Archives For Discerning your context

Happy 75th Birthday

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.

The terms “Post-Christendom or Post-Christian” allude to cultures that have decidedly moved on from Christianity as its foundation for moralism and truism, even in some instances rejecting Christianity all together.

These terms mostly get used within academic settings, but many Christians have intuitively sensed the shifting tides of culture for the past few decades. I often hear people in my sphere of influence tell me that “it’s harder to believe these days” or “culture seems much more insensitive to what I believe than it used to be” or “our government doesn’t value my beliefs anymore as a Christian.” Each of these phrases point to a post-Christian culture.

Now, this is where apologetics comes into our conversation. As a result of shifting tides of culture, more and more evangelical Christians – who once resided in the majority thought of culture – witnessed power and thought transfer from the locus of Christianity to pluralistic thought, which includes the belief in other religions, worldviews, philosophies, and so forth. These perspectives now dominate our trends of thought in culture. This correlated in an upswing of apologetic study, which is a fancy term for “defending the faith.” Whereas Christians could assume before that society understood and believed in certain presuppositions about Christian faith (everyone has faith, right?), now the dominant thought patters of culture devalued Christian presuppositions for radical inclusion and consideration of all presuppositions.

And perhaps for a season, apologetics and defending the faith against the changing tide of culture warranted a position in the church. But now the tables have turned, which leads me to my question:

Currently, as Christians living and working within communities deeply rooted in pluralistic, amoral, atheistic cultures, how does one defend the faith against a culture who could care less about the core tenets of Jesus Christ? Moreover, given the reduction of Christ-followers in our communities over the last decades, not only have Christians become a minority voice, but in some contexts – much like the Bay Area – they have become a negligible voice. 

Case in point, there are a little more than 11,500 middle and high school attendees who live in Marin County, as recorded by the Lucille Packard Research Fund for Children’s Health. According to the best estimate of youth workers in Marin County, only about 600 students (a generous estimate) – both middle and high school – are plugged into a church. That amounts to 5% of the entire teenage population, which trends with adult attendance, hovering around 10-12%.

These numbers do not represent a minority; they represent negligibility.

I want to propose a new apologetic. What if Christians whose voice represents a negligible presence within a culture first own their new role as such and then shift the conversation from an argument to one of redefinition?

The power of negligibility is such that our voices – albeit with the power of the Holy Spirit behind us – could not even get loud enough together as a chorus to reach the ears of the powerful. Furthermore, no matter how truthful and life-giving our claims, the power of an argument rarely defers to the minority.

But displays of risk, vulnerability, and courage speaks louder and volumes more than an argument against the claims of another.

The kind of apologetic I want to propose takes the element of ‘doubt,’ which so permeates our cultural values and replaces with the ‘courage to believe.’

Any fool can doubt. Any person can simply say, “I disagree,” “I don’t believe you,” or “I think you’re wrong.” Since living in the Bay Area, I’ve heard so many people say to me that they do not believe in God because they believe in science. Any one gregarious enough to do about an hour’s worth of research can see the multiple fallacies in that argument. Plus, generally-speaking, these people believe certain characteristics about God that are not present in the person of Christ. But, they value the objective observations of our natural world and have assumed that prior Christendom values negate those beliefs.

Let’s redefine the conversation.

What if we redefined faith, shared a true image of Christ with our lives, and put our stake in the ground? Doubting is easy. Everyone can doubt and question. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need strong critical thinking skills to doubt. To believe, on the other hand, requires courage, conviction, and a willingness to lay your life on the line for the sake of the cause.

I think our new apologetic for the negligible Christian voice ought to be a celebration of belief, rather than a disputed claim. Let’s stand in the river together and proclaim with our very lives what it means to live with abundant life and peace that transcends all understanding.

I think that gets closer to the life of Jesus than any other kind of apologetic.

QUESTION: Will you join me and stand in the river? 

shaky foundation

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:

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.

becoming-2

Imagine it is 3:00 pm on the first day of school.

Your daughter or son comes home and gives you a horrible report. They didn’t get the classes they wanted, one of her friends was mean to her, your son isn’t in classes with any of his friends, and it turns out they aren’t going to get to start their fall sport like they thought. So much disappointment all in one day.

As their parent, how do you respond? “It looks like school is going to be too difficult this year for you and I don’t want you to have to experience this kind of pain and discomfort, from here on out, if you don’t want to go to school or play that sport, you don’t have to.”

