Don't be too quick to ditch Cheesy Christianity

Don't be too quick to ditch Cheesy Christianity

Having little kids has been a challenge this Christmas season. And the challenge has not been so much about trying to navigate the Santa vs. No Santa debate. The challenge came as I wrestled with how much cheese I was willing to serve up for my kids this Christmas in the form of Christmas stories, books, music and movies. Everything in me is repulsed by the cheese. In fact I used to think that it actually was offense to Jesus Christ himself. But as I watch the fruit of hipster parents who are too cool for cheese lived out in their children, the students in our ministry, I am starting to second guess my offense.

I Hate the Cheese! For me and maybe you we think certain things are hip, cool, cultured, and deep. And while these things may be true, this truth is completely lost on our kids. It seems every Christmas there is more and more effort to find ways to make the story of Christmas somehow new and relevant. But the more we do this, the less of the original, simple, and true story gets passed down from one generation to the next.

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How do you disciple students who have ZERO touch points with Christianity?

How do you disciple students who have ZERO touch points with Christianity?

Our students are increasingly living in a post-Christian world and this means that they have a worldview and moral outlook that has almost zero touch points with Christianity.  If that is the case, then how do we share the gospel and disciple students in the new world?

The Gospel story is wrapped up in the language of adoption.

We are lonely, alienated, and isolated.  The gospel is the story of a loving Father who leaves the comforts of home (heaven) and runs after the lost daughter and son and invites them back home.

For the "Christian" world, there was rebellion and sin, but the process of coming back into the Christian household was a rather simple process of assimilation.  There was a clear Judeo-Christian ethic that was internalized by those rebellious sons and daughters.  They were rebells, but they knew what they were rebelling agains, they knew what ideal had been lost, and an invitation back into the family brought justification / forgiveness for these sins, and brought healing towards these relationships.

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Retelling a lost story

Retelling a lost story

Remember This Movie: Lions and tigers and bears, ___________! If you could immediately fill in the blank, then, whether you realize it or not, you have been impacted by culture. If upon further thought, you could fill in the blank and your mind went to Dorothy and her companions walking along a yellow brick road towards Oz, then you have some context for that cultural expression. And if the conclusion of that statement causes you begin to think about your favorite scenes, smile at the munchkins, hum a song, and even have fond memories of seasons of life when you enjoyed watching the film, then you are part of the generation that has been impacted by the movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Many of us have grown up with this movie. We know the songs, we know the stories, and we know the characters. We have seen poor high school versions of this movie, and even a brave interpretation of the story by Micahel Jackson. And because this story is so ingrained in our current pop culture, there was a place for someone to come along and use that story to tell a fuller story. And that is exactly what happened in the production of Wicked.

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A post-Christian Gospel

A post-Christian Gospel

It is overwhelmingly obvious that the landscape in which we do ministry has changed.  The values, morals, expectations, and biblical understanding have been completely turned on its head. If we continue to do ministry the same as we have always done it, with the same assumptions then over the long haul the Church is going to find herself in trouble. 

A while agoI wrote a little about how the gospel is really not good news at all this this current generation of students.  And while many of our students "play ball" for us while they are under our supervision or while they frequent our programs, who they are in the rest of their life has little to no reflection of traditional, Judeo-Christian, ethic, values, or understanding.  If this assumption is correct then the penal-subsitutionary atonement brand of Christianity with the discipleship bench marks of shutting down sexuality or not drinking have to change.

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Guest Post: Our Culture Needs a New Apologetic

Guest Post:  Our Culture Needs a New Apologetic

My friend, Ryan Reed, wrote a brilliant post this last week and wanted to share it with you.  Apologetics is an interesting study.  But what is the defense when nobody seems to have questions or even care? Check out this post and let me know what you think.  Enjoy!

Perhaps instead of defending our faith to a culture that already could careless about it, we need to begin a new conversation.

It is no secret  - or at least it should not be - that American culture has moved past a Christendom mindset into a post-Christian (or some would even argue pre-Christian, depending on the context.) If these words are new you to you, then Google "Christendom" and "Post-Christian" to learn more about it. Several theologians and philosophers have written valuable articles for the church on this topic since the 1970s - nearly 40 years ago!

Essentially, Christendom connotes the perspective that generally-speaking a given culture holds the values and standards of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus in high regard, including specific tenets, morals, and generally held truths.

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With a changing culture, its not our programs that need to change, but our foundational assumptions

With a changing culture, its not our programs that need to change, but our foundational assumptions

One of my favorite hobbies is talking with other youth workers around the country about our unique and amazing calling.  Over the last few years, I have noticed these conversations begin to shift.  What used to be times sharing our best practices and our best ideas on programs, has become more of laments.  What used to work and kill it, are having little impact.

Our knee jerk reaction is to scrap our programs and figure out the newest, latest and greatest.  But maybe it isn't our programs that are in need of change, but our foundational assumptions about students, their world view, and where God is actually meeting them in their lives.

It is not the programs that need to change:

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From the Pen to the Palace: Workshop Notes

Thank you for joining me for this workshop on Evangelism and Discipleship in a post-Christian Context here at the Thrive Conference.  Here are the notes.  You can download either a PDF or word.doc for your notes.  If you have any feedback or would like to add to the discussion, please contact me anytime.   Thank you for being part of the refining process as I work through a manuscript wrestling with these topics.  Blessings! Pen to the Palace Notes

Pen to the Palace Notes (PDF)

Pen to the Palace Notes (Word.doc)

Culture has changed, shouldn't our ministry paradigm?

Here is a talk I gave at our denominational's youth connection.  Recognizing our culture has changed is the easy part.  Developing a way to share the gospel and a path of discipleship is the call of this moment in time.  What are your thoughts?

