getting permission is a respectful thing to do. Find a sponsor teacher.  This is a teacher who you know and is willing to open their classroom to you and back you up.  When you have a sponsor teacher, you can arrange a meeting with your vice principal or principal.  Your sponsor teacher may want to do this for you or you will need to do it yourself(maybe bring along one of your peeps). In the meeting explain why you want to do a prayer group. Describe what would happen in a typical meeting, explain that everyone is welcome and that you will leave the classroom cleaner than before.  If the school is not willing to give you permission, that is ok.  We suggest that you find a nearby home or church and have your meetings there.  

This stage is going to be happening at the same time as PERMISSION. Decide on a regular time and place. We suggest that you meet weekly. We also suggest that you gather before school so that your lunch times and after school time can be spent with friends. We are praying that we would shine – we need to be with people to shine!

The first idea that usually pops into our head is to put up posters around the school.  This might seem like a good idea at first but it usually has very little impact and can be easily mis understood by others in the school. The best way to promote a prayer group is by word of mouth.  Invite people face to face.  Starting a Facebook group is another great idea. Another great idea is to write a letter to all of the churches in the area.  In the letter, let them know when the prayer group meets and ask the youth pastor to promote this to students in their group.
Pray - This might sound funny but the final step is to pray.  Often, our prayer groups turn into christian clubs or Bible studies.  Those are not bad things but our greatest need is prayer. Christian clubs can become more about hiding from the school but a prayer group is designed to help us meet the needs of others.  Instead of a bible study we would challenge you to start an additional meeting that is designed for outreach. Check out our resources like youth alpha and quest which are designed to help you create a safe place where people in any stage in their spiritual walk can discover Jesus. 

Check out http://www.campusfire.com/ to find out more about student led prayer groups

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