Monthly Archives: February 2012

Avoiding the Perils of Fundraising:Five Tips

Published at Youthworker Online (A part of Youthworker Journal)

Read the online article here

Avoiding the Perils of Fundraising: Five Tips

Most youth workers do not get excited about fundraising. Whether it is for the ministry budget, for the youth trips or to help fund something else, it is not in most youth workers’ nature to enjoy fundraising. Sometimes money can be seen as a necessary evil in ministry and rarely do we ever feel as though we have enough in churches, especially in recent years. Youth workers should not see fundraising as an enemy or a necessary evil. It is not the most meaningful or enjoyable part of my work with youth, but I have learned some things over the years that have helped with this area of youth ministry programming and leadership. These five tips are not the only things that need to be considered as we look at fundraising in youth ministry, but hopefully one or more of them are helpful to you.

Tip #1: Be Organized

Many people do not see youth ministry or youth workers as the organized type. While that can be an unfair characterization, the nature of youth ministry along with the personality of youth workers can tend to lead to more chaos than organization. Pulling off an event or youth group lesson at the last minute is very doable. Pulling off a fundraiser at the last minute is ill advised for many reasons. Chaos is difficult when you are raising money and failing to be organized often creates frustration amongst youth, parents and the congregation. The last thing you want to do when fundraising is to create negative experiences and emotions. Failing to be organized can hurt a fundraiser, but more importantly it ruin relationships as well as future fundraising efforts.

Tip #2: Know your Context

This tip applies to everything in ministry, which should be obvious to us, but I have often forgotten about context when planning fundraisers for youth ministry. For example, a youth auction (for the youth to work) is going to go well in a congregation with a lot of older members, but if most of the people in your church are under 60, it will not go so well. You are not likely to pull off a car wash if your church is located close to a car wash that has great prices and a great reputation, especially if its January and you live in Minnesota. When planning for your fundraisers, think about your church, your community and consider what other fundraisers are happening in the schools before you plan you fundraising efforts. Build fundraising traditions that will last and can best engage your youth, families, church and community.

Tip #3: Diversify

Make sure you have diversity in your fundraising efforts. I write about this in ‘Taking a Balanced Approach to Fundraising’ if you want to know more, but the summary of this tip is that you need to have variety to your fundraising. Offer different types of fundraisers at different times of the year. If you do not have diversity in what you do in fundraising, you will often miss a portion of your youth, church and community who may want to participate. Not everyone is good at selling things, nor is everyone’s life built for giving up a Saturday to work. Some families do not have much money to give, but have plenty of time, while others are just the opposite. If you do all your fundraising inside the church, you will miss out on opportunities to have visibility in your community. If you fundraise only in the community you miss the chance to build support for your ministry in your congregation. Make sure when you think about fundraising to mix things up.

Tip #4: Plan Ahead

This goes along with both tip #1 and #3, but the possible redundancy is worth it because these factors are important in fundraising. When I started at one church, I was asked if I could do a fundraiser that was not in May or June. Apparently all of the fundraising for mission trips that happened in July was done in May and June. Besides being a terrible time for fundraising, the lack of planning caused a lot of stress for everyone due to the lack of planning. Even if you work in a context where money is not an issue for your families, most people need to know ahead of time about costs and fundraising. Make sure to do most of your fundraising so that it is completed at least one month, if not two months, before the event you are trying to fundraise for.

Tip #5: Don’t see Fundraisers as an Enemy, but an Opportunity

If you have an attitude that fundraisers are the enemy or that you should not have to do them, you have already lost. As leaders, how we view things always impacts how well we do them and how well others respond to them. Many of our challenges around fundraising in youth ministry are directly related to our attitude towards them. Everything in life and ministry can be an opportunity. Sure, a mission trip is much more likely to create life change than a car wash, but if we see everything as an opportunity to help our youth and families encounter Christ, then our fundraisers can become meaningful experiences for our youth ministries.

Fundraising is not going away, and we need to consider our approach to this piece of youth ministry often treated as an annoyance when we should see it as an opportunity. Hopefully these tips can help us all to not only be more effective in our fundraising, but also in how we approach the parts of our job and ministry that we are not as passionate about.

Rev. Marcus J Carlson has worked with children and youth for over 13 years and is a spiritual director. He current serves as Associate Pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, CO. (

Simply Christmas

Published in Connections Magazine (Nov/Dec 2011)

Learn about Connections here

Simply Christmas

By Rev. Marcus J Carlson

Christmas is certainly one of my favorite times of the year. I would love to be able to say it is only because of the birth of Christ—but if I am honest, while that is the main reason I love Christmas, it is not the only reason. The reality is I love everything about Christmas—well, almost everything. I will admit I am not in love with all of the consumerism, nor do I enjoy shopping with the multitudes. Thankfully, I usually finish early. I enjoy the preparatory and anticipatory nature of Advent. I love Christmas parties, time with friends and family, sending and receiving Christmas cards, and eggnog, to name a few things.