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How would we do ministry different if we truly got that our students were lost?

shepherd-carrying-sheep1 I love at attractional ministry as much as the next guy.  I love the hype, the big games, the thrill of the crowd, the dynamics of a full room.  In fact, most of how I judge my effectiveness in student ministry is by how full I can get the room.

But one of the pit falls of this approach is that us youth workers end up ministering to the “crowd” and not to the individual students.  As a crowd, students generally play ball.  They engage games, seem to engage in worship, listen quietly and give us adults the answers we want to hear in small groups.

This is all well and good and strokes our ego.  But my fear is that as we engage the crowd, we loose sight of the individual students, their stories, their issues, and their world view.

The more time I spend with students, I am convinced that students are more than rebellious teens, or broken in need of healing, but they are straight up lost.  They have no idea what end is up or who or why they ended up where they are or do what the do.

Even though they may play ball in our system, the truth is that their world view is so far removed from ours.  And if this is the case, the we must as the question, “What are we really doing as a student ministry?”

For as much as I love at tractional ministry, I am wondering if the call is for us youth workers to take on the mantle of Christ and leave the 99 and find that one who is lost and in peril.  When the shepherd does this, he grabs the sheep, places her on his shoulders and brings her back to the flock.

I am not advocating for a missional approach, where we abandon our attractional  model and send our students out to do bible studies on campus or coffee shops.  This assumes are students are with us, and just don’t like church.  I am saying we must recognize that our students are fundamentally lost.

They are in desperate need of someone to find them and rescue them.  They are so lost, they don’t even know they are lost or in peril.  And this means that it is even more imperative for us to get out there and scan the horizon.  We look out for students who won’t simply come and play ball, but for the students who are on the edge of the cliff.

When we find them, we love them, we walk with them, and we graciously carry them back tot he fold.

May Jesus give us his eyes as we examine our student ministry and even more so as we look out at our students.

We finally have a generation of people who really have no idea why we celebrate Christmas

christmas-special-for-car-lovers-how-to-write-a-thank-you-letter-to-santa-claus-41453_3 I know it is nothing new that Christmas has become secularized. From the Happy Holiday wars to the removal of the nativity scenes, the reason we celebrate Christmas has finally left the building. I had an epiphany the other night as I was driving around with my kids doing some Christmas shopping listening to my favorite Christmas album, John Denver and the Muppets' Christmas. (It is actually a rough album, but has a high sentimental value for me.)

As we listened to the story of Alphie I was reminded again the wide variety of meaning people have put on Christmas. Well, way back in 1979 we get some strange theology from John Denver and his enormous love for the outdoors combined with a cultural understanding of Christmas.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bPL3sPSY9A]

What stood out to me was the fact that John Denver is not a Christian by any means. If anything he was a pantheist. But because he grew up in a culture that was generally "Christian" he knew enough that if you are talking about Christmas, you are talking about the the Son of God, peace on earth, and the brotherhood of man.

That was in 1979. Now, over 30 years have gone by and our cultural understanding has increasingly become secular. No news there. But think of the students that you work with, think of their peers. Unlike John Denver, they are growing up in a culture that have absolutely zero space for Jesus at Christmas. So much so, that He isn't even missed.

Of course our "Christian" kids know why we celebrate Christmas and can regurgitate some of the facts back about the original Christmas story and the meaning of it. But even our smartest, most spiritual, Christian kids are missing huge chucks of the story. Their friends, the students that we want to reach with the gospel have zero understanding of Jesus and what happened on Christmas. To get to the why is a gigantic leap.

As adults who work with students it is easy to think that they have a strong cultural understanding of Christmas that is becoming secular. But I would argue that the students outside our churches have absolutely no idea why we celebrate Christmas. In our context, maybe 1% of students have been to a Christian church in the last 6 months. That is an large part of our population that is having a smaller and smaller understanding of the most amazing event in all of history.

Gone are the days when secular artists include songs about Jesus in their Christmas albums. And the ones that do, like my main man Justin B, simply uses religious imagery to express his over the top infatuation with his latest fling.

This is not "the sky is falling" observation. It is simply an admission that the Jesus train has left the building. If we are going to communicate the gospel to a context that has no cultural understanding of Christmas, incarnation, humility, sin, redeption, or salvation, then we must be incredibly wise in both the world and the spirit if we are going to introduce this next generation to the King of Kings who became flesh on Christmas morning, to usher in a new kingdom, a new way to live both now and forever more!

Merry Christmas!

A gospel for students who don't think they need one:

The following post was featured at youthmin.org

the-good-newsThis last week I got in the mail some response cards from some of my students who went to a local summer camp.  On these cards my students checked the box that they had said yes to Jesus and have made some sort of faith commitment.

In my faith tradition this encounter went something like this:

Now with every eye closed and every head bowed, I would like to give you an opportunity to respond in faith to Jesus.  If you want to say yes, say this prayer with me, “Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness.  I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead.  I trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior.  guide my life and help me do your will.  In your name, Amen.”

This handful of students prayed this prayer!  Praise God!  Hallelujuia!!

But on closer investigation, I have realized that this prayer makes absolutely no sense in their world view!

It may be different in your context, the but students I work with have no touch points with words like, “Lord,” “sinner,” or even “forgiveness.”  My students are the center of their own universe, entitled to fulfill their own dreams, and accountable to no body.  If someone has a problem with them, even if a teacher fails them, the problem is not them, but those outside their universe who don’t understand them or support them.

I know you are thinking that of course our kids are sinners, of course they are broken, of course they need a savior and forgiveness.  You may think this, and this may even be true, but it doesn’t compute to our post-modern, post-christian students.

So, if our students don’t think they are sinners in need of a savior, or broken in need of healing, what angle of the good news is needed to be both true to the biblical message as well as have true touch points with our students cultural context?

