Friday, May 11, 2018

Homework Might be Stressing Out Our Teens

I spent eleven years as a high school counselor so I was not surprised by an article I recently read.  According to the article, many high school students spend two hours or more each night doing homework.   If they are involved in any extra-curricular activities such as music, drama or sports, the result can be a full schedule.  The end result is the stress level among high school students can be high.  Ten to twelve hours days for high school student might not be uncommon.  That is something that parents and those who work with teens need to keep in mind. 

For those trying to minister to teens in a church setting it can be frustrating.  They spend time building relationship with middle school years students.  After confirmation they invest a couple of years equipping them to be leaders within the youth group, only to see them do a disappearing act once they become high school juniors.   The same students who are leaders in the church youth group also are leaders at school.  Unfortunately one reality is their schedule leaves little time for church youth activities.  It underscores the need to find alternative ways to stay in touch with them. 

For parents it means learning to be flexible and maximizing the limited time we do have with our teens.  It also means not adding to the pressure by imposing our needs on them.  We also need to understand the difference between being a manager and being a consultant.  We cannot expect to manage their lives for them.  As they get ready for life on their own that is a skill they need to learn.  When they ask for advice or counsel it means providing it and then stepping back. 

The one consistent element should be prayer.  We must be constant in our prayers for both their safety and their spiritual well-being. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Students Should Not Be Afraid to Go to School

I grew up in Detroit.  Motown in the 50’s and early 60’s was a wonderful place to be.  Reflecting back, it was almost an idyllic existence for a boy.  My friends and I considered the whole east side our playground.  It was not uncommon on a summer’s day to pack a lunch, and get our bikes to go exploring.  For long excursions we would take the bus downtown or to Tiger Stadium to watch a ball game.  The city was a relatively safe place and we never felt threatened. Somehow, that all changed in 1963 with the assassination of President Kennedy.  Within a few years two more of our heroes would be assassinated and the Vietnam War would escalate.  Still I never personally felt threatened.  As I contemplate the past, I believe one of the reasons I felt safe and secure was because of the environment I was in much of the time.  Our home was a safe place and so was my school. 

I went off to college in Chicago.  The Windy City was an exciting place to live.  The elevated trains and subway allowed me to explore the city.  I especially felt safe and secure on our campus in suburban River Forest.  There was no need for a campus police force.  We kept our dorm rooms unlocked and the building itself was accessible 24/7. 

I contrast that to today when there is even talk of school metal detectors and allowing teachers and school administrators to carry guns.  It is difficult for me to identify with such a world.  I spent my last eleven years of ministry in a high school environment.  It was a much different world even ten years ago.  Yet, the truth is it is the environment our students live in today.  As we learned at Sandy Hook, even first grade classrooms are not safe.  Hardly a week goes by when we do not hear of another school shooting.

We should not be surprised that in a recent Pew Research poll 57% of the teens surveyed indicated they worried about a shooting at their school.  Sixty-three percent (63%) of the parents surveyed shared their concern.  It is the world we live in.  The threat of violence has become a reality, but the other abiding truth is the love and security we have in Jesus Christ is the same.  Jesus lived and died in a violent world.  He also conquered that world and along the way defeated death as well.  We need to live confidently in that peace.  We also need to be sharing that peace with the next generation.  The threat might be real, but so is the hope we have in Christ.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Great Commission: Shame on Us

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them all things I have commanded of you.”
Matthew 28:19-20a

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20a) should be at the core of the mission statement for any church that claims Jesus as Savior.  It should be at on the heart and mind of every person who calls themselves a Christian.  Our top priority, individually and collectively, should be to grow the church that was established in the Name of Jesus.  A new poll from the Barna Group underscores how far short we have fallen in not only living out Jesus’ command but in passing it on to the next generation.

