My Christmas Resources!

I have a handful of Christmas resources that I have created – and a couple that Heather created with me – that may be useful during this time of year! The images below are all links to where they are located on the Download Youth Ministry store. Check them out!

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God With the Fearful is a one-off Christmas message based on Matthew 1:18-25 focusing on God’s promises to Joseph to save him and be with him in his fear. It includes a message manuscript, handouts, discussion questions, PowerPoint file, and images for social media.

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Hashtag Sleigh Ride, Christmas Movie Trivia, and Caption Challenge Christmas Edition are all games that can be played in person or online. Hashtag Sleigh Ride and Caption Challenge Christmas Edition both include versions for Instagram as well! Heather and I co-authored Hashtag Sleigh Ride and Caption Challenge Christmas Edition.

 

Strange Holidays is a fun collection of seasonal social media images and challenges that can be used, one per week, for the months of December, January, and February! The Christmas Scripture Video five pack has five typography videos with Christmas related scripture passages – at $6 for all five videos, it’s an incredible deal! They are all licensed to be used in person and online, so they can be used as worship elements, or even just social media videos in the buildup to Christmas. See the video below to see what they are:

Sometimes I Read Books

I read some amazing books. Here’s what I think of them:

Terraform: Building a Better World by Propaganda. This book is so good. Seriously good. Using the metaphor of terraforming, Propaganda makes a case for being active participants in remaking and repairing the broken parts of our culture and world. With a mix of poetry and writing, he passionately calls out where we need to put our work. I found myself highlighting my way through the book; here’s a couple that jump out at me:

“Christians of that time had an understanding of a person’s origin, value, and functionality and thus built a world from that perspective. However, the world they created, for all the relative good that came about, was catastrophic to their neighbors, their fellow earthlings, who lived around the world. I want to challenge you to tell better stories not only about yourself but about the people around you.” (p.15)

“The evangelical—well, let me be specific, the white Western evangelical, and let me be even more specific, white Western evangelical as a social construct, and white not as ethnicity but as white-ness, evangelical not as faith but subcultural demographic—this person tends to take the opt-out approach. Almost as if the solution to an evil empire is to build their own version of empire. Christian schools, coffee shops, health insurance, chicken sandwiches, music, festivals, you name it, there’s a Christian version. If you work it right, you could go through an entire day and never be in contact with any non-Christian person or business.” (p.163)

It’s thought provoking. Challenging. Convicting. A beautiful call to action. Propaganda is gifted when it comes to words and his book is a must read.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson’s history of America is a powerful case for a caste system rooted in our history, culture, systems, and attitudes. The stories, our history, are jarring and horrifying, often untold but so important to recognize. As someone with a bachelor’s degree in history – with an emphasis in American history – it is often jarring to me to increasingly realize how selective what I’ve been taught has been. It is hard to argue with Wilkerson’s thesis; there is a caste system rooted in our country and there is powerful resistance to recognizing that.

I loved this quote from the beginning of the book: “

We in the developed world are like homeowners who inherited a house on a piece of land that is beautiful on the outside, but whose soil is unstable loam and rock, heaving and contracting over generations, cracks patched but the deeper ruptures waved away for decades, centuries even. Many people may rightly say, “I had nothing to do with how this all started. I have nothing to do with the sins of the past. My ancestors never attacked indigenous people, never owned slaves.” And, yes. Not one of us was here when this house was built. Our immediate ancestors may have had nothing to do with it, but here we are, the current occupants of a property with stress cracks and bowed walls and fissures built into the foundation. We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now.” (p.16)

There is much to do in our nation. It is our responsibility to deal with it. Wilkerson’s book is a must read.

Separated by the Border: A Birth Mother, a Foster Mother, and a Migrant Child’s 3,000-Mile Journey by Gena Thomas. Such an important book. It tells the stories of two women, both immigrants; one from the United States and the ease of that process, one from Latin America and the horrors of that process. Reading this story of a woman’s 3000 mile journey, the dangers, the sexual assaults, the horror of her child being taken away, the kidnappers … and all of it being worth the risk to escape what she was facing at home … too often we dehumanize those who arrive at our borders, viewing them as a problem we want to go away without asking what makes all of those horrors an acceptable risk to each of those hopefuls seeking asylum. A number of us read this book before and after our mission trip to McAllen, Texas, this past summer.

It’s a powerful book and we could all benefit from knowing more than what gets written in the headlines. Definitely worth reading.