I have a mild obsession with Christmas decorating, aspiring to be a slightly classier Clark Griswold. In fact, last year I had so many decorations inside and outside of the house, we could not have the Christmas lights on and operate our garage door without blowing a breaker. I have since solved the problem with an electrical upgrade rather than a decoration downgrade. Those who love Christmas usually have one thing they hang on to—and maybe take a little further than the average person. For me, that thing is holiday decorating.

The love for Christmas is rooted in my upbringing, even though my parents were not at all churched. While I have continued this love for Christmas, I have also found my love for the holiday has taken its own unique form, especially since I became a father. With children ages four and six, Christmas is filled with a very special magic that reminds me what it really means to celebrate: to anticipate and to have a childlike faith. I love the children’s excitement for Christmas—their inability to sleep Christmas Eve, the looks

on their faces Christmas morning, their joy in receiving gifts. My hope is that their joy is about more than gifts, but I am also realistic about the world in which I live. I, too, love gifts, and each of us—no matter how much we resist the consumer nature of our culture—have stuff we like. Like many men, I love gadgets, especially from a particular store that has a partially- eaten fruit as its logo.

In the midst of all that comes with Christmas—much of which can be a huge distraction from the real meaning of the holiday—there is always a moment where it finally feels like the coming of the Christ is upon me. The singing of Silent Night on Christmas Eve is the moment where I am most aware of the coming of the Christ child. It’s a simple song, full of power and beauty. Christ came to earth in such a unique, humble, powerful, unexpected and simple way. Our North American culture, including the church, has lost sight of much of the real meaning of Christmas, and even the most faithful Christ followers can get caught up in all of the other stuff surrounding Christmas. Our Christmas celebration today looks nothing like the first Christmas.

One of my good friends, a colleague and a brother in Christ I have known since college, once offered me a challenge regarding Christmas. He and his wife had made a decision to try and keep Christmas simple for their children. They decided that each year they would ask their children to find a toy they really liked—not a toy that was junky or never used—and at Christmas time have them give that item away to a charity to be given to a child in need. They also decided to limit the gifts for their children to three gifts to match the number of gifts that the Christ child received.

At first, I thought the idea was noble—but also probably too much for me. Upon further reflection, there was something about the simplicity of this approach that resonated with me. As my wife Jessica and I discussed the thought (and pondered how poorly this idea would land with the grandparents), we realized we wanted a different Christmas experience for our own children. One of our great hopes and dreams as parents is that our children would be raised to know, experience and live out those things that really matter to Jesus. We want our children to be missional, to see the world as Christ does: caring for the least, the last and the lost, and ignoring the world’s values and messages that are sometimes too quickly accepted by the church.

One of the values that we believe is a kingdom value, but not necessarily a cultural value, is simplicity. In the end, we decided to scale down Christmas, not exactly to the extent my friend suggested, but pretty close. It was interesting telling our parents that we were only allowing three gifts from them for each kid, and it has been interesting enforcing it as well. We had to make an exception for clothing, recognizing that most kids don’t see clothing as a “gift”—and without clothing from our parents at Christmas, our children might have to walk around unclothed.

Exceptions and enforcement aside, it has been a great gift to us and to our children. Christmas is cheaper, simpler and more focused on what matters. We explain the number of gifts to our kids, reminding them of what the holiday is all about. We hope that as they grow up, they might enjoy the gifts that come with Christmas, but more importantly to know the One who is the giver of all gifts and has given us the greatest gift of all, Himself.

Like any loving parent, I want my children to have the best life possible, but I must have the strength to remember that the best life is the life Christ has for them, not the life our culture tells me they “need.” In embracing simplicity, we connect in a deeper way to the power of Christmas and teach our children and youth a little bit more about God’s kingdom values.

I love all of the trappings of Christmas just as much, if not more than the next person, but I have also come to realize that as a follower of Jesus, a pastor, a parent and as a human being, I need to embrace a different way of seeing and experiencing Christmas. God sent the Christ child to earth in this unique way for more reasons than we will ever be able to comprehend, and I am convinced that one of those reasons is so we might constantly embrace simplicity in our lives. When we fully embrace our culture’s version of Christmas, we miss out on the abundant experience Christ has for us—and in some ways, we fail to be a light to those who need to experience the Christ child.