According to the survey, over half of the Christians (51%) polled are not even familiar with the term “Great Commission.”   That is a serious problem.  How can we expect success when most of the membership do not even know and understand why we exist?  What kind of success would a company have if half the sales force did not know the details on the product they were representing?    Unfortunately we cannot assume that the other half of those polled even know of Jesus’ command to “make disciples.”  When presented with a list of scripture references, only 17% were able to identify Matthew 28:18-20 as the “Great Commission.”
Age seems to make a significant difference in whether Christians recognize the Great Commission. More than one-quarter of Elders (29%) and Boomers (26%) says they know the text.  That compares to 17% of Gen X and one in 10 Millennials (10%).  Still that is nothing to brag about.  Even older adults seem to have lost sight of what the number #1 priority of the Christian Church should be.  In my opinion, that can be traced to the reality that for Christians over the age of fifty the number one priority is preserving what they have, rather than sharing it. 

I would like to think that not all is lost.  If you have read this far I believe you have a heart for ministry.  I would hope that 100% of my readers are aware of the Great Commission and that most could quote it from memory.  If that is the case, change has to start with us.  The key to passing the torch to the next generation is to make sure that generation understands who we are and what we stand for.  That begins by making sure they know Matthew 28:19-20, and then modeling that in our own lives. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Life in the Gap

We hear a lot about the divisive environment that exists within our country today.  I must admit that sometimes I feel like I am living in the space between those two cultures.  I am a Baby Boomer and fall into the 70+ age group.  I have many friends that age and when I attend a Bible class on Sunday morning I find myself surrounded by folks about the same age.  On the other extreme I am part of the local directors of Christian education cluster.  Most of my fellow DCE’s are either members of Generation X or are Millennials.  My research usually takes me into the world of teens and young adults and in many ways I identify with them and their perspectives. 

Living in the gap between generations provides me an interesting perspective.  I can see the cultural divide from a unique viewpoint.  I also think I can identify with both sides.  Much of the difference when it comes to a generational group can be traced to their experience.  When it comes to the Silent Generation they were greatly impacted by World War II.  Almost everyone was involved in the war effort in some many.  As a result, they are very patriotic and continue to support our country’s military effort.  They also are committed to family and traditional values.  Generation Z (those born since 1999) have some things in common with the Silent Generation.  While they did not experience a war, they have grown up post-911.  That leads them to value security and the close relationships.

Likewise, Baby Boomers (born from 1946-1965) and Millennials (born from 1980-1999) have some things in common.  Both grew up in a time of relative political stability.  They also experienced a major shift in technology.  For Baby Boomers it was television.  For Millennials it was the computer.  In both cases it changed the way we lived and broadened our perspective.  Both television and the computer exposed people to a whole new world.  That world shapes them and who they are. 

For a person who feels like he is living the gap I think I can begin to understand the context that each generation brings.  I have also learned that you cannot compartmentalize people.  There are Baby Boomers who are patriotic and Millennials who value traditional values.  The key to getting along is to learn to respect each other for who we are and to listen to each other.  Only when we seek to understand  each other can we hope to work together to ultimately make a difference.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Legacy of the Chair

We have a very special rocking chair in our living room.  When my mother moved out of her apartment the chair and a small footstool were the only pieces of furniture that I claimed.  The chair belonged to my great, great grandmother, Bertha Landstra.  She distinguished herself by living to be 105.  To say that she was spry might be an understatement.  Her obituary noted that she was still playing tag in the basement with her great grandchildren when she was in her nineties.  A fall, and bump on the head, put an end to that. 

I still have a picture from when she turned one hundred.  She was featured on the front page of the Detroit News.  There are three of us in the picture, spanning five generations.  I was three years old at the time.   The church was a big part of her life and the celebration was held in the basement of St. Thomas Lutheran Church on the east-side of Detroit.  I have a vague recollection of that party but I have more vivid memories of listening to the Detroit Tiger games with her.  She lived in the back, upstairs bedroom in the family home.  She had lost her sight but she was still able to listen to every game on the radio. 