Another Book Review Roundup

Some more short takes on four books I’ve read recently:

Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, Lisa Damour. I really appreciate Dr. Damour’s books about teenage girls. In Untangled, she does a great job of helping the reader to understand the critical steps an adolescent girl needs to take as she heads toward adulthood, as well as give parents tools to both understand what is happening and how to help guide that process. She gives great advice, challenges readers to help guide young women to confidence and assertiveness, and helps navigate healthy approaches to processing emotions. One thing that jumped out at me as a parent of four adolescent boys was the concept of externalization; “a technical term describing how teenagers sometimes manage their feelings by getting their parents to have their feelings instead.” (p.85) In other words, it’s too overwhelming to feel the frustration, fear, or anger in a situation so they let their parents feel it instead – something I recognize in hindsight happening all the time with my teens and other teens! Definitely a good book for anyone parenting adolescent girls or working with adolescent girls. Strongly recommend!

How (NOT) to Read the Bible: Making Sense of the Anti-Women, Anti-Science, Pro-Violence, Pro-Slavery and Other Crazy-Sounding Parts of Scripture, Dan Kimball. Spoiler alert: I will be recommending this book this summer to those who attend our Summer Series class on the Bible called “The Book.” Kimball did a great job creating a solid resource for Christians on understanding the Bible, how we got it, the different cultural and contextual impacts in understanding it, and how to read it in our modern culture. I don’t land in the same place as he does in every question he tackles, but the areas where I would take a different approach are ones where we can still be in unity in our pursuit of God despite our different interpretations. It’s a great introduction to many of the topics that confuse or frustrate readers of the Bible. His writing style makes it readable for adults and teens. Definitely worth checking out!

The Making of Biblical Womanhood, Beth Allison Barr. Dr. Barr, an associate professor of history at University of North Carolina, and the associate dean of the Graduate School at Baylor University, put together a compelling work with this book. She writes, “Patriarchy exists in the Bible because the Bible was written in a patriarchal world. Historically speaking, there is nothing surprising about biblical stories and passages riddled with patriarchal attitudes and actions. What is surprising is how many biblical passages and stories undermine, rather than support, patriarchy.” (p.36) Barr does a thorough job of addressing questions around the role of women and the Bible’s stance, the roots of patriarchy, and what place is has today. She used her expertise in ancient cultures to shed new light on controversial passages in scripture that was fascinating. Regardless of where you stand on the topic of women’s roles in church and ministry, this is an important book to read and process.

Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free, Linda Kay Klein. This is one of those books that I highlighted my way through. So. Many. Highlights. Granted, what Klein calls out is exactly what I grew up in – and drove me away from the faith for a season of my life. On page 14, while introducing the book, Klein writes, “The purity message is not about sex. Rather, it is about us: who we are, who we are expected to be, and who it is said we will become if we fail to meet those expectations. This is the language of shame.” Through interviews, her own story, and extensive research, Klein does an incredible job of mapping out both the issues around the topic of purity culture and the damage brought by it. It was the first time I read the term “Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS),” which mimics PTSD, and a host of other similar disorders, but I recognized it immediately in what I and many of my peers experienced. I think what she has written is important and well worth reading.

Twenty Years

Twenty years. It goes by fast.

In March, 2001, I became a full time youth pastor.

Heather and I had been married for a handful of months and had just found out we were expecting our first child. He would end up being two days old at our first anniversary – definitively NOT part of our five year plan, but we like him so it turn out okay. My youth group at the time thought they had input in naming him and seemed to think “Cletus the Fetus” was a legitimate option. We politely declined. You’re welcome, Micah. Now he’s in college and some of those teens have kids closing in on youth group age. It goes by fast.

We have four sons total. There was a brief window last summer where they were all in the youth group at the same time; our youngest moved up to sixth grade, our oldest hadn’t left for college yet. Having my own kids in the group is amazing. I like to joke with other youth pastors that it’s like having my own brutally honest focus group.

I feel like I should be listing all of the things I’ve learned over the years. Honestly, though, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. I’m still learning, I’m still figuring it out, I’m still wrapping my mind around what youth ministry is.

As a parent of teens now, I have to confess that young youth pastor me would have driven current me crazy. Lousy communication, last minute notice about events, a little too confident at times. I had a lot to learn.

But there’s also an incredible nostalgia that comes with watching the old videos from those days and looking at the photos. It was such an exciting, new time.

Probably the biggest difference now is perspective. Youth ministry is a long game. I think I used to believe too much rode on each meeting, I took it too personally when kids were kids and broke the rules, I thought too much hinged on me. It’s really about being a stable, consistent presence, gently pointing young people to God, showing grace, not panicking over things that may seem huge in the moment but in reality fade away quickly. I love that I still love doing it.

Youth ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.

But it does go by fast.

Jesus and John Wayne

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, Kristin Kobes Du Mez.