As entitled, self-righteous, self-centered, and connected as our students come across, every single one of them when given the safe chance to share all share the common story of being lonely, isolated, friendless, and wrestle with the anxiety of keeping these emotions under wraps.

It is this “thin place,” this cultural reality where the gospel of Jesus actually gets to become good news to students.  Our students don’t know how to have real friendships anymore.  Their family structures are crumbling, and they don’t even know how to not compare their lives to the seemingly amazing lives of their peers on instagram and facebook.  It is in this lonely, depressed, and anxious state that Jesus invites our students to be adopted into His family!

So what is this good news?

Adoption can become the gospel metaphor for this generation.  It validates their lost and loneliness.  It validates their lack of identity and purpose, and invites them into the family of God!

This family has an amazing Father, millions of sisters and brothers who actually belong to one another, and resources to empower these kids to take up the family business, to be partners with our brother Jesus as we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

This  is a paradigm that I am wrestling with as I am trying to address this changing landscape of student ministry.  What are the “thin places”  you see in your context?  What is the good news that connects with your students?

A post-Christian model for Discipleship: Spiritual Formation rather than Behavior Modification

My dear friend Erik Anderson is on the home stretch of adopting a 6 year old girl from South Africa. You should totally check out his blog and read about his story. Inspiring is an understatement! (If you are feeling generous, you should also help him out financially) Ok, are you still with me, because this blog isn't really about Erik, but in some ways it is totally about him.

Here is what I am saying. If you can humor me and agree (for a moment) that the gospel that you and I grew up as our bread and butter in student ministry is actually no gospel at all to this generation. And if we need a new shaping metaphor that to communicate this good news. And in an increasingly post-Christian context, adoption can be that metaphor that truly is good news to an alienated generation who long to be seen, known, accepted, cared for, and mostly to belong. What is awesome about the metaphor of adoption for the gospel and for salvation, it also gets to inform our understanding of discipleship and sanctification.

First we must die to any and all forms of behavior modification:

The traditional model of discipleship as behavior modification must be replaced with a model of spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is by it's very nature relational and implies process, and is cyclical in contrast to foundational, linear, and accomplishment versions we have today. If we can agree that behavior modification must die and want to invite this post-Christian generation to become formed spiritually, sanctified into the image of Christ, then we must start where they are, not where we want them to be. That is how we get back to adoption.

Use adoption as the model:

For generations we have lived in a cultural context that was for the most part Judeo-Christian. While not everyone shared faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they did share a common moral code, a common understanding of the boundaries and a general frowning on those who lived outside of them. This made discipleship relatively easy. We simply had to put words to the rebellion they had experienced, share with them Christ's forgiveness and payment for that rebellion, and then encourage them to continue living into the accepted moral code of our cultural context. (Just with less cussing and drinking)

This is very similar to adopting an infant. Even if the infant is from a foreign country, they are born into a family system and will never not chafe to the family expectations and the cultural rules. They will understand the language, clothing, food, and rules just like every other child born into that family.

In a post-Christian world we are not adopting infants into the family of God, we are adopting 6 year olds from South Africa.

What I mean by this, is that the young girl that Erik brings into his family has a completely different starting point then every other kid born into or adopted as babies in Modesto. She speaks a different language, is used to different foods, and will have a different understanding of the morals and values that Erik and his wife have.

The assimilation process for this young girl can not be the same as every other child who is born into a family in Modesto. It can not be the same for every child born into a Christian home in Modesto. It can't even be the same for other children adopted later in life from other parts of the United States. Her process of "sanctification" living into the family trajectory and values of the Anderson family will be totally unique. It must throw timetables out the window. She can not have the same expectations as other 6 year olds. When she rolls into her 1st grade class next fall, she will know completely different things then the other 1st graders.

I am so impressed with Erik and Jessa and their heart of love and grace for this girl, and I know that they are already preparing themselves to welcome this girl into their family and to give her the time and space to figure things out on a timetable that is as unique as the situation. Over the months and years this young girl will become acclimated to the Anderson family, their church family, and to their town and to her school. It will happen, but not in a linear, building block model. It will be done in a relational, process that will be full of love, grace, frustration, and uncertainty.

Discipleship is Spiritual Formation:

In a post-Christian context people are going to come to faith from all over the spiritual, moral, political, sexual, spectrum. We no longer have a common story that our entire society agrees upon, which means when God grabs a hold of someone's heart, they will not look like the mom and dad with the four kids who live in suburbia, vote republican, and play soccer all seasons. Some might, but they will be urban, multi-ethnic, living with their girlfriends, over their heads in debt, homosexual, artists, liberal, educated or not, believe in evolution, value nature, eat organic, consider themselves to be tolerant and open minded, socially conscious, and want to enjoy life, and for the most part are.

CP-00aColorWheel
CP-00aColorWheel

So, if we drop on them that discipleship means assimilating into the religious right then we have missed the mark. This group of people will come to faith from all over the moral and spiritual spectrum. But I am not talking about a linear spectrum, I am talking about the color wheel spectrum. And if they show up on the spectrum from every color, from every shade, the discipleship process actually becomes easier. Rather then having to become like me, then move towards Christ, I get to remove me from the equation. The discipleship process is one of spiritual formation, a process simply of moving more towards Christ, no matter the starting point.

Spiritual formation is me dying to myself, picking up my cross daily, and striving to follow Christ. This looks different today than it did yesterday, then ten years ago. If my prayer is search me, know me, test me, reveal any offensive way with in me, and lead me along the path of everlasting life, then every day I am moving more and more towards Christ.

Do you have space for the adopted child from another country?

We are not giving up discipleship or sanctification. In fact this entire model of ministry banks its existance on this reality. No more is a simple prayer at camp and refraining from drinking an acceptable version of Christianity. Rather now, we are inviting every and all people into the family of God. And no matter at what age or what background, they are welcomed for who they are and where they are at. This sounds easy, and sounds "Christian," but if you have ever welcomed someone from a different worldview /culture into your group, it becomes quite challenging.  Are you up for that challenge?