May all Christ followers be people who enjoy the gifts of the Christmas season, embracing simplicity and allowing the God of the universe to redeem this holy day for all. Amen.

A Good Story

Published in Connections Magazine (Jan/Feb 2012)

Learn about Connections here

A Good Story

By Rev. Marcus J Carlson

Everyone loves a good story. Whether shared by a family member, friend, stranger or colleague, we all seem to enjoy hearing a good story. Movies, television, books and other media provide us with many stories, ranging from terrible to life changing. There is something about a story that allows us to experience or see something in a way that we cannot without the story. The connection we find creates a unique link, parallel or understanding that enlightens us to our own life story as well.

One of the great tragedies in our culture today is that we do not often take the time to listen to the stories those around us have and need to tell. We all have a story to tell, and we do not often tell our own story. For whatever reason—even in the midst of our great love of stories and our need to connect to others in community—we have neglected to share and listen to the stories of those around us.

While we are willing to consume the stories that can be enjoyed through various media, our individualistic nature has caused us to avoid sharing our stories with each other. It has caused us to forget that those around us have a story they desperately want to share. This is true for people of all ages, but especially for children, youth and emerging adults.

My own two children (ages four and six) are always sharing stories with me. It is one of the ways they seek to connect with their father (notice the parallel with ourselves and God in this). The youth I encounter also have a story they want

to share, and they need adults who invite the sharing of their story without judgment.

We forget that the Bible—often treated like an unneeded, dusty instruction book—is filled with stories. The Bible is a series of stories of God, humanity and the world. The Scriptures tell the larger story, of which we are a part and with which we need to connect. It’s a story that will show us the very heart of God, as well as who we are and all that God has in store for all of creation. We are all a part of God’s story—and the more we connect to that story, the more we are able to recognize that God is writing a story in our lives. The more we engage with the God who loves us unconditionally, the more we are able to see where and how we fit into His story.

There are also a lot of false stories we encounter each day. The culture often has a story for us, as well as for our children and youth, that is far from the story that God desires for us to hear, experience and embrace. The stories our children are being told are causing them deep pain and leaving them feeling abandoned and alone. Our children and youth are constantly being told by individuals, groups and organizations that they are not good enough and that they do not matter.

I read various studies on children and youth; whether the studies are from 1970, 2000 or today, they demonstrate that our children and youth are hurting and have been told a false story. While the circumstances of their lives and the details of the stories they are being told have changed, the stories continue to be painful.

The challenges our children and youth face have and continue to change, but there are truths that have not changed. Our children and youth have always—and will always—need their parents, as well as other positive adult relationships. Parents will always be the most significant and important influence in the lives of their children and youth, especially when it comes to their spiritual lives and their relationship with God and His church. The stories we tell (and do not tell) our children are, and will continue to be, the stories that shape their lives the most.

While we may never have a more entertaining and attractive story than the ones that are told in our culture, we do have access to the most important story, a story that is different, the only story that can lead to abundant life. We have the greatest story ever told—God’s story.

As parents, as adults who are in relationship with children and youth around us and as followers of Jesus, we need to tell His story and our story. Parents and other adults who share their faith and their faith story with children and youth have a powerful impact on the lives of those children and youth.

One of the most significant influences—if not the most significant influence—in the faith of children or youth is the faith of their parents. One of the best things we can do for our children as parents is to grow our own faith, and then share that faith with our children. We rarely share our faith with others, especially with those closest to us. As parents and as adults we must share our faith and our story with not only our own children and youth, but also with all children and youth with whom we have the privilege of having a relationship.

We must allow our children and youth to see our faith, to see our relationship with Jesus Christ, to see that we, too, are trying to understand and experience the great story God desires to write in our lives. We must authentically and honestly live out our faith for the sake of our children and youth. We must allow them to see our victories, our questions, our strengths, our doubts, our failures and our scars. If we as followers of Jesus can share the story God is writing in, around and through us, then they will see the story God is writing in their lives as well.

Our children and youth (along with the world) need to be told a different story, a new story, a story of love, grace, hope and redemption. As followers of Jesus we are called to be a part of the world, but we are also called to give Christ power in our lives, not the world.

As we engage with the greatest story ever told, may we also remember that while we have the great joy of knowing and sharing the story, the most powerful part of God’s story is that we know the storyteller. May we never forget to engage with God’s story, listen to the stories around us and share our story with those we encounter—especially with our children and youth.