Wow. This is an important book.

I attended a boarding school in South America during my high school years. During the few years I was there, multiple missionaries were removed from the mission for sexual abuse of children. For close to twenty years I genuinely believed I had happened to be at the school during a weird time and that that kind of abuse couldn’t be the norm. Then a decade or so social media changed the conversation. Hundreds of former students came forward, revealing that in reality, the school had been the site of rampant abuse for decades. What I had thought was a blip was actually a systemic failure. It was a gut wrenching realization.

I had the same experience reading this book.

So many of the stories shared in this history of Christian nationalism in America were moments I remembered being uncomfortable with at the time, but then moving on and not considering their lasting impact. Having it all laid out reveals a far more serious picture of spiritual unhealth and spiraling patterns. Du Mez has done an incredible job of presenting history, walking the reader through the progression of dangerous trends in the American church.

This book is an important one. It would be easy to ignore or reject it because of the uncomfortable realities it reveals, but my hope is that it will spark conversations, trigger questions, and drive critical self evaluation. The church has reformed in the past, something we celebrate and honor. We can do so again.

All that to say, yes, I highly recommend this book.

Book Review Roundup

Some short takes on four books I’ve read over the last couple months:

God and the Pandemic, N.T. Wright. I really wish I had read this when it first came out! Wright does such an effective job of both navigating scripture and addressing the real pain of the pandemic. He challenges the reader to respond like Christ, while cautioning that sadly, for too many “the coronavirus is providing people with a megaphone with which to say, more loudly, what they were wanting to say anyway.” (p.7) He challenges readers to be humble, to have perspective, and live out God’s calling to love our neighbors even if it means sacrificing our preferences. He askes the questions, “Who is going to be at special risk when this happens? What can we do to help? and who shall we send?” (p.32) I really appreciated the heart in this short book; definitely worth checking out!

Gay Girl, Good God, Jackie Hill Perry. Perry’s book was not what I expected; it was much more than a discussion about her transition from being a lesbian to marriage to her husband. It is the story of her life, the abuse she endured, how she navigated sexuality, the story of her coming to know Christ, and eventually the story of the relationship with her husband. She writes that “being born human meant that I had the capacity for affection and logic. Being born sinful meant both were inherently broken.” (p.21) I thought how she told the story of addressing her brokenness was beautiful. My one frustration was that for much of the book it came across as though becoming a Christian meant a natural transition from gay to straight. It wasn’t until the end of the book that Perry acknowledged that while that was her experience, it certainly isn’t true of everyone. Rather than being a book about sexuality, Gay Girl, Good God, is the story of Perry’s faith journey, and as such it is moving to read. I highly recommend.

Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say, Preston Sprinkle. I’ve enjoyed Sprinkle’s writing over the years (Erasing Hell is one that stands out), but I was frustrated with this one. Sprinkle’s strength is in humanizing the stories of transgender people, but by his own admission, his weakness is that he is neither a doctor or a psychologist. Too often I felt he was either picking the research he agreed with and ignoring the ones he doesn’t, or attempting to interpret complex medical research that is above his pay grade. Having said that, I was surprised on his stance on pronouns and names (given the preceding chapters and his conclusions in general about transgender issues). I appreciate the argument he makes from scripture on why using someone’s chosen pronouns is both respectful to the person and in line with scripture. Overall, though, if someone is going to read just one book on this topic, then I would recommend Mark Yarhouse’s Understanding Gender Dysphoria. As a theologian and a practicing psychologist, Yarhouse does an incredible job of balancing both scripture, science, and his decades of direct experience working with people.

Engaging Generation Z: Raising the Bar for Youth Ministry, Tim McKnight. I found myself highlighting a lot of passages in McKnight’s book. It’s a great resource for learning more about Gen Z, how they think, and ways to reach them. I appreciated his comments on page 83 that teens want to be challenged with spiritual meat; that we don’t need to be dumbing down the material for them. He addresses an issue that I think is particularly relevant for churches to confront; he points out that Gen Z is the most “racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history.” (p.36) As such, they are that much more aware of how the church responds to race issues – and it has become a major stumbling block for them. I know I’ve seen this directly with the teens in our church and their frustration on how they’ve seen many adults in our congregation interact around this topic and other topics over the last year on social media. McKnight gives a lot of great insight on healthy approaches to student ministry, practical tips, and more. It’s definitely worth checking out if you are in student ministry.