All of us are invited to journey together towards the cross of Christ so that we can become more and more like our savior Jesus, even those on other parts of the color wheel.

Ok, this has gone from an earth shattering post to me rambling.

I have to wrap this up. I am still in process with this stand of thought. I would love to know your thoughts and am open to your pushback. Hopefully in the weeks and months to come, this will get refined and reduced into something more coherent. But until then, thanks mom for reading!

Unless we are willing to put everything on the table and not discuss out of fear, but out of a conviction and passion to share the good news, the saving news, the transforming news, of Jesus Christ with young people, then we will not be able to move this ball forward! Join the discussion, and lets have a strategy sesh!

What do you do now that the gospel is no longer Good News?

Most of us love speaking to students, sharing our wisdom, pontificating on spiritual realities and how Jesus wants to help them in their desperation.  But if we are quiet for just a second and allow space for students to share what they really think, what their true convictions are, what they really think of Christianity, I think we will all be a bit surprised. My encounter with students, my students, my friends' students, students from all over the country is that students' worldview, self view, and moral view is in stark difference from yours.  Students know how to play ball in the adult world, they know what to say and how to get ahead in the verity of social contexts they find themselves.  When they are with their parents, coaches, every different teacher, and in our student ministries, they put on different hats in order to survive / thrive in each context.

kansas_kids

But what would happen if we took a step back and really listened, without our own agenda?  What would we find?  

  • Students' lives are not in total chaos and they are not depressed in dire need of salvation or hope. Their lives are just fine.  And if not, they don't know any different, so what you might see as awful and hopeless is simply the world they inhabit.
  • Students have absolutely zero understanding of sin.  Your morality is not their morality.  As long as they are open-minded and tolerant, and don't intentionally hurt someone else, then they are good people.  Live and let live.
  • If there is sin, then you are the one who is actually living in it.  You have judgmental and self-righteous attitudes and try to put your morality on others.
  • Sex and sexuality are of uttermost importance to them, and the church's traditional teaching on both have no place in worldview of our students.  "Hate the sin, love this sinner," sounds to our students like, "Separate, but equal."
  • Students have no need for organized religion and feel absolutely no guilt or shame for their lifestyle choices, for their past experiences, and especially for not coming regularly to youth group.
  • It is obvious that youth group provides some social need for students because they keep coming.  But it is also obvious that the actual religion we attempt to pass on rolls off their back like water on a duck.  When they no longer have a need for the youth group community, or when it becomes toxic for them, or they graduate, then they bounce.

We are idiots if we think that a growing youth group, or youth group attendance at all has anything to do with their acceptance of Christianity or their spiritual maturity.

All of this is to say, this is some bad news!   Substitutionary Atonement combined with an emphasis on purity and not drinking too much are totally foreign concepts that have zero meaning in our student population.  I would say that this is some bad news.  Thankfully, the gospel is good news!  And I think that the gospel still is good news.  But we are barking up the wrong tree!!

My next post I will wrestle through what how I think the gospel still is good news and a needed paradigm shift in our understanding and approach to discipleship.  FUN!

What do you think?  Am I a heretic?  Do you see similar trends? What are the felt needs of students?  How does the gospel speak into those? What are your solutions?  Game on peeps!  The world is changing.  Scratch that!  The world has changed and the church needs to do some hard work, intellectually and spiritually if we are going to have any sort of impact on this next generation.

In a Post-Christian context, it is not our programs that need to change, but our foundational assumptions.

This last week I had the privilege of sitting in on a roundtable discussion with some west coast youth pastors talking about post-christian student ministry. This conversation was facilitated by Jeremy Zach who is the XP3 Specialist for Orange. Jeremy is one of the sharpest youth workers out there, and most of that is due to the fact that he is a learner. He always wants to be stretched and grow. He strives to do his job better, and mostly he has a heart to be as effective as possible in reaching students for Jesus. And it is out of this heart that he put together a group to talk Post-Christian Ministry. The guys on this call are great youth workers and deep thinkers and you should check out their blogs and give them some push back :) They are: Peter Johnsen, Erik Anderson, Mike Cunningham, Ryan Reed, Looney Moore, and yours truly. shaky foundation

As our conference call began I realized very quickly that in a post-modern context, that is becoming more and more post-christian, our biggest challenge was trying to find common language to even begin this conversation. I knew there were questions to shape our conversations, but I was not exactly sure what questions were the right questions.

After our time, I spent some considerable time reflecting on our conversation, and reflected more about the context I find myself doing ministry, and about student ministry in general. After a little bit of wrestling, I realized that much of this conversation is us barking up the wrong tree.

It is not the programs that need to change:

Every church, every town, every student ministry has a very unique culture and style in which they do ministry. Some are huge and are like a worship service with hundreds of kids. Some are small group focused, some are on Wednesday nights, some are Sunday mornings only. Some have a strong campus presence, and others can't get on campus at all. Some are cluster focused, and some have a hodge podge of students. Some focus on worship, others on service, others on disciple making, and others on fun.

This emphases a ministry has doesn't matter when we are talking about post-Christian anything. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the what form a student ministry takes does not matter in the slightest. I have the exact same form that my youth ministry had when I was a kid in the early 90's. (Yikes) As I went around to visit other youth ministries on my Sabbatical, I realized there is nothing new under the sun. There are like 4 basic models and everyone falls into one of those models. AND THAT IS OK!

THERE IS NOT A SILVER PROGRAMATIC BULLET!

Unfortunately, this is where we want to go first in all of our conversations. We want want to find the secret sauce. But here is the reality: There isn't one. The form a student ministry takes does not matter, what matters are the underlying assumptions that inform your ministry. Some of those assumptions inform your form, but most of it will impact your youth ministry language, culture, expectations, and understanding of and communication of salvation, discipleship, and sanctification.