Relational Fundraising

Published at Youthworker Online (A part of Youthworker Journal)

Read the online article here

Relational Fundraising

By Rev. Marcus J Carlson

There are countess articles, books and sermons discussing relational youth ministry. Relational youth ministry has become more than a buzz word as church and para-church youth workers have emphasized and practiced some form of relational youth ministry for decades in many cases. While there are multiple definitions and forms of relational youth ministry and it is not without its strengths and weaknesses, there is no question about the importance of this approach to ministry. I recently read a book about youth for teachers that had Harvard influences and much of the thrust of that book was on a relational approach to teaching when working with youth. Recently it struck me that perhaps the relational approach to ministry should be applied to fundraising. As I contemplated this notion, I realized several things that have shaped how I view and approach fundraising in youth ministry.

If I look back on my own ministry career, it is obvious to me that quality of relationship has had an impact on my ability to raise funds. I have also found this is true for many of the youth I know with a couple exceptions. Those exceptions tend to be the youth who are either incredible at selling things or are very hard workers. My most successful fundraising has happened in contexts where I have the best relationships. In church settings where I was not as successful at building relationships with parents, congregation members and the community, I struggled more with fundraising. In contexts where I had more success at building relationships with parents, congregation members and the community, I had significantly more success with fundraising. In ministry settings where I had great relationships, I have found I was able to raise $12,000 when I needed $8,000; I would get at $5,000 donation when I wanted to ask for $500. If I look at all of the youth I have worked with over time, those who had more social capital (more significant adult relationships) had overall better relationships with adults and congregation members and raised more money with greater ease.

It all sounds pretty obvious when you think about it right? It should, but the reality is that many ministry leaders, especially youth workers, struggle to have a complete, healthy, theologically solid approach to money and ministry. Whether it is concern over salary or budget, an inability to manage our own financial resources and our budgets, or give financially to the ministry, youth workers can struggle when it comes to ministry and money. Healthy relationships build trust and ownership. Where there is great relationship, there is trust and ownership; where there is trust and ownership, there is support. Money in ministry is not as much about resources or management as it is about relationship.

I am not suggesting youth workers or youth build relationships for the purpose of raising funds. That would be ineffective and more importantly wrong. One of the fruits of good relationships with parents, congregation members, businesses and other adults is a willingness to share financial resources with those people we love and trust. Thinking about relational fundraising is just another reminder that relationship is at the core of what being a Christ-follower is all about.

As youth workers, relational youth ministry should not be focused solely on our relationship with youth. While should be a priority, our ministries are much more powerful (financially and otherwise) when we focus on relationships with parents, youth, congregation members, and other adults and businesses in the community we serve. Relational fundraising is not about the dollars and cents; rather it is about our ability to build trust and ownership in our communities.

Foot Washing: A Vision for Mission Trip Leadership

Published at Youthworker Online (A part of Youthworker Journal) January 2012

Foot Washing: A Vision for Mission Trip Leadership

Like many youth workers, one of my favorite parts of doing youth ministry are mission trips. They are powerful, fun, and incredibly effective. It is an amazing opportunity not only to learn and serve, but to have the kind of time with our youth we wish we had all throughout the year. In most of my ministry contexts, mission trips have been one of the most significant programs in the youth ministry. The power that comes in serving others is unquestionable, and the impact and importance of service for children and youth is only increasing. Recently, all significant books in the area of youth ministry discuss about service.

Over the years, the most important image from Scripture that casts a vision for mission trips in my own life in ministry is the story of the foot washing in the Gospel of John. The power and implications of this text are far too deep and wide to fully examine in this article, but it’s a text that all Christ-followers, especially those serving in ministry leadership positions, should carefully examine and reflect upon. Every mission trip under my direction has included a foot-washing service, usually towards the end of the trip. For the majority of those trips, the foot-washing portion of service has been conducted exactly the same way. During the service, I personally go around the room and wash the feet of each and every youth and adult leader from our group. After washing their feet, I take some time to pray for them. It’s a prayer I trust the Holy Spirit to provide, but I also take time all week thinking about how I can best pray for them. After finishing washing the feet and praying for each person on the team, I invite the team to what I call ‘open bucket time.’ I tell the team (youth and adults) they can use the next several moments to continue to pray, but also if they desire to wash one another’s feet. Some of my most meaningful moments as a Christ-follower, a leader, and a youth worker have happened during this time. Whether it is watching youth reconcile with one another by washing each other’s feet, siblings engaging in the intimate act of foot washing with one another, or having youth wash my own feet, the power, humility, and intimacy is overwhelming. I cannot take credit at all for this service or this model, as I (and we), are simply imitating what Christ did in the upper room for His disciples. We are simply honoring his call to ‘wash one another’s feet.’ This moment in the upper room is one of the most intimate moments in Scripture. Foot washing is a powerful imitation of Christ. It is the physical expression of what our lives as Christ-followers should be. It is the image of what missions and service should be all about. Our culture and our youth are perhaps more narcissistic and entitled than ever before, yet we desperately crave community. We need meaning and significance, we need to be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves, and we need to know that what we do and who we are makes a difference in the world. In this simple act of foot washing, Jesus has given us an answer to all of these challenges and needs and as long as our heart is focused on the God of the universe who got down on his hands and knees and washed the feet of his disciples, we will find an answer to all these needs and more. We will find a model for discipleship, service and leadership that can and will change the world.

