Posts

Bugattis

Bugattis, Disability, and Youth Ministry

Happiness from Things

“A million dollars will not make you happy.”

“Zach, a million dollars will buy me a Bugatti, and that will make me happy,” the youth quipped.

“A Bugatti will not make you happy.”

“Have you ever driven a Bugatti?”

Bugattis

I had not. There goes my credibility. Not an auspicious beginning to my start as part time youth pastor. I was struggling to persuade the youth of even the most basic and hackneyed lessons: Jesus > Money. Thanks for nothing undergraduate degree in philosophy and religion. Thanks for nothing M.Div. from a prestigious seminary. I felt despondent. I looked up where I could test drive a Bugatti.

Happiness from Relationships

Thank God for Chris. Chris is a young man with Down’s syndrome that I knew well from my other job with Young Life Capernaum, the wing of Young Life’s ministry dedicated to reaching adolescents with disabilities.

Chris started coming to our church at my invitation. Chris met the youth. They go to the same school. Then some weeks later:

“I’m thinking about joining Best Buddies (an organization that partners neurotypical youth and peers with disabilities).

“Oh?” I asked with thinly veiled surprise.

Yeah, I only want Chris to be my buddy. I won’t be buddies with anyone but Chris.

“Sure,” I mumbled profoundly, mystified yet grateful.

They began a friendship which marked a period of spiritual growth and development for the youth that I can take little credit for. By his senior year he was president of his schools Best Buddies program, and his younger brother had started up a chapter at his middle school. Chris had taught them much more effectively than I had been able to.

You Cannot Serve Two Gods

Youth pastors can be more like our youth than we would like to believe. If I asked youth pastors what would spell success for their youth groups, they might not say a million dollars or a Bugatti (although even I would give it a try if someone offered), but they may have on their mind people or things the world values rather than what Jesus values.

There are kids that walk into your youth group and you can’t help but notice their gifts. They are funny, athletic, and popular. They are the kids other kids want to be around. If you put enough of them in a room, add pizza, games, and a lesson you will be set.

Then there are the kids I work with in Young Life Capernaum. If you put enough of them in a room, you’ll have many youth pastors stammering sagely about boundaries and prudent stewardship of time. Not that those things go out the window, but there are always noble reasons to avoid the bewildering and uncomfortable values of Jesus.

We usually don’t take Jesus seriously when he tells us he values the invisible, marginalized, and needy.

What Do You Value?

We usually don’t take Jesus seriously when he tells us he values the invisible, marginalized, and needy. However, if money could help our youth groups live into God’s Kingdom, these poor ones would be reckoned as spiritual millionaires. The students with disabilities I work with may be socially awkward, or have more accessibility needs than our pre-ADA church can accommodate, but without them my youth group and I see a much dimmer picture of the Kingdom. If we want our youth to grow up with a vivid picture of God’s Kingdom, then we need to start valuing these students like they are handing out million dollar bills.

Where in your youth group would young people with disabilities be welcomed? This week, how can you begin widening the circle of young people who would be welcomed? Challenge yourself, your leaders, and your young people to love whoever might walk through your doors, embodying the welcome we hope to receive in God’s Kingdom.


About the Author: Zach Grant

Zach Grant

Zacharias Grant works as the Youth Pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in St. Augustine, FL and as coordinator for Young Life’s disability ministry in St. Augustine. Zacharias got his undergraduate degree from Flagler College studying philosophy, religion and youth ministry. He received his M. Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is most passionate about increasing the contact and conversation between the church and folks with disabilities for their mutual transformation.

YM & Kids with Disabilities

VIDEO: Youth Ministry & Kids With Disabilities
Interview with Zach Grant

In this video of the “Zachs”, our own Zach Gurick talks to regular Kindred author, Zach Grant, about how we practice youth ministry with kids with special needs.

This interview took place after Zach’s presentation at the Flagler Forum on Youth Ministry at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. We’ll be releasing the video of some full presentations from the forum here on Kindred Youth Ministry in the coming weeks.

TRANSCRIPT:

Zach Gurick: We just wrapped up the Flagler Youth Ministry Forum and we are sitting with Zach Grant, who is one of the Princeton grads, writer for Kindred, practicing youth ministry here with kids with special needs and also with neuro-typical students as well. What is something that stood out to you that you would love — you might be able to share this with 2 or 3,000 youth workers out there — I would love for them to hear this, that you learned from the last 24hrs?Youth Ministry & Kids with Disabilities - Zach Grant
Zach Grant:
Yeah, there were a lot of really valuable things that came out of this time and I feel like it was wonderful to learn as much from the wonderful speakers that we had, as well as just being here with the bunch of other youth ministers who are going to these things, working through them. We were in a wonderful kind of a breakout session about the mental health. I think that was probably where I was throwing around the word ‘neuro-typical’. And just talking with folks, it was, I sometimes feel like disability ministry seems like a niche ministry. It seems like something that, maybe churches might do out of their excess or if there is a particular, you know, special ministry opportunity to reach out to folks who has disabilities in the area.

