Rethinking Children’s Sermons

by Rev. Justin Lind-Ayres

pastor_justin_installPastor Justin is the Associate College Pastor at Augsburg College and is an excellent mentor to our students preparing for ministry. He has been serving at Augsburg College since August of 2013.  Justin received his Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary in St. Paul and his Doctor of Ministry from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Justin is passionate about liturgical studies, preaching, social justice issues, and the power of biblical metaphors in the lives of the people of God. When not working with the wonderfully talented Campus Ministry staff at Augsburg, Justin can be found spending time with his family, cooking, reading, drinking coffee, watching sports and an occasional movie, and fly fishing for steelhead and trout.


I have to confess that I haven’t always been a fan of children’s sermons. I questioned their efficacy and wondered if they were more of a distraction from worship than a component of worship. It is a challenge to teach/preach to a cadre of kids in a few minutes without sinking into the mire of moralistic mantras. Or, on the other side of sermonic spectrum, fall into the trap of sharing a message every week with the children that inevitably ended with, “Jesus loves you!” Incidentally, the latter was often the case for me!

In addition to content liability, there is an unspoken pressure to be funny or cute with the children so as to keep the listening adults of the assembly entertained. I suppose this was the piece that bothered me most. I have said more than once, “We don’t call all the worshippers over 65 years forward, make them sit on the floor, ask them questions that test their bible acumen, and then laugh at them when they summon the courage to speak.” I’m not sure this was the best argument for dropping children’s messages from the liturgy, but I have seen many kids physically deflate when their earnest responses conjure the cackles of the congregation. Worship leaders, Sunday teachers, youth minsters, and pastors must be careful not to unintentionally and ever so publically shame our children. For many reasons, then, I have tried to worm my way out of delivering children’s sermons.

But then I had children of my own and I began to see worship through their eyes! My kids thoroughly enjoy the children’s messages at our congregation, and not just because their dad is NOT delivering them (but that may be part of it too!). One of the many joys of my call as the associate pastor at Augsburg College is the fact that Sunday mornings are without pastoral duties on campus. Thus, I am able to worship with my family as a parishioner in the pew at our home congregation. Children’s messages are no longer my responsibility. The pastors, diaconal minister, high school students, and other adults who give the children’s messages at my congregation do an outstanding job! They create a welcome environment, are sensitive to the needs of the children, teach on a plethora of topics (though, Jesus’ love for them is often emphasized as it should be!), and instill in the kids a sense of belonging in worship. My children enthusiastically scamper to the center of our worship space when beckoned to receive a word of God for them.

Over the past few years, my appreciation for children’s sermons has grown. My home congregation has one every single week, no matter what. It is one of the many ways that they communicate full welcome and participation of children throughout the entire service. And it speaks volumes to children about their own place in the midst of worshiping assembly. I fully realized this last month when my grandfather died.

Without question, our three children (ages 6, 4, and 1) were going to be in worship at my grandfather’s funeral in rural Minnesota. As a family and as people of faith, we needed to grieve and worship God together! Two days before the funeral, I was explaining the funeral worship service to my two older daughters. After hearing about the casket, how there would be singing, bible readings, and the fact that our whole family would be together at my grandfather’s church, my eldest daughter immediately asked, “Is there going to be a children’s sermon?” I was floored. I never thought about having a children’s sermon at a funeral before. Not once. And I think about funeral liturgies a lot! Her question serves as a testimony to me of the import of children’s messages in the lives of the young believers in our communities of faith.

There wasn’t a children’s sermon at my grandfather’s funeral. But maybe there should have been. I would have been happy to preach that one! I would have gathered all 35 great-grandchildren around my grandfather, asked them to place their hands on the casket, and had them repeat after me,

“Great-grandpa Melvin,” (repeat)

“Jesus loves you.” (repeat)

“Today, tomorrow, and forever.” (repeat)

Then I would have looked at them and said, “Dear ones, the Jesus who loves Great-grandpa Melvin, loves you too! Today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.”