2020 Writing in Review

2020 has had a lot of challenges … but it was a fun year for being published! I had a chapter in a book, saw sixteen curriculum resources release, and had nineteen games and other media type resources release. I should probably clarify that I did not create all of this in 2020; some of these were resources I had submitted in 2018 and 2019. It takes anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple years for things to go through the publishing process. Another fun development this year was teaming up with different family members; both Noah (Hua Mulan) and Zach (Guinea Pig Party) had ideas for games that we put together during quarantine. Heather was the brains behind the Caption Challenge and Hashtag games, both of which have been far more popular than anything I have come up with, as well as the one who came up with the idea for Insta Devos. And Micah helped me with Actin’ Sus, which will probably retain the title of best selling youth ministry resource by a McNutt until the end of time. Anyway, if you’re interested, click on them to check them out!

The Book:

Available at Download Youth Ministry:

Curriculum

                

Games & Media

                                    

Published with The Youth Cartel, now available at Download Youth Ministry:

         

Zach’s Insta Devo

Our student ministry has been posting short devos called “Insta Devos” to our Instagram and Facebook pages. It’s been a fun way to see students interact with scripture and share their insights with one another. This week, our youngest – Zach – who is moving up into the youth group in a few weeks, did one as well! I’m super proud of him … it’s my favorite Insta Devo!

First Testament: 1 Kings resource

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My ninth First Testament curriculum resource was released last week by the Youth Cartel, this one on the book of 1 Kings! First Kings is a fascinating book to study; the historian in me loves the stories of the different kings of Judah and Israel. It is history with a purpose; the stories are chosen by the author(s) to demonstrate God’s power and His desire for us to follow Him alone. It is very applicable to today – and each lesson has connections to the book of James. Like the other First Testament curriculum, it is a four week small group guide full of discussion questions and lesson ideas. They’re only $5.99 each, or you can grab five of them for only $19.99 (that’s twenty weeks of material for a buck a week!). Here’s the official description:

First Kings is history written with a theological purpose; the author(s) wanted the readers to know there is one true God. Despite the covenant between God and His people, the Israelites fell into a downward spiral of increasing sin and death. Their constant selfishness, idolatry, and fighting with one another, resulted in the nation splitting in two, Judah and Israel, and a long list of evil rulers. Only a handful of the kings followed God, but even through all the failure, First Kings is an important book for believers today.

Through the stories of the different kings, students learn important lessons about God’s power, our dependence on Him, the hope we have in spite of failure, and the incredible love God has for each of us.

  • Week 1, Solomon the Wise (1 Kings 3): A challenge to look to God for wisdom.
  • Week 2, Solomon the Fool (1 Kings 11): Solomon allowed to sin to creep into his life; this lesson challenges students to keep their focus on God.
  • Week 3, Asa the Good (1 Kings 15): In spite of failures, Asa was able to be righteous before God.
  • Week 4, Ahab the Evil (1 Kings 16-18): Idolatry was not just a danger for the ancients, it is a real danger today as well.

First Testament: Lamentations resource

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My eighth (!!!) First Testament curriculum resource was released last week by the Youth Cartel, this one on the book of Lamentations! I’ve always loved the book of Lamentations; in many ways I believe our culture pushes us towards unhealthy ways of handling sadness, grief and suffering; Lamentations models a far healthier way to process difficult times. It’s beautiful poetry, haunting and terrifying imagery, and fascinating that it doesn’t have a happy ending. I think for many, this current season is a perfect time to embrace the five laments of Lamentations and work through them. Like the other First Testament curriculum, it is a four week small group guide full of discussion questions and lesson ideas. They’re only $5.99 each, or you can grab five of them for only $19.99 (that’s twenty weeks of material for a buck a week!). Here’s the official description:

Lamentations is a collection of five poems, or laments, that wrestle with the pain, grief and horror the ancient Israelites experienced at the hands of the Babylonians. Their nation conquered, their temple destroyed, and their children taken captive, they were a devastated people. Lamentations was written and/or collected by the prophet Jeremiah and read in unison every year on the anniversary of the destruction of the temple. Lamentations teaches the reader how to grieve. It also teaches lessons about God’s judgment, compassion and sovereignty.

Included with this study is a collection of 60 images to be used as a discussion opener for each study. Lamentations uses word images to convey message and meaning. In the same way, use the photos to get the participants to think abstractly, to identify and communicate message and meaning.

  • Week 1, Family (Lamentations 1): The importance of family and connections in the grieving process.
  • Week 2, Judgment (Lamentations 2): What does God’s judgment mean? What is its place in our lives?
  • Week 3, Compassion (Lamentations 3): Even when the end is not in sight, it is possible to see God’s compassion and hope in our suffering.
  • Week 4, Sovereignty (Lamentations 4-5): God’s power and authority is absolute; what does that mean when we suffer?