Youth Ministry. Are overnights worth it?

Most pastors know what it is like be part of an overnight retreat with a group of middle schoolers.   Last weekend two parents from our middle school youth group led a nice overnight trip to go tubing down a very large ski hill not far from where we live.  The parents lined up the housing at a friend’s cabin, organized the feeding of the multitude, and helped lead good conversations.

Here is what I learned:

1. Two new amazing card tricks.

2. Putting together a puzzle is a nice get away for teenagers who are tired of their noisy friends.

3. Household items break more easily in the presence of a dozen teenagers.

4. Open the flue before you start the wood stove.

5.  Open the doors to let the smoke out of the house.

6. Middle schoolers love to listen to the radio.  I’m officially a grown up because I don’t care to listen to their preferred radio stations.

7. Someone in the group will get hurt to some degree when sledding or tubing.

8. A cabin with no television, cell phone coverage, or internet reception is great.

9. Make sure to pray before meals and before bed.

10.  Quantity time is the best way to get to know kids –not necessarily quality time — i.e. riding in the van, standing in line, and waiting for the ticket counter to open are good times to visit.

11.  Three adults with a dozen teenagers was a pretty good ratio.

12.  Let more than one adult be responsible for lights out.  With two different dads hassling the teens about going to sleep, I’m pretty sure they were all pretty much dozing more or less by  11:00 p.m.

13.  Being outside with other people is a good thing.

14. People from the congregation are much more willing to let you borrow their vehicles for youth events than I thought they would be.

15.  Just having fun together is a very religious thing.

So… is it worth it for middle-aged pastors to be part of the youth group’s overnights?  Definitely.

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Then and Now

Paul Horsted’s “then and now” comparison collages of historic 1874 Custer expedition photos  meshed with modern shots of the same locations have become very popular.

Pastor Kent graciously agreed to take a Paul Horsted style photo of his quickly aging colleague (namely me).

Both Opoien photos were taken just outside Custer Lutheran Fellowship from a similar location twenty five years apart.  In the photo on the right I was a 19 year old college student spending the summer living in the Sunday school rooms with a dozen other students as a part of Custer Lutheran Fellowship’s “Sojourner” ministry.  We led musical programs at local campgrounds, helped out in the congregation, and learned to live in Christian community.    In the photos a person can see that the cross on the sign in the background is the same, but the green lawn and gravel driveway have given way to a paved parking lot and large new sanctuary.

Twenty five years ago I couldn’t have guessed that I would be married to one of the other Sojourners and serving as one of the pastors of Custer Lutheran Fellowship.

I found the photo and a pile of others in a search of the CLF archives and decided to post a batch of the photos on facebook.  I’ve been somewhat startled by the response.  In the past two days, nearly twenty former summer workers at CLF have contacted me with fond memories of their ministry and relationships  from many years ago.  There is even talk of a reunion.

If you use facebook, you can see the photos posted at “I Lived in an A-Frame at Custer Lutheran Fellowship.” Looking at former Sojourner’s Facebook pages I’ve seen photos of families and varieties of tales of various occupations and activities.  Many are active in their local congregations.  For those reading this who are long time members of CLF, you can know that your love and care toward these former college students played an important role in shaping their lives and view of the world.  I’m included in that crew, and I say thank you.

God is good to us and loves us through each other.  The people in the pictures are solidly middle aged now.  But the love that helped make them who they are is timeless.

Sojourners 1983

a few of the Sojourners in 1986.

Daily Devotions and How To Shoot a Moose

If you look immediately to your left on this page you will find a link for a daily devotion. Click on the date and you’ll be taken to a site maintained by Luther Seminary called, “God Pause.”    A short scripture reading and a few comments written by a smart Lutheran provide you a pause with God.  Good idea.

My mother was a devoted “Christ in Our Home” reader.  Our congregation still gives out these little booklets with a devotional reading and a prayer for each day of the year.  The palm-sized booklet has many uses.

My favorite use came to me from a former parishioner in Minnesota who was hunting moose in Alaska and needed two pieces of paper to draw a moose into shooting range.  Evidently, bull moose have an aggressive streak toward other bull moose as well as poor eye sight.  Upon seeing the reflection of light off of another bull’s antlers, a randy moose will promptly drop out of the tree cover to chase off the invader.

My friend was seated just out of shooting range when he saw a bull moose across the valley.  He had been told that because of their poor eye sight a moose could be fooled by a hunter holding two pieces up paper in the air like a soccer official holding up a card.  The moose will mistakenly identify the papers as sunlight reflecting off of the antlers of a competitor moose.  The moose will promptly come investigate.

The only paper my friend had with him was his small Lutheran devotional booklet which was stuffed in his small hunting bag.  Tearing out two pages, he held the fake, paper antlers aloft and shortly thereafter bagged his trophy.


I don’t think the devotional booklets were printed for this use, but I’m glad that they can come in handy.

If you don’t want to carry a devotional booklet, but you do look at your computer daily the “God Pause” site will give you a nice, short devotion to start your day.  You can even have the words automatically emailed to you if you follow the directions on their site.

I wonder if the devotions pulled up an an Iphone could be used for hunting purposes as well.

Weak Parts

On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable… (1 Corinthians 12.22)

A few weeks ago I had surgery to “clean up” a tear in the meniscus (cartilage) of my left knee with arthroscopic surgery.  About a week after the surgery the doctor showed me a dozen or so pictures of the inside of my knee which show before and after pictures of the tear and repair.  To me they look more like weather patterns on the surface of some distant planet’s orbiting moon.  Stop by my office some time and you can see what they look like to you.  At any rate, everything about this knee surgery thing amazes me.

See full size image

An Artist's Rendering of Pastor Kent's Meniscal Tear

First, it’s amazing to think that someone could stick something in my knee (let alone something with a camera that takes digital pictures) and within a few hours I could be walking and within a few weeks I could be back to normal… actually, better than normal.  Healed, in fact.  Second, it’s amazing (and humbling) for me to think that a much greater percentage of the world lives without the privilege of this type of surgery or without the insurance to “cover” the expenses of such a surgery.

But then there’s other surprises.  A few days after the surgery (after watching the entire – I’m a little ashamed to admit – final season of Lost), I realized that not only was my left knee stiff (the one I had surgery on), but my right knee was also.  Without even knowing it, when I hobbled around the house between episodes of Lost I had, of course, favored or focused on the “weak” knee to the detriment of my “stronger” knee.  I’m not concerned that I’ll need surgery on my right knee now, but it did remind me a bit of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

Speaking of the way a spiritual community works or doesn’t work together, Paul writes, every member is an essential part of the body.  Not only that, Paul explains, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (12:26).

It reminds me of the two factions on what a congregation or family or individual should focus on or be about.  One camp says: focus on your weaknesses, you only grow or get better by looking at what you don’t do well and fixing it.  The other camp says: focus on your strengths, you only grow or get better by looking at what you do well and celebrating it.  As if speaking to both camps, Paul says to the Corinthians, “Now you all are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (12:27).

The Work of "Being Church"

The work of being the church… and remember, the church is not just congregations, but every home and family… is about BOTH suffering together (focusing on weaknesses) and rejoicing together (focusing on strengths).  And in this, we as the church find healing that is even more amazing then what’s going on in my knee right now.  And that’s pretty amazing.