As a Christ-follower, leader, and youth worker, there is no greater act for me than to get down on my hands and knees and wash the feet of those I love, serve with, and lead as we all seek to be imitators of our Lord Jesus Christ. The foot washing is more than just a powerful moment to be imitated; it is a model and vision for missions and leadership in the church and the world.

Rev. Marcus J Carlson has worked with children and youth for over 13 years and is a spiritual director. He current serves as Associate Pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, CO. (

The Spiritual Formation of Children and Youth: Parents and the Church

Published in Connections Magazine (July/Aug 2010)

Learn about Connections here

The Spiritual Formation of Children and Youth: Parents and the Church

By Rev. Marcus J Carlson

There is no question that the spiritual formation of children is important. Jesus Himself said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). While we do not question the importance of the spiritual development and formation of children, many other questions plague parents and the church. Who is responsible for the spiritual formation of children? How do we “do” spiritual formation for children?

We live in a nation of rugged individualism and consumerism. We take a consumer approach to everything in our culture, including the church. We seek out churches with strong programs that ‘”meet our needs” and help us achieve our goals. Nowhere is this more profoundly true than our ministries to children and youth.

Christian education, children’s ministries and youth ministries have become places where parents bring their children in hopes that the church might raise them spiritually. The church has obliged, and continues to create programs to attract and retain children and youth. Unfortunately, in some cases this has created a mindset where the church has become a childcare service instead of a ministry.

Churches have not done a good job at listening to the needs of parents and families. It would be easy to blame parents, but the responsibility lies both with the church and with our families. The situation we find ourselves in is regrettable, but not intentional. Our youth feel abandoned and alone as the church has not always known how to really meet the spiritual needs of teenagers. However, perhaps more than ever before in the history of the American church, there is a desire for a deeper and more intimate relationship with God. Parents in our churches today care deeply about the spiritual life of their children, and know that they need to have a significant role. The church is starting to recognize that our children and youth need more than programs to educate them. Hope abounds!

So, what’s the answer? We need a new paradigm, a new way of doing things. God has called parents to a very special

ministry as they raise their children. It is the highest call that God has offered humanity. Parents are the spiritual leaders of their children, not the church. That said, parents often feel overwhelmed by and afraid of what it means to be the spiritual leaders of their children. The church needs to serve as a complement—not a supplement—to what parents do as the spiritual leaders of their children and youth.

Additionally, the church needs to focus its energy in children, youth and family ministries on partnering with parents. Programs are wonderful tools, and they are just that— tools. Our programs should intentionally equip and build up parents and families so they can fulfill their roles as the spiritual leaders of their children.

In future articles, I hope to share with you what we can do together as parents, families and the church to draw our youth and children into deep, authentic relationships with Jesus Christ. There is no lack of suffering, pain, and confusion in the world, but we have the only true source of hope that is Jesus Christ.

Evangelism and the Spiritual Formation of Children and Youth

Published in Connections Magazine (Sept/Oct 2010)

Learn about Connections here

Evangelism and the Spiritual Formation of Children and Youth

By Rev. Marcus J Carlson

Lutherans have not always been considered to be strong in the area of evangelism, and every church in America could use some renewal when it comes to evangelism. Some people believe children and youth are not capable of having a faith of their own. I once heard a pastor state that youth are not capable of having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

We sometimes assume that our children and youth cannot and do not understand matters of faith, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is during childhood and teenage years that a vast majority of people come to know Jesus Christ. Confirmation is geared toward youth because we believe they can begin to own their faith and truly own and affirm their baptism. The evangelism of children and youth is critical but intimidating.

There are a couple things we need to remember when it comes to the evangelism of children and youth. First, it is God’s work, not ours. Duffy Robbins, one of my youth ministry professors in college, was fond of saying “God makes believers; people make disciples.” The goals of evangelism are to connect people with the life-giving grace of God that has always existed, and to help them participate in the relationship with God that has always been there.