Why would you not respond this way? Probably because school is a no brainer. It is a value and a commitment that you have made. In fact you have so internalized this value that this conversation would never even happen and there is absolutely no expectation from your child that you would bail them out and they would no longer have to go to school. Because there is no exit strategy, they are forced to find their way, to make it work, and survive. And in fact, this is what happens every year with students and school.

What would it look like if you valued your child’s spiritual formation the same way you valued their school experience?

I know we all think that we value them the same, or we might even say we value them more. But as I have done this job and done this job here at MCC for the last nine years, I can firmly say that this is not the case.

It starts in 4th grade with kids complaining that Sunday school is boring, then in 8th grade that youth group is too immature, then in high school that their friends no longer come. And somewhere along the way the kids win out and church and youth group become an elective.

It is true that some of your kids really enjoy youth group, and I am glad. Matt and I work incredibly hard to make youth group a fun, safe place for kids to work out their faith. But what if your son or daughter, who loved youth group last year, decides this year it isn’t their thing. Every parent I know at our church would let the child decide because they don’t want to cram religion down their throat.

Here are some things to consider: 

1)  You are never going to cram religion down their throat. That is not you, that is not our church, and that is not our culture. This is our baggage from our childhood that we have to get over and die to in order to truly help our kids thrive spiritually.

2)  It is a no brainer to make your kids figure it out at school, why not make them figure it out at church. Kids will always find a way to survive. If they know that youth group is part of their life like math and english, they will actually find a way to enjoy it and make friends.

3 ) If you value the spiritual formation of your kids, then youth group is the only place in their world where it is going to happen. I know this sounds rough, but we don’t live in a christian culture, and there is no back up for what you are trying to instill on the home front. Teachers, coaches, radio, tv, internet, do not have your back spiritually. And if the only place they are getting a spiritual diet is from home, then during adolescence, this message is firmly going in the,”you are the parent, and I need to define myself against your beliefs and values” box. Youth group is the best place where they get to wrestle with these spiritual issues, have space to push back in a context that values what you value among peers who are in the exact same place.

4)  Would you consider this school year making the spiritual formation of your son and daughter a high value.  We work our butts off making space in our schedules for every activity under the sun.  Would you be willing to put some skin in the game to help them land at youth group so they can work out their faith and get after all that God has for them this year.

I know that this is the heart of just about every parent in our church. But the tyranny of the urgent, the old patterns we have slipped into often distort the desires of our heart. A new school year gets to be a reboot. This is the perfect time to take an honest inventory of our life and schedules, and to come up with a plan to live life according to what we value.

The worst mistake I see parents making is that they do not put a high value on actual attendance within the church community and in turn their kids never connect to the church community or to Christ.

“We become what we want to by consistently being who we want to become each day.”  The problem is that we are not intentional with what we do with the little and small decisions each and every day.  Spiritual formation for our kids is an intentional effort every day, and why not have today be that day?

May God give you wisdom and discernment as you navigate these waters and make some difficult choices. And no matter when your daughter or son jump into youth group, know that they will be welcomed with open arms and loved completely for who they are and where they are at!

 

swim

What Are Your Summer Bathing Suit Rules?
Now that summer is here it is time for pool parties, lake barbeques, and beach activities. As a youth ministry professional there is always one question that seems always rise to the surface: what is appropriate summer beach attire? Every youth ministry throughout the country has different rules and regulations when it comes to what is ok to wear at events that include water. All of the rules seem to surround the ladies and their swimsuit options. Bikini? Tankini? One Piece? Or my favorite, a Potato Sack.

Because our country is large and our micro-cultures are so varied, the rules we set up become “just the way we do things.” For many of us haven’t really thought through all of the reasons and cultural issues surrounding our decisions. We don’t even get push-back anymore because, “it is just how we do things.”

This way of setting up guidelines is perfectly fine with me. But the problem is that, when the larger body of Christ comes together for some summer fun, there seems to always be some conflict. Whether it is summer camp, a joint camping trip, or a denominational gathering, issues arise when one set of rules bumps up against another set of rules.