This conversation is motivated solely out of my love for Jesus and for my desire for as many to come to know him as possible. To be like Paul in my missionary endeavor, to be all things to all people, to find the thin places in my cultural context, and find the touch points with the Gospel and to point people to Jesus. This for me, is not an intellectual exercise or a pissing contest. It is recognizing that our culture has changed, and for some of us, the distance between us and the culture that our students live in has fundamentally changed. It is not simply a form or style issue, but a worldview issue. And this change must force us to change.

What does post-Christian even mean?

Owning that our students are fully post-modern, post-Christian, beings is hard to get our head around. We think because they can mimic back some Christian language at our gatherings this conversation doesn't apply. I think that outside the two hour program we do, no matter where in the United States we find ourselves, every student's worldview is completely post-modern and post-Christian. Simply stated this means that our students have no understanding of the Christian story and if they do, it has little to no impact on their lives and that they have basically rejected the Judeo-Christian ethics and morals that most adults over 40 take for granted. I have written about this topic several times, and for a little primer you can peruse the articles here:

All this is to say that if we are serious about reaching students we MUST get our head around the fact that their worldview and culture is FUNDAMENTALLY different than ours, and therefore we must do some cross culture contextualization. Here are some of the questions that will help us move the ball forward:

So, as we move forward in discussion, here are some questions I have surrounding this topic.

  • What in the world does post-Christian mean?
  • What is the the core of the Gospel? Is there even a core?
  • What Gospel picture speaks good news to this culture most effectively?
  • Can we own that penal-substitutionary atonement has ZERO cultural touch points with youth culture?
  • What are we to do about that reality?
  • How do we deal with students who are amoral?
  • How do we develop convictions in our students that are Holy Spirit directed rather than us directed?
  • How will we speak about, think about, and reach out to the LGBT community and those who sympathize with them. (Meaning all of our students)
  • Can we or should we move away from behavior modification focused language and talks?
  • How does us / them, in / out, death / life, language make us loose credibility with this culture?
  • How can we embrace dissonance and complexity?
  • If our goal was to make the Christian Faith and Christian Community a viable option for them to embrace in adulthood, how would that change what we do?

Ok, I got a little carried away. These are some of the questions I have, some of the thoughts that inform me, my worldview, and my ministry. The form of my youth ministry is for sure not cutting edge, but I hope and pray that the content of my ministry is getting closer and closer to the sweet spot, the thin place, of my context so that by God's grace, my students might embrace the love of God, experience salvation, healing, adoption, and live into the grand purpose that God has for their lives! (And that grand purpose has nothing to do with reaching their campus for Christ. Just sayin' :) )

May we love the LORD our God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our MIND! And may we live life and do ministry in a way that compels our students to do the same.

What will student ministry look like in an increasingly post-Christian context?

Our culture is changing, shouldn't our ministries adapt as well?One of the areas of passion for me is contextualization. As our context becomes more and more post-Christian, I am realizing that the way forward is going to be complex and challenging. Because of this a couple of the youth pastors in my network whom I love and respect decided that we should host an event to wrestle through some of these issues.

We genuinely believe that the the community of youth workers in our context will have a much better shot finding a way forward than a book by an author from a totally different context or by the oner person with the biggest personality and loudest voice pushing their agenda.

In October we are going to take a big swing and gather our peeps from the Bay Area for this conversation. If you call the Bay Area home, would you consider coming? If you consider me a friend, would you come as a personal favor :) If you are no where near us, please pray for us and feel free to chime in!

Over the next week I am going to expand some of my thoughts regarding the changing culture and the need for a changing picture to communicate the Gospel with students who live in an increasingly post-Christian context.

Below is our events page. Check it out, sign up, and join the conversation.

Bay Area Youth Ministry Forum

You are invited to be a part of a day long discussion on the present and future of youth ministry. Your voice and experience is needed to wrestle with and understand the complexity of our context.

We live in an increasingly post-christian, entitled, and hyper-scheduled culture. At the same time, we are called by God and by the church to present the gospel to this next generation. But where is the thin place the gospel can truly enter into this worldview?

The world our students live in is dramatically changing. It is vital for those who are called to reach students to understand these shifts and adjust accordingly. We want to spend the day wrestling with two questions:

1) What is the crisis in these students lives that the gospel solves? In general, for our parents, the crisis was one of rebellion and the solution was justification. Our crisis is one of brokenness and the solution is redemption. For our students???

2) How do we structure a program within the church to that meets the real needs of students and satisfies the expectations of our church leadership?

We are glad to have Mark Oestreicher join us as our facilitator in this forum. Mark has over 30 years of experience and has been a part of all the major conversations regarding youth ministry for the last decade. He is an expert on culture, adolescent development, and church systems. time with him alone will make this forum worthy your while.

Would you consider bringing your expertise of our culture and context to the table as we work together to answer these important questions?

Important Information: Who: Youth workers who do ministry within the context of the local church in the bay area. Where: BayMarin Community Church 150 N. San Pedro Rd. San Rafael, CA 94903 When: Saturday October 6. 9am - 4:00. Optional dinner and drinks with Mark afterwards. Cost: $59 early bird registration. $69 after August . Lunch is included. Scholarships available. Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/232816

As you register, we would love for you to post an article to the blog jacobswell.me on anything and everything regarding the complexity of issues surrounding these questions.

Coming May 3rd, 2013 Youth Ministry Justice Conference. Now that you are home from your Spring Break Mission Trip, how do we bring what we learned back home to our everyday lives at school, our community and world? What does it look like for our students to live a life of service and justice? This event will be for youth workers and students.

