From My Moleskin: Communities of Hope

Change is not an easy thing for institutions and organizations with established roots.  ”We’ve always done it this way” or “it didn’t work then, and it won’t work now” are heard throughout churches who are afraid of change when the status quo might be threatened or tested.  Why is it so hard to embrace, or even consider change from an institutional perspective?

To understand the institution we must first understand the individual.  Change is not something I have embraced with open arms.  Allison and I have lived a life of change for the last 20 or so months.  After deciding to go back to school I left a safe career as a government contractor to pursue full-time youth ministry.  In the past month I left full-time youth ministry to return to the contacting world.  Allison and I also welcomed a new addition to the family in August.  To top it off, Allison has changed jobs too!

At times, the change we’ve experienced has been tough to deal with.  Routines and habits have been forced to change.  There’s been some kicking and screaming along the way but the life we have created would not be possible without the change we have embraced as a family.

“Religion” is often at its finest when it serves to anchor people in the midst of turbulent change – to be a safe harbor in the midst of a storm of change.  The church has been an anchor for Allison and I as we embrace, and adapt, to the change presented to us.  While you want your anchor to be secure and stable, from time to time it may serve the “ship” to reposition the anchor or to set sail for new waters.  The same is true for the church.

seedling1Successful institutions are able to adapt and change to the communities needs as presented to the local congregation.  When decisions concerning governing and polity by people who are hundreds of thousands away, the needs of the local congregation are often ignored at the expense of denominational politics.  The ability to react quickly to changes and events throughout the local community and world provide “soil for the faithful future.”  Congregations who are unwilling or unable to embrace change (and I do not mean the political flavor of the week) lack a faithful and fruitful future because the soil their ministries take root in lacks the nutrients and tilling required to grow.

A response to “Communities of Hope” by Doug Pagitt in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope.

Noah’s Ark – Is It The Worst Children’s Bible Story EVER

Noah - Russell CroweThe American movie scene is all the buzz right now over ‘Noah’.  The film was released weeks ago and still the internet is all a buzz over how great (or bad) the movie is and whether or not the movie is true to the Biblical story.  Just think about it everyone in the world is killed, expect of course for Noah and his family.  This is a favorite Sunday School story where most people stop reading after God places a rainbow in the sky.  Most people do not know about Noah becoming a vineyard operator, or about him becoming drunk and passing out.

To explore the Noah story further, here is a D’Rash (an exegesis based upon a Biblical text and Midrash) I wrote based on the beginning of the flood story, Genesis 6.9-13.  I have included the Midrash text, Genesis Rabbah 30,9.

Bible Text – Genesis 6.9-13

These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.  And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.

Midrash Text – Genesis Rabbah 30,9

In his age. Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Nehemiah: Rabbi Yehudah said, “In his age he was a righteous man, but if he lived in the age of Moses or in the age of Samuel, he would not have been [considered] righteous.  In a market filled with the blind, they call the one-eyed person ‘Bright eyes.’  A parable: A person had a wine cellar.  He opened one barrel and found it had turned to vinegar; a second – also [vinegar]; a third – and found it sour.  He said to them ‘Is there anything better here?’  They said to him, ‘No.’  So too, [Noah] in his age was a righteous man.  But if he were in the age of Moses, or of Samuell, he would not have been [considered] righteous.”

Rabbi Nehemiah said, “If in his own age he was righteous, how much more so would he have been [righteous] in the age of Moses or Samuel.  A parable: A vial of balsam with a tightly sealed cap is placed among graves; yet, its fragrance still disseminates.  If it were away from the graves, how much more so [would its fragrance disseminate].  A parable: A virgin is surrounded in a market by whores; yet she does not get a bad reputation.  If she were in a market of good women, how much more so [would her reputation be positive].  So too: In his own age he [Noah] was a righteous man; if he had been in the age of Moses or of Samuel, how much more so [would he have been considered righteous].”