Unfortunately, we become comfortable that it is God’s work and not our own, and are prevented from seeing the need for evangelism. This is particularly true with children and our rites of passage. Although powerful and important, the church community has relied on those processes to do evangelism for us. We bring our children to God for baptism, embracing the already-existing grace and salvation that God has offered. We participate in confirmation to help our children affirm their faith. Once confirmation is over, many feel that they are finished. Perhaps this is part of the reason that we as Lutherans have not always been good at evangelism.

Another thing that my youth ministry professor always used to say was, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” When it comes to our youth, there is a great temptation in youth ministries to evangelize youth by entertaining them to a relationship with Jesus. We cannot “out entertain” the

world, nor can we sell Jesus to youth by turning Him into a commodity that can be used to meet needs. Doing so denies the Kingdom vision that Jesus brought to the world.

Often we see ourselves incapable of evangelism because we do not think we can do it right. We assume that our own beliefs must be flawless in order to share them with others. Evangelism is not about right belief—it is about right relationship. So how do parents and the church “do” evangelism with children and youth?

First, we need to tell the story. We need to talk to our children about the story of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures and in the world around us. We do not need to explain the story or need to understand everything about the story. Again, God is the one who does the work and the one who makes believers. Let God’s story speak for itself.

We tell our kids stories all the time, and we all love a good story. We watch movies and television shows, pick up books and listen to the stories all around us. We desperately want to tell our story to someone and to have our story heard. The best thing that parents can do to evangelize their own children is to tell the story. Tell the story of God, tell your story, let your children tell their story. We all want to know that our story has meaning and that it connects to a bigger story—God’s story.

When leading children’s time in worship services, I often give the children a question to ask their parents or grandparents. I do this to create faith conversation in homes and to give parents a way to talk to their children about their faith.

Marcus Carlson

is a Spiritual Director & certified LCMC pastor who has worked in youth and children’s ministry for over 10 years. He is Youth Minister of Bethel Lutheran Church, Colorado Springs, CO. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children.

20Allow your children to ask questions, and accept it when you do not have the answers. In relationships, authenticity and questioning will always be more important and effective than any answers you can ever give.

Evangelism with youth is a topic that is written about, debated and wrestled with in the mind of almost every youth worker in the world. Entire organizations and ministries form around the subject of teenage evangelism. It is true that most people come to Christ during their teenage years, and these years can certainly be the most formative for one’s faith— both in a positive and a negative way. Evangelism with youth is simple and yet very complicated. True, healthy, effective evangelism with youth can only happen in relationship and community.

The good news: we don’t have to be entertaining or perfect to do youth evangelism. The challenge: we must be authentic. Authenticity is not the normal mode of operation in our world, and although it means to simply be ourselves, it can be scary and risky. Teenagers have an incredible ability to sense when we are not being authentic. Youth come to know Christ when they see us authentically following Christ: in our doubt, in our fears, in our questions, in our victories and in our celebrations. Youth want to see our story and how we connect to God’s story so they can also find ways their own story connects to the story God is writing in the world.

My son Micah was four when we left the Methodist church to become Lutheran. As a child in the UMC, Micah took communion, but most children in our new Lutheran church did not and waited until after their first communion. For a couple of weeks, we did not have Micah participate in communion. One week just before communion Micah looked at us and said, “I want to have the bread and the juice because Jesus is in my heart.”

My wife and I looked at each other with surprise. He had never heard that message or language from us yet, nor were we aware that he had heard it in Sunday school—and yet this little four year old was able to articulate the meaning and power of communion. The story spoke for itself. Micah takes communion each week, hands held out like the posture of a beggar as he walks up to the altar, and I re-learn and re-live the story of God as he teaches me.

Evangelism of youth and children is critical to my own life and ministry. I did not grow up in the church at all. I did not know Jesus, and in middle and high school was heading down a very dangerous path. I encountered God, met my future wife and found my call because of a couple of teenagers who helped me hear and see the story of God. Their willingness to share the story of God saved my life.

Spiritual Practices in the Home

Published in Connections Magazine (Nov/Dec 2010)

Learn about Connections here

Spiritual Practices in the Home

By Rev. Marcus J Carlson

The spiritual formation and development of children and youth is a high calling and a complicated undertaking. Developing a deep and authentic Christ-centered faith in our children requires more of us than weekly worship and church program participation. Having written about the need for a partnership in the spiritual formation and development of youth and children between the church and families, I would like to offer some suggestions and ideas that families can implement in their own homes. These suggestions are not exhaustive; as parents, we are best able to discern what tools we can use to enhance our children’s relationship with Jesus Christ. I have organized the suggestions into categories in hopes that you might find a practice in each that will be helpful to your family.