Does a changing culture require a different slant on the gospel? Part 3: The Future

Don't forget to read part 1: the past or part 2: the present Our students are not broken, or rebellious, they are Unique! As I wrote about in Part 1 and in Part 2, our culture continues to change, and as it does we must be proactive in finding the thin places where the gospel and culture connect.

For our parents and grandparents, the crisis used to be rebellion, the good news was justification. For us, the crisis is brokenness and the good news is healing and redemption. But for our students, what is their crisis? Especially since they don't see themselves as being rebellious or broken.

Since there is no common morality, there can't really be rebellion. And since there is not a very good picture of how the world should be, they have no sense they are broken. And you can see this worked out when you actually talk with them and hear their stories.

The things we would classify as sin, rebellion, or brokenness are not things they are ashamed of. In fact they are badges of honor that give them street cred among their peers and make them feel more unique, more beautiful. They have no regrets! Everything they have done and experienced have made them the unique and beautiful person they are today.

Part 2) The Future If there is no brokenness or rebellion then where is the crisis? Where is the thin place in this current culture what is the crisis that the gospel is good news for? Because the truth is, our students are in crisis!!

While they may not be able to articulate their own rebellion or brokenness, we can see the impact of sin on their lives and it is devastating. But we must not take the easy way out and simply put our worldview and experiences on them and make them conform to our language. We know they are sinful and messed up, but they don't know that. So instead of hammering away with words and a world view that is totally foreign to them, why not actually find that place where their felt needs rise to the surface and have a touch point with Jesus.

And I believe that the crisis that our students are facing is one of abandonment and isolation. And this is a thin place where there truly is good news found in Jesus Christ through

Our students are abandoned and isolated This is basically the premiss of Chap Clark's book Hurt. Students have been totally abandoned by the adult world and left to fend for themselves. Now students have figured out how to pacify adults into thinking they are ok by simply telling them what they want to hear.

Have you ever noticed how students are incredibly quick in coming up with answers to your questions. They have mastered the art of psychoanalysis. They know what you want them to know and they have figured out if they give it to you then you will let them get back to their real life. Because they have been conditioned that we adults don't really care about them, and therefore their true life, true reality is this underworld that his hidden from adults and lived among their peers.

But in this world beneath, there is not grace and kindness, warmth or hospitality. It is a dog eat dog world, survival of the fittest, lord of the flies. And in order to survive in this world is it is about finding your cluster of close friends, locking arms, and doing life. But if, God-forbid, you ruffle the feathers of this cluster, then you are out! This sort of bullying, ostracizing, and alienation from peers and oblivious adults is devastating to the souls of our students.

Because of this reality, their worlds have become increasingly smaller and their place in it is fragile at best. This crisis is one that is so real it is actually palatable. Our students have no home, no family, no place of refuge, no identity, no purpose larger than their cluster of friends. They are isolated and alienated from true community, from true love, and from true purpose.

(Of course this is a dramatic picture and doesn't account for every student's story, but I think it is the cultural story that most students can identify with)

The good news is that they are invited to belong: If the crisis can be clarified as one of isolation and alienation, then Jesus Christ offers incredible news to this group of students. As the scriptures teach, once were were no people, but now we are the people of God! Students are actually invited into the family of God, for whoever receives Him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

If you think about it, most of what works in our student ministry is creating a sense of community. The students who are most committed are the ones who are most connected. This is the case because we are creating a heavenly version of community every Wednesday night.

When students show up they are noticed, welcomed, and valued. It is the place where the get to put the drama of home life and school friends away, even for a couple of hours, and simply rest in a place that is home!

I am sure that you do plenty of really great things and you are the most amazing speaker, and your worship team has a new CD, and your numbers are through the roof. But I bet if you did a survey of what your students value most about your youth group it is the sense of community. It is because youth group is actually part of the good news to our students, it is the answer to their feelings of isolation and alienation.

There must be an initiation rite But by simply letting the experience the love of the youth group community as an honored guest does not get them where they need to go. It is like being an honored guest at your friends home. No matter how close you are, how welcomed you are, you are still not family. At some point you have to go home and don't get to go with them to Hawaii on their family vacation.

But the good news to our students is not that they are simply honored guests, but that they are invited to become actual family! To belong to the body of Christ! This invitation requires action. On our end it requires a clear invitation to this new reality. And on their end it requires a clear decision.

As more and more of my peers are giving up alter calls and punctuated salvation in favor of the journey towards christ, our students are getting confused and lost. They will not figure it out by osmosis. They are barely figuring out their abstract thinking, so leaving it all to nuance is no bueno! We must get over our own issues so that we can properly serve the needs of our students.

Our students need clear sign posts, clear opportunities, and a clear invitation. They are not to be honored guests in the house of God, but to stand up, and by faith be adopted into the family of God and take their place as daughters and sons of the King. For they used to be no people, but now they are the people of God!

And as the people of God, they have an opportunity to partner in the family business of expanding the Kingdom of God. Standing up for injustice, participating in the ministry of reconciliation, and bringing light to the darkness.

Where do we go from here? These are just my thoughts as I have watched the student culture continue to shift from under me and the older stories of the the gospel make less and less sense. Whether this is the right paradigm or not doesn't matter. The reality is that student culture is undergoing another seismic shift, and we have an opportunity to be proactive in our quest to contextualize the gospel in a relevant and practical way.

Contextualization has been the bread and butter of missions for 2000 years. As youth culture changes, how must the gospel change so we can help our students connect to Christ. I think the crisis is alienation and therefore the good news is belonging.

What do you think the current crisis is among our students? What do you think the good news is for them?

This is the exact topic of conversation we will be wrestling with this coming fall. I would love for you to participate with us. If you are from the Bay Area it is only $65 for the day plus food. If you have to travel farther than a day, cover your costs to get here, pay for lunch, and we'll spot your fee. We need as many people around this table as possible, which means we need you!

Come and be challenged, encouraged, and equipped. See you this fall!