Ministry Skills and College Orientation

by Becky Kaarbo (’06)

Becky RBecky Kaarbo works in the Office of Student Activities and Leadership Development as the Orientation and First Year Programs Director at Hamline University. She holds a B.A. in Youth and Family Ministry from Augsburg College (’06) and a MA in Leadership and Student Affairs from the University of St. Thomas. Her favorite part of her job is working directly with students and utilizing their talents to create a warm and welcoming community for new students to our campus.

When not at work Becky enjoys spending time with her lovable pet rabbits, Leonard and Ellie, playing board games, and watching entirely too much TV

At the time of entering Augsburg I knew I wanted to be a Youth and Family Ministry major. I enjoyed the community and fellowship of my time as a youth growing up in the church and wanted to foster a similar community. I could have entered college and focused solely on my bubble of faith and religion and left with the same goals I entered – to be a youth director for a few years, get married, have babies and simply volunteer to lead youth group from time to time. However, Augsburg pushed me in the most remarkable way to step outside my comfort zone and think critically about who I was and who I wanted to be when I grew up. Please note that I did not say WHAT I wanted to be when I grew up, but WHO I wanted to be. Continue reading

Making Halloween Matter

by Hans Wiersma

wiersmaHans Wiersma has been a full-time member of Augsburg’s Religion department since 2004. He teaches courses with titles like The Life and Work of the Church, Religion at the Movies, Ministry and Media, The Lutheran Heritage, and Theology of Marriage and Family. Formerly a parish pastor, he has served congregations in Minnesota, California, and The Netherlands — each time with an emphasis in youth and family ministry. He has a PhD in Church History and is presently working on a new edition of a biography of Martin Luther.



Making Halloween Matter

All Hallows Eve falls on a Saturday this year, which is perfect for trick-or-treaters — no school the next day! The next day is, in fact, All Hallows (or All Saints) Day on many church calendars. In my congregation, we observe All Hallows with the lighting of candles in memory of our dearly departed. So, in terms of emotional processing, it could be a challenging weekend for my children: (1) dress up as ghouls, (2) get candy, (3) eat candy, (4) go to church, (5) light a candle for Oma, my mom who passed away in 2007, (6) share memories of Oma after church, perhaps while (7) eating more candy. Continue reading

Helping Congregations Build Digital Platforms

by Michael Gyura (’08)

Mike Gyura HeadshotBorn in Michigan, raised in Minnesota, and lived in New Jersey.  Currently I spend my time between Minnesota, Tennessee and Colorado. BA in Youth and Family Ministry from Augsburg 2008, MA in Youth Ministry and MDIV from Princeton Theological Seminary 2012.  I am the owner of Gyura Communications which runs Poka Yoke Design, Worship Times, and Ski Town Web Design.  I am an equal opportunity mainline worshiper, my membership is with Germantown Presbyterian Church PC(USA) in TN, I also worship with Bethel Lutheran Church ELCA in MN and UMC of Steamboat Springs in CO.  Married to Susan Gyura, and together we have five amazing young boys. I’m a lover of all things outdoors, but not in a hippie kind of way.

Like many Youth and Family Ministry students, I imagined most of my work after I graduated would be within a congregation. I even went to seminary after 10 years working as a youth director and graduating from Augsburg, feeling called toward possible ordination, and certainly into continued church work. It can be hard to imagine fully utilizing this education outside of a ministry or social service setting. Continue reading

Young People in Recovery: A Messy Road to a Beautiful Life

by Scott Washburn

ScottWScott Washburn is the Assistant Director of the StepUP Program, a leading Collegiate Recovery program, at Augsburg College where he has worked since 2008. He is also a Psychology Instructor at Augsburg where he teaches courses on addiction and recovery related topics. In addition to being a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor, he has a M.A. in Counseling Psychology and is an Ed.D. Candidate with specialty emphases in Educational Leadership and Critical Pedagogy. He has worked in the fields of mental health and chemical health counseling, prevention and treatment for over 25 years.