Will our pool be a bikini-free zone? For the churches who make strict rules regarding this, their students are ready. Even though the girls in this youth group wear bikinis to every summer function, they dutifully bust out their “youth group” swim suit for this event. But sure enough, some other youth group, who seems to have no morals, lets their girls wear bikinis. Now you have trouble! “Why do we have to wear these ugly swim suits when those girls get wear those hip bikinis?”

Purity or Freedom?
If you have ever been around a planning meeting for a joint event, you know that hours of conversation can swirl around the swimsuit issue. And in my world, it seems to be always framed in terms of modesty. We value modesty; that group doesn’t value modesty and as a discipleship issue, that group needs to see their sin and embrace modesty. While I do agree that modesty is an important value, I think there might be another way to approach the bathing suit issue.

Instead of the “one-piece” group pointing their fingers of shame and disgust at the “bikini” group wanting them to mature in their faith and value modesty, maybe the discipleship that needs to happen should come from the “bikini” group.

Check out Romans 14: 1-23 This is the passage where Paul talks about accepting their fellow Christians who are “weak in the faith.” One person believes that it is ok to eat meat sacrifices to idols, and another will only eat vegetables. He affirms that each of us personally will be held accountable for our decisions. God judges us, so we don’t have to judge each other. In fact, the stance that Paul argues for is not of finger pointing, but of self-sacrifice. “Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble.” (vs 20)

There is nothing wrong “in themselves.” To the pure all things are pure. It is culture that defines what sin is. Playing cards, drinking beer, smoking a cigar, and wearing bikinis are only sinful if the context you are in has made them sinful.

Clothing Is Culturally Optional:
It is kind of a trip to think about clothing and modesty as culturally defined, but as we look around the world and throughout history we know this to be true. What was acceptable beach wear in the 1920’s is vastly different than what our most conservative sisters and brothers accept at their pool parties. It is common for women in tribes of Africa or in the Jungles of Brazil to go topless. In their culture bearing it all isn’t shameful or sinful, it is simply their culture.

For the Yanamomo people in the Brazilian Rainforest the men are completely nude except for a small string they tie to their junk. If they come out in public without that string, then they have brought shame to themselves and are in sin. If one of these Yanamamo people becomes a Christian they are not supposed to immediately cover their privates and wear dockers. When they are in their context they dress in a way that won’t cause others to stumble. So the string stays.

If my Christian Yanamomo brother comes to Church with me and shares on a Sunday morning, the string will not cut it. It is not the string, but the culture that determines if something is sinful or not. But because my brother loves God and God’s people, he will gladly dress appropriately for our context because he doesn’t want to cause any of our people to stumble.

This same principle can be used for just about anything, and now must be used with bikinis. You see, the modesty group are actually the weaker brother in this passage of scripture. It is their cultural issues that cause them to see bikinis as sinful. The hard part is that the modesty group by nature of being the modesty group sees themselves as the true Christians, the keepers of the faith, and pure and holy ones. But in reality, they are the ones in danger of stumbling.

Another Approach:
If you have joint events that include swimming and you want a common dress code, that is perfectly acceptable. But it is a mistake to make the reasons be that those poor girls with no morals or concern for modesty the focus of the issue. For most students today bikinis are not scandalous in any way. It is the common dress of the day. And for those who live in beach communities, it is a way of life.

The real issue is that bikinis cause the weaker sisters and brothers, and mostly brothers, to stumble. The discipleship that needs to happen is for youth workers to walk with their bikini wearing-sisters to help them understand the vast variety of the body of Christ. And part of the call of being a follower of Christ is that we love another and serve one another. Part of that serving means dying to our own freedoms for the sake of the weaker sister or brother.

The next time you get together to plan your event and you are worried about dress code around the pool, it would be helpful if the tone was a little less judgmental about those people, and to own our status as the weaker Christians. Then in grace and humility we can ask those with more freedom to graciously give up some of their freedom for our sake. This posture would dramatically change the conversation and might even lead to some good ‘ol fashioned discipleship.

Speedos will always be sinful!

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)

It is that time of year where we wrap up this school year and begin to prepare for summer.  We have finally put together our spring and summer calendar and wanted to share it with you.  Not because it is the greatest summer calendar ever, but wanted to share it as an act of good will.  Those of us in this little AYM community are some incredibly faithful youth workers who are getting after some solid student ministry.  The only way we get better is by sharing our best practices and then incorporating other’s best practices into our own ministries.  So here is mine, and I would be honored if you would share yours.

qkr3fhnfe4vudrdyqd-uhaeqlllv3qmkb3ahslkpmzgtwy4ecyodren4pddjzuy7tqdpchrb3diftrfrdm_rz0pkmrp5glyp5u0kjkyhu5aorsls4y_p7rtedw63adyh4stuvyq6qzgcxbkpa63jklvy7nznjtna0ncxoxvfoctkThank you to the peeps at youthmin.org for this incredible template!