Want to join a conversation that is wrestling with this changing reality? Mark your calendar and save October 5, 2012. Click HERE for more information.

Does a changing culture require a different slant on the gospel? Part 2: The Present

Don't forget to read part 1: the past. Justification for our rebellion used to work. There was a time in our not so distant past where the gospel of justification as the good news for our rebellion was a compelling and effective strategy in connecting people to Jesus. For the better part of 50 years this was the staple of evangelical christianity.

But as the children of the boomers grew up, many noticed that this gospel of defining sin as rebellion and missing the mark simply lead to a legalistic gospel of sin management. If we are rebels and Jesus now saves us from the consequences of our sin, then sanctification was getting on board with "Christian Culture," locking down those crazy behaviors and being nice. (I know this is a very simplistic assessment, but I will take my angsty straw-man and jump in line with my fellow Gen Xers who began to tell a subtly different, yet much more culturally relevant version of the gospel for this new generation.)

Many Gen Xers who saw the white washed lives and big box churches offering a simple gospel which appeared to simply offer fire insurance, were longing for a more transformational story that wasn't so binary in its approach. In or our, secular or sacred. There had to be a broader and more compelling story.

And sure enough, pioneers such as Brian McLaren, Tim Keller, and Rob Bell (just to name a few of the superstars) began to paint a picture of the gospel that was truly good news for the Gen Xers and beyond.

Part 2) The Present Where the gospel used to be the good news of justification for our rebellion, there has now become a new crises that is in need of good news. For many Gen Xers, their story has been one of destruction. But it isn't the sort of destruction that is caused by rebellion, it is the kind of destruction that is the fruit of rebellion.

As a side note: This is not to say that all boomers were rebels or all Xers were wrecked. But it has become the common narrative of the generation.

For many Gen Xers, there is a genuine feeling of brokenness. There was once something that was good, and then through sin, death and destruction came to be. And since brokenness is the crisis, the good news is that through Jesus Christ we are healed and redeemed.

The death and destruction that has marred our lives and relationships does not have to be the end. Jesus comes and offers us transformation and healing to make the wrongs right.

I love the Gospel of healing and redemption! This narrative is so prevalent that it is like the air we breathe. We are all about the redemptive story. We love that God has made the world good, and sin entered the world through Adam and with sin came death and brokenness. Then God began his redemptive work through the Jewish people and ultimately through Jesus Christ. And in him our wounds our healed.

Instead of God simply annihilating the entire world because of their rebellion, many Xers see that God is redeeming creation and inviting he redeemed people to be part of the process. This is partly why social justice is such a significant part of our story. Christians are not passive people simply trying to get people from hell to heaven. We are a redeemed people participating in the ever expanding Kingdom of God.

This is my context, my peeps. I get that things used be good, and now they suck! And Jesus takes my brokenness and heals it, redeems it. This is the good news!

Yes the 4 Laws still work, but work differently: As you may have read from my other posts, here and here I am all about alter calls, all about presenting the gospel. But what has changed is the definition of sin when presenting the gospel. Now sin is our brokenness not our rebellion, and the gospel is healing and redemption instead of justification. No matter how we tweak the definitions, there is still a world in desperate need of Jesus and we are invited by faith to respond.

Sin used to be seen as missing the mark, rebellion, behaviors that deserve punishment. But in our current context this definition has transitioned to mean broken. We are sinful / broken and that brokenness severs our relationship with God.

It is Jesus who offers healing and redemption through Jesus Christ. It is a gospel, it is a gospel that requires a response. What has changed is our understanding of what the crisis it. For most "younger adults" we get that the crisis has transitioned from rebellion to brokenness.

I hope that this makes some sense and gives you a little more grace for the generation that has come before and understand the gospel in a different way that you do. And in the same way, can you even get your head around that our students have a different world view and a different crisis they are facing.

Can you get your head around that our students don't think they are broken? This version of the gospel is a home run for people in their 20's -40's. But I am noticing a challenging new trend. This new trend is that among our students there is now no more self reflection, no more brokenness.

As you interact with your students you are probably as horrified as I am that they have absolutely no understanding of sin. They live in an amoral culture and if there is no defined morality, how can they be rebells, how can they miss the mark. This trend has been happening for quite some time. But what has taken me back is that this current group of students don't even see themselves as broken.

Go to youtube and watch Lady GaGa's video, Born This Way. Now I get that she is weird and that many students would not admit to being inline with her. But as you talk with them and truly listen, you will see that this song is actually their world view.

Our students are beautiful and unique. Whatever we might classify as sin or brokenness they actually classify as badges of honor that simply make them more beautiful and unique. When they give their testimonies, have you noticed that the almost always talk about having no regrets and that all their experiences have simply shaped them into the person they are today.

While we might get that our students are rebellious and broken, I am trying to argue that our students don't see that. It is like arguing that a 19 year old college freshman boy is sleeping with everyone on his dorm because he is truly lonely, insecure, and trying to fill some God shaped hole with the wrong thing. While those may be deep inner longings, his felt need is that he is actually just horny. We know there is a sin problem, but unless we can tap into their felt crisis, there is little to no chance of the gospel truly being good news to this current generation. (wasn't that a colorful example)

I know you are probably disagreeing with me. But imagine trying to have the conversation with your parents or grandparents about the redemptive story we are called into. If they have any old skool, evangelical roots, they think we have gone soft because we are all about the journey and not getting people saved! This current generation has transitioned the gospel focus, why can't it transition again?

Where do we go from here? In part 3, I will simply share some of the thoughts I have been wrestling with regarding what the good news might be for these increasingly post-christian students. For us in the Bay Area, there is no more common story or ethic to aspire to, so justification for their rebellion is out. There is also little memory of the good that used to exist before the crap storm came so healing from brokenness is out. What is the felt need, the crisis that Jesus Christ can be good news to?