But it was interesting because we are in these conference about mental health and that’s what we are discussing with other youth ministers. It was very interesting to hear how the tenor of the conversation in my church because of doing this ministry with kids with disabilities. The tenor of it was changed because people were kind of thinking about mental health or people that didn’t feel in the main stream cognitively, and so had generated these sensitivities and also for them to hear and get good feedback from the mental health side because that I have a lot of experience working with kids with disabilities but I think there is a lot of overlap. There is a lot of places where these things are clearly distinct, but I think they can speak to one another.

Zach Gurick: Yeah, you pointed out before how having kids with disabilities involved with typical neuro-typical students as well allows this space were the typical kids are more okay and more comfortable to be open or to reveal those things that might otherwise kept hidden? Tell us more a little more about that.

Zach Grant: Yeah one of the best things that I think it does is, that it really kind of undermines this idea of a normal kid or that I have to fit within this kind of paradigm on what is normal. And so kids can be very honest about, here is this thing that I am dealing with or I take medication for this particular mental… that you will never notice about me but I feel comfortable to reveal it to you because I understand that this is a place that can accept differences and we do that in a very visible way through this outreach to kids that would be in a special education class at the High School or might be in a self contained classroom where everybody is in a wheel chair. And so it helps kids understand – Boy! These are people that going to love me no matter what the world kind of puts on me in terms of a stigma or label. 

I understand that this is a place that can accept differences and we do that in a very visible way through this outreach to kids that would be in a special education class.

Zach Gurick: That’s fantastic. Well, you’re doing an amazing ministry here. Beautiful ministry that is touching lives far beyond, just this community so thank you for what you are doing and we really appreciate it.

Zach Grant: Thanks for putting this on.  It’s great to talk to you.

Summer Camp & YM Dreams

Summer Camp and Youth Ministry Dreams

I really believe in summer camping. When I was a kid, a week at a Young Life camp changed the trajectory of my life. I have spent a lot of time since working at summer camps and taking kids to them. I love it.

Summer Camp & YM Dreams

Weaponized Truth

There is one thing about it that I wish would die, though.

One recurrent, disappointing fruit of an otherwise life changing summer camp experience is the in-your-face self-righteousness.

Kids step off the bus filled to overflowing with enthusiasm and freshly-dreamt possibility, and often enough they squander it by acting like jerks. Parents who are not in theological lock-step with camp pastor Craig (name chosen at random) get an earful. Peers that do not measure up are given detailed accounts of their shortcomings.

They say they are just speaking the truth in love, but the truth of self-righteousness is a half-truth. They are lobbing the truth like grenades from a place of safety. They “lovingly” drop these truth bombs on those around them while staying safely out of the blast radius.

I think it is annoying to be around, but the worst part about it is that it allows kids to avoid the real changes to their lives the Gospel wants us to be about. At best, it is merely shuffling one vice into the place of another.

I would like to think that churches would be the most welcoming of places, but people with disabilities often find that their welcome does not have much substance behind it as soon as their special needs present themselves. Their presence in communities is at once a blessing and a threat of change.

While some responsibility falls to the individual, I know some of the blame is ours. Just as summer camps create a type of space that gives kids room to change their lives, the communities they come home to cultivate the character of those changes. If we are honest, our communities are better models for this self-righteous sentiment than we would like to admit.

Dreams of Risky Generosity

The Christian Church is generous. We give tremendously. However, this loving generosity is often lobbed into needy situations from a place of safety. We want to help the needy, but we do not want the needy close enough to help us, influence us, or even affect us. We stay out of the blast radius. Instead of the Kingdom of God, where the first are last and the last are first and it is somehow better for all, we settle for a social club where we fulfill the expectations of that club, one of which is to give some of our excess.

Often our communities are not worthy of the dreams and enthusiasm of kids. We must dream bigger dreams for our communities so kids’ dreams can grow robust in the humility of striving for the Kingdom of God rather than wither in the self-righteousness of satisfying the expectations of a social club.

Dreams of Real Community

I am trying to dream bigger. I have a dream for my church and the kids of my youth group that I hope would be big enough to squash some of that self-righteousness.

When I dream for my community, it is hard not to think about my friends with disabilities I have met through my work with Young Life Capernaum (Young Life is a Christian youth ministry organization and Capernaum is the wing of that ministry that intentionally reaches out to kids with disabilities). I think about them because, when I notice our dreams for our communities are too small, it is primarily because I see how my friends with disabilities do not fit easily into the churches we come up with.

I would like to think that churches would be the most welcoming of places, but people with disabilities often find that their welcome does not have much substance behind it as soon as their special needs present themselves. Their presence in communities is at once a blessing and a threat of change.

I have a dream where each one of these people with disabilities is embraced.