This last month at youth group we have been looking at media, pop culture, you tubes, music videos and movies in order to develop a more biblically framed world view.  And in doing this, I was surprised by what we discovered.

Of course there is plenty of garbage out there, and yes most of it dehumanizes and satisfies our base impulses.  For as much as I love Katy Perry, Dark Horse leaves a lot to be desired.  But as we were exploring media we came across the new John Legend song, “All of Me.”  And to my surprise, this was the most biblically accurate and affirming song in both pop culture and even in the Christian music charts.

Take a listen and let me know if you agree or disagree:

How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince’s daughter!
Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of an artist’s hands.
Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine.
Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies.
Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle.
Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim.
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.
Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses.
How beautiful you are and how pleasing, my love, with your delights!
Your stature is like that of the palm,  and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
I said, “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.”
May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine,
the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.

Song of Songs 7:1-9

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?

What is Lent?

I find it interesting that as youth workers we are always looking for a new series to do with our students.  We inherently know that we must mix up the ritual and routine of youth group or kids will get board and get into a rut.  This need to mix things up might actually come from God himself.  I think that we were actually created for seasons, for change, for rhythm.  And this need for annual celebrations is affirmed all throughout scripture with the commands to celebrate all the different festivals.

While this need for seasonal change is needed and expected, many Christians seem to discard the traditional season change in the Church.  According to the church calendar, today is Ash Wednesday marking the transition from “ordinary time” to the season of Lent.

According to Wikipedia, Lent is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter.  The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer – through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial.

Lent is the worst season in the Church.

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christmas table

More than any other holiday, Christmas is surrounded with family warm fuzzies. On the surface it is a month of preparing your house and making it as warm and hospitable as possible. And we brave the strip malls to buy presents as a way of showing love towards our friends and family. Christmas highlights one of the most critical needs humans have, to be known and to be loved.

Yes the birth of Jesus tells us so much about God and his love and plan for humanity, yes the manner in which he was born shatters all of our preconceptions regarding status and power, and yes we have God exegeted in the incarnation of his Son. But all of these great truths are not found in isolation. They are proved a reality by way of invitation, invitation into the family of God.

While we were sinners, broken, outcasts, it is at this time that Jesus left his rightful place in Heaven and became Emmanuel to reconcile us back to God and change our identity and purpose forever. Once we were not a people, but through Jesus Christ, we are the people of God.

As I reflect upon this reality, I am convinced more and more that this invitation into the family of God, to given the purpose of the family business is the thin place our world has to experience the good news of Jesus Christ. People feel more alienated then ever, our students are more isolated then the even know. Even with all their access to social media, they are alone.

Continue Reading…

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.

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Nativity-Wallpaper-05

For youth group this christmas, we are asking students to look at five different characters that were in close proximity to the birth of Jesus.  Although the lesson was rather simple to make, the conclusions were a little more difficult to swallow.

The Distracted:  Luke 2:1-3

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

In the time of Jesus’ birth, God was in the process of doing the most amazing thing in all of human history.  At the same time, Bethlehem was jam packed with families for the census.  While there were many people in the proximity of this historic work of god, everyone seemed to miss it.

Imagine a gigantic family reunion.  Everyone was busy preparing their homes for guests, buying presents for loved ones, etc.  And while everyone was doing their own thing, God shows up.  This kind of feels like the mall at Christmas time.

This Christmas season, What are the things that are consuming your mind, are distracting you from seeing that god is actually alive and moving in our midst?

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Post Christian Posts

November 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

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Here are list of links of posts I have written as I have wrestled with doing ministry in a post-Christian context.  Many of these posts build upon ideas and thoughts of other posts, so enjoy some of the redundancy :)

 

High-School-Teens

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.

In a post-Christian world, the wayward and rebellious daughter and son actually have no idea that they are even wayward.  They have been so far removed from the Christian story, the Christian family that they don’t even know what way is up.  And while they may not be able to articulate it it, most adolescents in this context are lost.  Lost in the truest sense.