The presence of that chair in our home opens the door to conversations about my family roots.  The same can be said for the dining room set that came from my wife’s parent’s home in St. Louis.  We also have the piano from that home.  Barb still plays on that same piano.  When we gather as a family, our kids still enjoy congregating around the piano to sing, much like Barb’s family did growing up. 

Mementos can be open doors to tell the stories of our past.  It is the way our family heritage if passed on from generation to generation. 

“Only be careful and watch yourself closely so that you do not forget the 
things that your eyes have seen, or let them slip from your heart as long as 
you live. Teach them to your children and their children after them.”  
(Deuteronomy 4:9)

Our values seem to have shifted and Christianity appears to be in decline.  Perhaps the reason is we have fallen short in our attempts to pass on the heritage of faith.  Fortunately there is still time.  As long as God gives me good health I want to use the time I have to pass on my heritage of faith.  It is not just my children and grandchildren who need to hear the story.  The message of God’s grace and mercy needs to be shared with a lost and fallen world as well. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Today's Teens More Career Focused

I like to think of myself as an optimist.  Part of that is rooted in my years working with teenagers.  I always wanted to see the positive in kids I was working with.  I looked for potential and tried to help them capitalize on that.  As a high school counselor I looked for the opportunity to give students a second chance.  “What can we do so this does not happen again?” became my favorite question.  That optimistic spirit is probably why I am drawn to Millennials.  I see more positives in them than I do negatives.

I recently read a report on Generation Z that causes me to be even more optimistic about the current group teenagers.  The report came from research done by The Barna Group and published as the book, Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivation Shaping the Next Generation.  The study was produced in partnership with the Atlanta based Impact 360 Institute.

One of the striking differences between Generation Z and Millennials was found in their goals and priorities.  According the study the Primary Mark of Adulthood among Generation Z was financial independence (42%), compared to Millennials (25%).  Among Millennials the top priority was emotional maturity (45%).  Emotional maturity was the Primary Mark of Adulthood among 23% of Generation Z who noted that response.  That about-face was reinforced by goals that members of Generation Z listed as important.  Finish my education (66%), Start a career (66%) and Become financially independent (65%) were the top goals.  The bottom line is Millennials put more emphasis on feeling good about themselves, while education and career were the highest priority for Generation Z.
The drive to get an education and start a career, with the goal of financial independence is mostly likely rooted in their experience watching their parents navigate the great recession in 2007 and 2008.  In addition, having grown up post 9/11 they have only known a world where the threat of violence is real.  They sincerely want to change that world and are looking for career choices that will facilitate that.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Gun Control: A Child Shall Lead Them

Mass shootings are becoming too common an occurrence.  Most recently it was Parkland, Florida.  Each time there is a new tragedy there is an immediate outcry for more gun control.  The Second Amendment guarantees the rights of Americans to bear arms.  Gun right activist will be quick to remind us that gun ownership is an entitlement that is guaranteed.  Still the uproar created will result in an appeal of restrictions on weapons of mass destruction.  An additional challenge becomes how to keep any firearm out of the hands of those who should not have them in the first place. 

In most case the public outcry quickly dies down until there is another tragedy when the cycle repeats itself.  Somehow, I hope this time it is different.  Immediately after the heartbreak in Florida the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School immediately took their protest to the State Capital in Tallahassee.  Other students protested in front of the White House and Capital.  Now almost two weeks later, students from Parkland, Florida are appearing around the country calling for change.  They seem determined to not let the issue disappear.

Today’s teens are members of Generation Z.  This is the cohort that was born since 1999.  They have grown up in the shadow of 9/11.  As a result, security is a big deal to them.  In addition to the threat of a terrorist attack, now there is the danger of someone entering their school environment with no purpose other than to inflict harm.  In the same way that we cannot deny their insecurity, we cannot negate their passion to put an end to the violence.  We can add to this the reality that they are the largest and most diverse generation ever.  As they age, they will also become the biggest voting block in history.  They will determine the future direction of our country.  In time, I believe their voices will be heard.  If there is to be an end to gun violence and mass shootings, I have hope this generation will lead us.