It is a big community—one that can embrace all of these people.

It is a compassionate community—one that is so deeply concerned with the welfare of their neighbor that they might lay themselves aside to embrace people they would not naturally come into contact with.

It is a blessed community—one that has so many wonderful gifts in these people; gifts the world has in many cases cast aside, but that Scripture assures us are in each and every person.

It is a close community—one where the divisions that split them between able or disabled (Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female) fade with proximity.

It is a dynamic community—one that avoids the ruts that divert us from this life-giving work and the barriers that tell us it cannot be.

It is a vulnerable community—one that risks the changes closeness brings.

Make Your Dreams Come True

Perhaps there is someone else on the margins that comes more readily to mind; someone whose inclusion expands your vision of your church community. By all means, dream with them in mind. However, I challenge you to think about my friends and I pray you will challenge me to think about yours. Hopefully, together we will dream a dream so vast for kids we will cling to Christ and each other in humility as we step off the bus from camp. Hopefully, this dream will enable us to be more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, but instead to nurture a community of love.


About the Author: Zach Grant

Zach Grant

Zacharias Grant works as the Youth Pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in St. Augustine, FL and as coordinator for Young Life’s disability ministry in St. Augustine. Zacharias got his undergraduate degree from Flagler College studying philosophy, religion and youth ministry. He received his M. Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is most passionate about increasing the contact and conversation between the church and folks with disabilities for their mutual transformation.

Bugattis

Bugattis, Disability, and Youth Ministry

Happiness from Things

“A million dollars will not make you happy.”

“Zach, a million dollars will buy me a Bugatti, and that will make me happy,” the youth quipped.

“A Bugatti will not make you happy.”

“Have you ever driven a Bugatti?”

Bugattis

I had not. There goes my credibility. Not an auspicious beginning to my start as part time youth pastor. I was struggling to persuade the youth of even the most basic and hackneyed lessons: Jesus > Money. Thanks for nothing undergraduate degree in philosophy and religion. Thanks for nothing M.Div. from a prestigious seminary. I felt despondent. I looked up where I could test drive a Bugatti.

Happiness from Relationships

Thank God for Chris. Chris is a young man with Down’s syndrome that I knew well from my other job with Young Life Capernaum, the wing of Young Life’s ministry dedicated to reaching adolescents with disabilities.

Chris started coming to our church at my invitation. Chris met the youth. They go to the same school. Then some weeks later:

“I’m thinking about joining Best Buddies (an organization that partners neurotypical youth and peers with disabilities).

“Oh?” I asked with thinly veiled surprise.

Yeah, I only want Chris to be my buddy. I won’t be buddies with anyone but Chris.

“Sure,” I mumbled profoundly, mystified yet grateful.

They began a friendship which marked a period of spiritual growth and development for the youth that I can take little credit for. By his senior year he was president of his schools Best Buddies program, and his younger brother had started up a chapter at his middle school. Chris had taught them much more effectively than I had been able to.

You Cannot Serve Two Gods

Youth pastors can be more like our youth than we would like to believe. If I asked youth pastors what would spell success for their youth groups, they might not say a million dollars or a Bugatti (although even I would give it a try if someone offered), but they may have on their mind people or things the world values rather than what Jesus values.

There are kids that walk into your youth group and you can’t help but notice their gifts. They are funny, athletic, and popular. They are the kids other kids want to be around. If you put enough of them in a room, add pizza, games, and a lesson you will be set.

Then there are the kids I work with in Young Life Capernaum. If you put enough of them in a room, you’ll have many youth pastors stammering sagely about boundaries and prudent stewardship of time. Not that those things go out the window, but there are always noble reasons to avoid the bewildering and uncomfortable values of Jesus.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” –Luke 6:20

What Do You Value?

We usually don’t take Jesus seriously when he tells us he values the invisible, marginalized, and needy. However, if money could help our youth groups live into God’s Kingdom, these poor ones would be reckoned as spiritual millionaires. The students with disabilities I work with may be socially awkward, or have more accessibility needs than our pre-ADA church can accommodate, but without them my youth group and I see a much dimmer picture of the Kingdom. If we want our youth to grow up with a vivid picture of God’s Kingdom, then we need to start valuing these students like they are handing out million dollar bills.

Where in your youth group would young people with disabilities be welcomed? This week, how can you begin widening the circle of young people who would be welcomed? Challenge yourself, your leaders, and your young people to love whoever might walk through your doors, embodying the welcome we hope to receive in God’s Kingdom.


About the Author: Zach Grant

Zach Grant

Zacharias Grant works as the Youth Pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in St. Augustine, FL and as coordinator for Young Life’s disability ministry in St. Augustine. Zacharias got his undergraduate degree from Flagler College studying philosophy, religion and youth ministry. He received his M. Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is most passionate about increasing the contact and conversation between the church and folks with disabilities for their mutual transformation.