Beginning to Understand Addiction

Young people who have found their way out of addiction into a life of recovery are living examples of human transformation at its deepest and most profound levels. Many have gone through experiences that are disconcerting if not outright terrifying to themselves and their loved ones alike. They have transformed from being ill-functional, overly self-centered, impulse-driven and developmentally delayed young people to beautifully intelligent, caring, creative and consciously deep human beings in recovery beyond their chronological years. However, the pathway to becoming such is messy. In this article I will summarize some of the dynamics and key markers along this journey as well as what concerned others can do to help facilitate the process. Continue reading

Ministry & Mental Health

by Fabien Dubbe


Fabien was adopted from Montego Bay, Jamaica and grew up in New Prague,  Minnesota. He graduated from Augsburg College in May 2015 with a Psychology major and a Youth and Family Ministry minor. He is not working as a Mental Health Practitioner and is a member of Hosanna! Church in Lakeville, MN. In his free time he loves drawing and riding his motorcycle.

Christians often believe they have to do something inside the church in order for it to be ministry. This is not true. There are many forms of ministry beyond the church. For example, I am a Mental Health Practitioner and I can see God working through me in the lives of the boys I work with on a daily basis. Continue reading

On Being a Great Youth Minister

by Kate Verlautz



Kate graduated from Augsburg College’s Youth and Family Ministry program in 2012. She has been serving as the Senior High Youth Director at Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna, MN since January of 2012.



When I first began my youth & family ministry career in 2012, I was determined to be overzealous, people pleasing, early and over prepared for everything I did. While these are mostly admirable qualities for a youth director; I quickly realized are not my true qualities.

I came home from work, drained, exhausted, and barely recognizable because I was trying to be a “Great Youth Director.” Everything I was doing, who I was presenting myself as at work; a well put together young woman, who was confident and knew her role in the church, as someone who could be a positive influence on the lives of youth in her new congregation…it wasn’t an authentic me. Now, there is nothing wrong with those ideals. But they are not even close to who I am at my core, who I am as a real follower of Christ or I’ve actually been called to be to the youth in my community. I acted contrary to who I was when I was with my students. Praise Jesus they saw through my act and were able to accept me even though I wasn’t who they needed. To be blunt, I am not overzealous. I am generally making people more uncomfortable (in a good way) rather than pleasing them, and I am lazy.

Is that crazy?

No. My students want to see my flaws. They want to pray with me. They want me to be real with them, give them my honest opinion and be authentic to who I am as a person. They need “Who I am as a child of God” and who I am as a “youth ministry professional” to be one in the same. It took me until last January to realize what my students really needed was a youth director who was authentic and real. In ministry, like life, the imperfect areas easily consume us. But we find God’s love for us through Christ has proved we are all equal in God’s sight. I think it is safe to assume that Christ is at work in both the outstanding qualities of my ministry as well as in my borderline laziness and preference towards procrastination.

It is impossible to talk about the love and acceptance of Christ if we are unable to accept that being in youth ministry is messy. Pretending to be a strong, confident youth director is not what we have been called to d0. We have been called to be real and authentic. Trusting in Jesus’ unwavering love.

If you want to be a “great youth minister”, then be real. Be authentic.

Faith On This Side of the Grave

by J.D. Mechelke


JD Mechelke is currently pursuing a B.A. in Youth and Family Ministry at Augsburg College (ELCA) in Minneapolis, MN. JD grew up in Stillwater, MN and is currently living in Minneapolis. He is passionate about racial equity and LGBT reconciliation in the Church. Traveling and camping is what he looks forward to most, but also enjoys the early mornings and late nights when he gets to read a favorite poet or novelist. JD is a drifter and a screw up who forgets that God’s grace is sufficient. Thankfully grace isn’t dependent on memory.