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How Many Hours Does the Church Get With Kids and Students?

I know that this video clip talks about children’s ministry and sunday mornings, but the message is just as clear for those who work with students.  In children’s ministry the church is luck to have kids for 40 hours a year.  For those of us working with students the numbers at best double.

If you include youth group, sunday school, and big church there is still no way that we are even close to having 100 hours a year of ministry with our students.  And this 100 hour figure is being generous with our most committed students.  No matter how you slice it, the church is lacking in the amount of face time we get with children and students.  This necessarily isn’t a bad thing, unless those of us in vocational ministry think that our time with children and students is the most important and most valuable spiritual formation that happens in the life of kids.

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Every week before youth group we have a half hour leader’s meeting for our volunteer youth staff. This is, by far, the most important meeting of my week. It is an opportunity for our entire staff to touch base before we jump into another night of student ministry. Over the years these meetings have taken on many different looks. But as I continue to reflect on how to make that time a win for everyone, I have landed on my three most important components to an effective leader’s meeting.

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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!

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The Innovation of Loneliness

September 6, 2013 — 3 Comments

I recently had a conversation with my seniors where the prompt was simply: “We all have hidden things that shape who we are and how we interact, here is one of those things.”  In an attempt to build some true community and authentic friendship, I wanted our students to realize that the things they struggle with were the same as others.

What I thought would lean toward some confession and revealing the common teen age struggle of self image, drinking, smoking pot, etc, spiraled into a conversation about how every single one of them feel alone and isolated.

I was shocked!  These are popular, good looking, fun, and social kids  And every one of them felt invisible and lost.  I found this video to be really helpful in putting this universal feeling of loneliness within our current social media context.

I am sure there is a thin place for the gospel to actually be good news in this new cultural reality!

As youth workers we must see our students for who they really are and what they really struggle with so we can meet them at their point of felt need with the love and grace of Jesus Christ.  Because there is an answer, a solution to this universal dilemma and I am sure a big piece of this has to do with belonging and community.

This is exactly in the wheelhouse of student ministry!  Student ministry models this spiritual reality: adoption into the family of God, belonging and having value, respect for each other in this family, and developing the family values of our heavenly Father.

May the Lord bless you and your ministry as you kick off this new year!  May you have His eyes, words, heart as you welcome these lost and lonely students into the family of God! 

 

Hope for the brokenhearted

August 26, 2013 — 1 Comment

It is painfully obvious that we live in a broken world. With international tragedy and chaos every night on the news, it is easy to be overwhelmed. When these tragedies occur in our own country with flooding, hurricanes, mass murders, and school shootings it gets even more painful. And when these tragedies happen locally, the pain and heart break is often too much to bear.

What do we do when someone close to us dies in a car accident? How do we handle the news of a terminal disease in a family member? What sense can we make of natural disasters that devastate entire populations? In this broken world, can we find hope for the broken hearted?

Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. Psalm 31:9

While it is true that brokenness, tragedy and grief seem to be ever present in our world, there is a huge opportunity to offer hope and peace to those in the valley of the shadow of death. But if we are going to offer hope in a way that others can receive it, there are some important things we must remember:

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If your calendar is anything like mine, then you know that in just a matter of days or weeks, our students go back to school. And with the start of school comes the big fall kick-off. But before we can launch our epic programs and begin our year of ministry, we must first do the next to impossible task, gather those busy and fickle students who have been spread as far as the eye can see during summer.

While summer is great on paper, it seems to be almost disastrous to they needed rhythms our students and ourselves need. Yes we have camps, special events, and more hot dogs then the doctor would like. But for as many special activities we do as a student ministry, the truth is that summer actually scatters students to their individual actives. As they seem to all be landing from their family reunions, oversees vacations, summer camps of every kind (including college essay writing camp), and jobs, it is time to begin the process of gathering them together from their individual adventures to a common and shared purpose and identity as a student ministry. I have found that this is actually much more of an art form then simply announcing a fall kick-off and everyone showing up ready to go.

Our students are fickle and more individualized then ever and summer only exasperates this ethos. But for us to be the student ministry that God has for us this school year it is time to circle the wagons and heard thee cats. Over the years I have found some helpful tricks for gathering our wandering students.

Here is my strategy to collect my busy and fickle students:

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