•Emergency Prayer—Every time we hear or see an ambulance, police or fire vehicle our children point it out and have us pray. We tried this when they were very young and it has stuck with them. They lead the prayer and it is often something as simple as “God, help the people who need the sirens.” Of course, for older children the prayers would be a bit different. It has helped our children to recognize that everyone needs God and that our faith is to be exercised everywhere.

•Mealtime Prayer—We all know at least one of the commonly used mealtime prayers. Those prayers are great to use, but also can become stale. We take turns having our children lead prayers at every

meal. Since our children are young, we do repeating prayers where we will repeat after whomever is leading prayers. This simple exercise does not always lead to eloquent or divine prayers. We often end up praying for “Spiderman” or “snowballs”, but it instills in our children the idea that we can and should pray for everything and that prayer is simply talking to God.

•Morning and Evening Prayers—We cannot forget the power of regular prayer to begin and end our day. This can be something you do as a family, or something that you ask your children and youth to do on their own when they go to bed. At some point in our lives, things like showering and brushing our teeth become habits for which we do not usually need a reminder. What if the same were true of prayer?

• Prayer After School—Often when parents ask children about their day at school, they get little to no response. Taking time to pray after school helps our children and youth reflect on their day, and helps them to be more in tune with how God is working around them. It also can increase their sensitivity to the need of others. We believe that prayer can transform any school or community.

The Bible

•Bible Reading Time—Establish a Bible reading time as a family. This can be done in a variety of ways. For younger children, you can read the story to them. There are many great age-appropriate Bibles with pictures. You can also ask your older children and youth to spend just 5 minutes every day reading something in the Bible. Remember, the stories in the Bible speak for themselves, and we as parents should not be afraid to expect our children to engage with the Bible.

•Listening to Scripture—Many free Bible podcasts and audio versions of the Bible are available. Take

Marcus Carlson

is a Spiritual Director & certified LCMC pastor who has worked in youth and children’s ministry for over 10 years. He is Youth Minister of Bethel Lutheran Church, Colorado Springs, CO. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children.

12some time to listen to the Scriptures with your kids. You can do this in the car, just before or after a meal, or during any other five-minute period of time. This helps our children and youth engage with the Bible, and can teach them to use time that would otherwise be wasted to focus on God. The use of technology also can help engage our children and youth with the Word of God.

•Devotionals—Another way to engage with the Bible as a family is to use a devotional. There are many different age-appropriate devotionals that can be used as individuals or as a family. There are also online devotionals and podcasts. I write a devotion almost every week for our youth and parents—while only a few read it on a regular basis, I like providing a resource that could lead to discussion about faith between youth and their peers or parents. We have had some devotionals that youth have shared with their unchurched friends. Our devotional can be found on the “resources” page of our website at


•Family Altar—Create a sacred space in your home. I once had a colleague who converted the small closet under his stairs into a sacred space for prayer, reading and worship. You can take a small table and put a Bible, cross, candle and other things on it to make it a sacred space where family members can go to focus on God. Creating a closet, room or other small space can also help our children and youth learn how to practice solitude while teaching them that God can be worshiped at home as well.

• Celebration of Church Seasons—The church seasons are an important part of our history and faith expression that unfortunately are being lost in our consumer culture. The church seasons are sometimes seen as irrelevant, yet they have such power and relevancy if we try to engage them in fresh ways. Celebrating Lent together as a family and learning about sacrifice can be a very powerful experience. The youth group of one church made Advent wreaths as a fundraiser each year for families to use. When our family has used it, we have found that it has grounded our attitude toward Christmas in the birth of the Christ. Get a calendar of church seasons, and talk about the purpose and meaning of each of the seasons. The church seasons can help us understand and better engage with the seasons

of life and faith while remembering the story of our own faith.

•Participation in Worship-—Perhaps it goes without saying, but our participation as a family in church is critical. One of my favorite things about my own church is that children are in services with their families. My children are ages three and five—while there is no question that being in worship can be challenging for us, for them and for those around us, I love seeing the whole community of faith together. In many families, church participation is limited to certain family members, and this is a great tragedy. Participating in worship and other church activities together leads to the transformation of the whole family. Taking time to talk about what you have learned and experienced in church together can only strengthen the faith of the family and each of its members.

There are an infinite number of ideas and ways to help point your children to Jesus Christ, and hopefully this list has helped to spur some ideas of your own. Please feel free to try out these ideas and modify them to fit your family—and share your ideas with me as well. May we all work together to point our children and youth a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ’s Village

Published in Connections Magazine (Jan/Feb 2011)

Learn about Connections here

Christ’s Village

By Rev. Marcus J Carlson

I wish I were a better parent. I have found myself thinking and saying this far more often than I would like. As I spend time working with children, youth and parents while raising my own children, I continue to grow far too aware of how difficult parenting is. The challenges of raising a healthy child physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually in our complicated world today can be overwhelming at times.