The plateau came into view. And the dirt road we were walking on faded into tall grass. A white overcast sky covered the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that morning. We had made it to the top of the hill.

It was easy to find Red Cloud’s grave. Huge, taller than me (but that doesn’t take much). An old white fence surrounded his tombstone. On the base, large capital letters spelt his name. Then above was a wide section that held a sculpted image of his face. Overshadowing was a large stone cross. You could tell it was visited often. Mementos and objects of gratitude were laid all around the grave. When I was walking around nearby I nearly tripped over a wooden cross. Overgrown grass had hidden it.

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I remember standing there, comparing the grave of Red Cloud and the grave of the unmarked, overgrown cross. It was hard not to be moved by the reminder this scene gave to my own mortality. For most of us, there will be nothing the world can remember us by but an unmarked, overgrown cross.

When trying to deal with these questions of mortality and even vocation, I began leaning on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. On July 21, 1944, Dietrich writes to his best friend, Eberhard Bethge. Bonhoeffer tells his friend how he’s realized that the Christian life is less about living for the future and the world beyond graves, and more about living profoundly in the present.

“By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking eriously not our own suffering, but those of God in the world – watching with Christ in Gethsemane.”

This suffering “of God in the world,” is the suffering of our neighbors.

Vocation is a daily struggle that youth ministers are called to walk with young people. And for some, mortality becomes a struggle too when death enters life’s experiences. Bonhoeffer’s idea of “this-worldliness” is a useful tool that can be used when walking forward in these struggles with youth. Vocation is integral to this concept:

“One must abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman, a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.”

Part of living a “this-worldly” life is about a vocation not focused on oneself, but on God’s suffering in the world – our neighbors suffering.

God is calling us to live unreservedly in the present, not being anxious about what we will make of ourselves. Bonhoeffer calls this faith. Living a life of “thisworldliness” will probably still lead to an unmarked, overgrown cross. But we were able to take on the suffering of our neighbors, leaving the questions to God.

Remembering what We’ve Forgotten: On Death, Resurrection, Friendship and the Bearded Baby Jesus

by Jeanette Clark

1557514_10201986427483797_4268978526030678362_nJeanette Clark graduated Augsburg College in 2007 with majors in Youth and Family Ministry and Urban Studies and a Spanish minor.  After college, she participated in the Lutheran Volunteer Corp, working for La Conexion, a resource centers for Latinos, in Minneapolis.  She graduated from Lutheran Seminary in 2011, completing her internship in Chelan, Washington.  Currently, and works as a Mission Developer in the South Dakota Synod of the ELCA with Pueblo de Dios (which primarily serves Spanish speaking individuals and their second generation youth).

“Jesus is dead?” It was Palm Sunday when Jordy, a first grader, yelled this at me. As per Lutheran Church tradition, I was telling the Passion Narrative. My congregation, Pueblo de Dios, is a mission development in Sioux Falls, SD. We primarily minister with Spanish-speaking immigrants and their second-generation youth.

I quickly learned most of our youth had never heard about Jesus. Our first Christmas play, we literally taught the story while acting it out. Soon, the children learned baby Jesus is born on Christmas and we love baby Jesus. After Christmas, the children were confused how Jesus seemingly grows from a baby to being a thirty-year-old man in a couple of weeks. In Jordy’s words, “Pastora, why does the baby Jesus now have a beard?” Never before had the time between Christmas and Lent seemed so short. Soon, we were trying to explain Holy Week to a group of kids who had just learned to love baby Jesus.

Therefore, the chaos of Palm Sunday should not have surprised me. I used Resurrection Eggs and a children’s Bible to tell the story. As I began to explain Good Friday, a girl seemed about to cry. Jordy began yelling, “Jesus is dead?” It wasn’t what most people experience on Palm Sunday. I was so flustered I decided to skip ahead and finish the story. We celebrated Easter and the Resurrection a week early that year. Jordy looked relieved.