This solution is going to take much more than my little brain. Us youth workers are on the front lines of a whole new worldview and together we may tap into something revolutionary as we strive to share the good news of Jesus Christ with our students.

What are your thoughts?

Want to join a conversation that is wrestling with this changing reality? Mark your calendar and save October 5, 2012. Click HERE for more information.

Does a changing culture require a different slant on the gospel? Part 1: The Past

The Gospel is Dynamic One of the most amazing things about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it has proven to be good news to every culture, in every time, and in every context. If you think about it, this is an amazing feat for any religion, and Christianity has done just that.

Christianity is not based on national identity or cultural mandates. It is a religion that offers good news to everyone. As you study how this has worked itself out, you notice that the gospel story has subtle to gigantic differences as you compare what was emphasized in differing Christian communities such as pre-Constantine Mediterranean, to the hight of Papal authority in the middle ages, to the reformation. And this is just the western branch of Christendom.

How much more diverse does the gospel look when you compare the differences from they hyper-spirituality of the Congo to the liberation theology in Central America. The underground churches in China have an expression of the gospel that is very different than the Conservative religious right of the United States.

Once we recognize that the gospel is a dynamic story that has flexibility to truly speak good news to the thin places of need in a culture, we can begin to think more creatively about what is the crisis our students are facing and what is the good news that addresses it.

Part 1) The Past But in order to figure out where we are, it is important to look back into our history and see some of the major cultural shifts and the church's response to it before we can move forward. For our purposes, the furthest back we need to go is for our modern memory, the gospel that has shaped for many of the boomers who are now in positions of power and leadership in the church. This is the Billy Graham Gospel.

Billy Graham and Bill Bright were among the leaders of pioneering a gospel story that was simple, clear, and straight to the point. It truly was good news for a generation of people who had grown up with a religious world view but had now clear path to connect the dots towards a regenerated life in Christ. They were rebellious and needed justification from consequences of their sin.

The gospel was a simple outline summing up the 4 main themes in scripture. These 4 themes came to be known as the 4 laws. The premies of them was rooted in foundational logic and a common understanding of truth. The introduction of the 4 laws says, "Just as there are physical laws that govern the universe, so there are spiritual laws that govern our relationship with God."

The Gospel as the 4 Laws Then will clarity and simplicity, the 4 laws can be presented: Law 1: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Law 2: Man is sinful and separated from GOd, so we cannot know Him personally or experience His love. Law 3: Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin. Through Him alone we can know God personally and experience God's love. Law 4: We must individually receive Jesu Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know God personally and experience His love.

Why were they so effective? This version of the Gospel was highly effective and brought about a significant revival in the 70's. It is the version of the gospel that is still most closely associated with evangelical Christianity. Even through these 4 laws are not clearly stated by Jesus as how to enter into His Kingdom, it has been the gospel that the church has relied on here in Northern America for the better part of 60 years.

But have you ever stopped to think about why was this version of the gospel so effective? What was the crisis that these laws were good news in fixing?

Think about the post World War II context with its rigid social rules and norms. Think of Leave it to Beaver. Everything was made right and had order and rules. The Judeo-Christian story was part of the culture and the Church as still the center of social and cultural life in the community. Sermons were even printed in the New York Times every Sunday.

With this emphasis on religion and order as cultural values, the crisis became one of rebellion. Many of us have heard the definition of sin as missing the mark. This is an important illustration in a culture that has a common understanding of order and law and could agree with what missing the mark meant.

As the chaos of the 60's erupted with its emphasis on rebellion and freedom, it made sense that there has now become an established thin place to communicate the gospel. Many of the boomers grew up with structure, order, and rules. When they exchanged that for rebellion, there were earthly consequences that followed. But because there was a common set of rules and norms it was easy to find a place for the gospel to be shared.

There was a common understanding of God. There was a common understanding and experience of rebellion and the consequences of that rebellion. And now there was a gospel that covered sin and washed away the consequences of that rebellion, and that was the person of Jesus Christ.

Why has this gospel become less effective? This gospel that used to have the power to fill stadiums with thousands of people coming forward, this gospel that used to be shared with just about any stranger on the street with a high chance for success, seems to have less and less impact, has lost some of its umph.

We no longer have a common Judeo-Christian culture with shared values, laws and rules. If you don't believe me, as any teenager an ethical question and you will quickly see that there is no truth with a capital T, but only situation ethics with the foundation built on minimizing their consequences. With little common agreement on the nature of truth, the nature of God and the nature of sin, the 4 spiritual laws don't answer any of the key questions being asked or solve any of the felt crises.

Because the gospel is dynamic and malleable to every cultural context, I think the gospel of the 4 spiritual laws with the emphasis on justification as the good news for our rebellion is fading in exchange for a gospel that is more relevant in addressing our current generation's crisis.

Where do we go from here? In part 2 we will take a look at what the emerging leaders have brought to the table and the transition in our understanding of the gospel. We have gone from a gospel of justification to one of healing. Where the crisis was rebellion and the good news justification, current thinkers like Tim Keller are clarifying a new gospel where the crisis is brokenness and the good news is healing power of Jesus Christ!

Want to join a conversation that is wrestling with this changing reality? Mark your calendar and save October 5, 2012. Click HERE for more information.

You can do anything! SNL's crystal clear exegesis of our student's world view

snl

Saturday Night Live recently did an amazing skit which highlights a huge cultural shift happening among our students. You can do anything! Our students are firmly living within the hay-day of the self-esteem movement and we are starting to see the some of the ramifications. I don't really have any commentary, because SNL provided it. The challenge is for us to find the thin places within this culture to help our students see their failure, brokenness, and their need for Jesus, especially since, failure, brokenness, and sin are words with zero meaning for them.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UM73_-y41yE]

Thoughts?