The quote “it takes a village to raise a child” has been used in many settings and in many books to discuss the challenges of caring for our children. This quote rings true today in every arena of the lives of children and their families. While this quote is not found in the Bible, it is a Biblical principle. Christianity is a communal faith, and the church is to be an expression of our faith in community. We were never meant to follow Christ alone. Even though our highly individualistic culture might tell us otherwise, our faith is meant to be lived out individually, in community and in the world. Perhaps a modern Biblical proverb might read “it takes a community of faith to raise a child who will follow Christ.”

Parents are looking to the church to help them raise their children, and not just spiritually. Many parents feel overwhelmed by the task of caring for and raising their children to be healthy in a world that can be very unsafe. One of the greatest sources of new members in many churches are young families who have children. These families are coming back to church again—or coming for the first time— because they want their children to grow up in the church, to learn about the Christian faith or to be raised as Christians. A survey three years ago in our church indicated that 35% of those who came to our church for the first time came so their children would be “exposed to Christianity.” It is my own personal belief that two parents are not enough in today’s world to raise a physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually healthy child. Many families do not even have the luxury of having two parents in the picture, often to no fault of the parents or the child.

In the American Church today, we have many ministries, opportunities and programs for your children and youth. These ministries seek to care for children and youth, but often become like silos or compartments, easily disconnected from the larger church. This model is beginning to be challenged, and even changed, as our culture seeks a church that cares for the whole family and is truly intergenerational. In our world of abundant resources and many means of communication, we have become more disconnected. We crave relationships and community (which is how God created us to be), and many families feel more distant from each other than ever before.

So, what are we as the church to do with this reality? What can we as the church and as parents do for our children so they have the best possible chance in life? How can we work as a community so our children and youth might experience the abundant life Jesus promised us in the Gospel of John? The good news is that the answer is found at the core of our faith: relationships. The great news is that we have the perfect model for relationships in Jesus Christ.

The church—the community of faith or “Christ’s Village”— is called to work together in the formation of our children and youth. Our children and youth need multiple Christian adult relationships to have the best chance for a healthy, full, Christ-centered life. As a church, we need to find ways to create community, enhance relationships and build up families. We need to make sure our ministries, while serving the different needs of each age and stage of life, are connected and support the nurture of our children, youth and families.

We have tried to address this in our own church as we look at our youth and children’s ministries. We are moving more toward a family ministry model where these ministries still care for children and youth, but also seek to work together in a comprehensive way. We are seeking ways to help children, youth and families grow and achieve the full and abundant life Christ desires for us. Additionally, we are trying to be more intentional about providing our children— and especially our youth—with multiple, positive, Christian adult relationships. We are seeking to design our ministry so that by the time our youth graduate, they have had many different relationships: pastors, ministry leaders, Sunday school teachers, older youth, confirmation leaders, small group leaders, youth group leaders, confirmation mentors, parents and other adults. These adults gain as much out of their relationships with youth as they give, if not more.

As Christians, we believe in and follow a relational God. Christianity is a relational faith. We have a relationship with the God of the universe. Jesus Christ came to earth to be in relationship with us. We know this as the incarnation. God in the flesh, here on earth, moved into the neighborhood. Jesus was on location and in relationship with humanity, and continues to be through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is a relational document, telling the story of God’s relationship with the world and our relationship with God, each other and the world. Relationships are what children, youth and families will remember, more than any event or lesson we ever have to offer. It is relationships that last and have the longest and most consistent impact. In a world that continues to grow in complexity and danger, our children, youth and families continue to be and feel alone— even with all of the resources, technology and opportunities the world has to offer. Children and youth crave community and meaningful relationships with adults. To bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, we need each other.

Jesus provides the perfect model for relationships. I like to summarize the relational ministry of Jesus this way:

oJesus was in relationship with everyone and anyone. Relationships matter most.

oJesus was on location. He was with people. Presence is powerful.

oJesus was intentional. He did things on purpose and with a purpose. Process and purpose matter more than results and performance.

If we come together as the church, we will not only raise healthy Christ followers, but we will also change our families, our community. We will bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth. It takes “Christ’s Village” to raise a child. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, came into our world to be in

relationship with us and to show us we can be in relationship with God, each other and the world.

May we seek to be the community of faith God has called us to be and experience the full and abundant life promised to us in every area—in our churches, families and lives.