Daily at Pueblo de Dios, I use my Youth and Family Ministry major. Over the past three years, our youth program grew tremendously from around ten youth involved in our Wednesday night program, LOGOS, to an anticipated fifty youth this fall. As you probably realize, this ministry is chaotic and difficult. Many of our families struggle with language barriers and poverty; this deeply shapes our ministry.

One thing I most powerfully learned the last few years is the importance of partner congregations. We are blessed by individuals from partner congregations who come to serve us, serve with us and be served by us. Without them, our work would be impossible. Active participation from partner congregations allows me to dive boldly into this ministry’s holy chaos. I pray all those entering ministry will have their hearts and minds opened to the needs of people that our ELCA congregations normally leave out.

The three-year-old daughter of the pastor of our host congregation, Augustana Lutheran, looked at all these Latino kids who were coming to her church for the first time and said to her mom, “Wow! More friends!” Recently, Jordy looked at a Last Supper picture and said, “Is that a picture of Jesus and his family eating?” I said, “Well, it’s a picture of Jesus and his friends eating.” “Wow,” he said, “Jesus sure has a lot of friends.” Sometimes our youth know what we have forgotten.

Lord, open our hearts to the friends you have waiting all around us.

The Myth of Independence & the Grace of Dependence

 by Amber Kalina



Amber Kalina is a senior Youth and Family Ministry major and Sociology minor from Perham, MN. She keeps busy by working as a student leader in the Campus Ministry Student Organization and as a student worker in both the Religion and Music departments. She hopes to eventually attend seminary or divinity school to be ordained as a chaplain.


Deep within each human being, there exists a desire to feel a sense of belonging. We want to find people who understand us or share common goals and interests. This desire leads us to join various groups throughout our lifetimes: sports teams, cohorts, churches, clubs, and organizations. Youth & family ministry leaders often try to create welcoming spaces where people feel they can be united with peers who are also journeying through faith. As our needs or passions change, we move on to different groups—all the while still seeking that sense of belonging.

Although it is natural to crave solidarity with others, not many people will go so far as to say they want to belong so badly they depend on others to fulfill that need. In our individualistic society, people often look down on dependence as if it is only allowed for children, persons with certain disabilities, and drug addicts. We prefer to believe that people should be independent, relying on their own abilities to get things done or solve their problems. You can hear this when some moan about the ‘lazy’ receivers of welfare, in the stigma attached to those who attend counseling, and in the discomfort some adult children feel when having to take care of their aging parents. This message gets passed to our young people, who believe they have to be good at everything – on their own –  to be successful. We want to belong, but we also do not want to have to rely on others.

We want to be independent achievers in our world. However, the notion of independence is actually a myth. We depend so much on what other people do on a daily basis. Most of us do not grow our own food; we rely on farmers to produce enough to feed us as well as themselves. We would not have the technologies we have today without the brilliant contributions of inventors. I would not be at Augsburg right now if generous donors did not contribute scholarships to help students pay for school. Also, if we look at our own abilities, we find that we have limited personal strengths; we are great at only a select few things but mediocre (at best) in most things. Therefore, we necessitate others to fill in our gaps, to contribute where we fall short.

Lutherans are particularly aware of the dependence we have on the works others do on our behalf. We recognize that our deliverance from sin came from the acts of one particular human: Jesus Christ, God incarnate. Martin Luther emphasizes over and over again in his essay The Freedom of a Christian that we cannot by our own power or works achieve salvation. Rather, God steps forward and gives us righteousness in place of sin. The reality of faith itself demonstrates God’s work in our lives as God pulls us toward Godself. May we come to understand that dependence is not negative, but necessary. In our longing to belong, may we realize that we do not belong in communities but to them—to groups of people who need our strengths as much as we need theirs.