 D’Rash

There has been an influx of biblically based movies in 2014: “God’s Not Dead”, “Noah”, “Son of God”, and “Heaven is For Real”.  These movies are attracting the faithful to crowded theaters that smell of overpriced tickets and stale popcorn.  These movies tug at our heartstrings with stories that many of us can remember hearing our parents tell us about or we remember making cute crafts after hearing the story in Sunday School.  One of these movies, “Noah”, tells the story of my favorite Sunday School hero.  A man who saved his family and all of the animals (except the poor unicorns) from God’s wrathful vengeance against a sinful world.

In an age when feel good stories of what we might consider to be righteous people are scattered throughout the evening news, we can become desensitized to the good works being done around us.  Our 24/7 news cycle gives us story after story of people who are doing good in the midst of difficult situations [terrorist attacks, natural disasters, criminal activities] and yet for many of those people the accolades they receive do not mirror the rest of their lives.  They are sinful people, just like the rest of us, and if [or when] they fall from their graceful pedestals the public has placed them on, many people are shocked at the change of heart the righteous person had.  The good deeds they did or were doing are wiped away.  But this has not always been the case throughout our tradition of storytelling.

If we are active in faith communities where good works are being done [feeding the poor, providing housing for the homeless, caring for the widows and orphans] the righteous among our community begin to blend in with one another.  It can be hard for us to see the standout members of the community, and if the standout members of the community fall from their own perceived graceful pedestals, then the community does not notice the fall either.  Pious acts by righteous people often go unnoticed by those around them, and unless the person is of notability their downfalls can be hard to miss too.

The story of Noah is a perfect example of the righteous falling, and because he was surrounded by other righteous people it often goes unnoticed.  Most of us can recite from memory how God spoke to Noah, gave him instructions to build an ark, and saved Noah’s family, and after forty days of rain sent a rainbow as a sign of a new covenant.  It is a picture perfect story until you read a little further.  Genesis chapter 9:


Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent.

lego noah drunk

OOPS!  I guess my Sunday School teacher forgot that part of the story.  If you think this is the only Old Testament hero to not have a clean record, Moses killed a man and David stole another man’s wife.  If Old Testament examples are not enough, look to the Gospels and letters of Paul.  Jesus’ own disciples [along with His family tree] were comprised of people who were less than stellar members of society and Paul was the gruesomest persecutor of Christians!  God calls all of us, when our righteousness is not clearly visible to those who surround us and when our own shortcomings make us think that we are unworthy of the task placed before us.

Katz and Schwartz use the example of Oskar Schindler, a man who helped to save over one thousand Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazi’s.  Katz and Schwartz note that we do not know Schindler’s motivations but only that he lived during a time of great evil, just like Noah.  And just like Noah, Schindler responded with action that saved many.

It may not be clear that your righteousness is enough or it may be plain as day that your shortcomings are more than enough to prevent you from being an agent of God.  The story from Genesis 6 and Genesis Rabbah 30,9 makes it clear though that God intends to use regardless of how others, or even ourselves, view our righteousness.

My Philosophy For Youth Ministry

photo This week I am leaving full-time youth ministry to return to the realm of government contracting.  The decision to make this occupational change was a tough one to make but it was ultimately a decision that was made for my family.  In the midst of this transition, I want to reflect and share my thoughts on youth ministry.  What are the goals of youth ministry?  What is a theological starting point for youth ministry? I will conclude this series of posts with my own philosophy of youth ministry.

My Philosophy For Youth Ministry

Purpose

“The purpose of youth ministry is to invite both young and old to participate in God’s action.”[1]

Youth ministry is ministry that is specifically designed to be inviting to teenagers, contextualized in such a way that participation in God’s action is not only easily identified, but also understood by the teenage participants.  The purpose of youth ministry calls teenage participants and adult leaders to come together in such a way that both parties are not only involved in God’s action but are also invested in the lives of one another.

Leaders and Learners

Youth ministry invites leaders to become place-sharers with the teenage participants.  Andrew Root says, “ Those who are called to do youth ministry, those called to be proclaimers of the gospel, must do so from a place of their raw humanity, from their experience of broken dreams and deep regret.”[2]

While it might seem to many adults who want to engage in youth ministry that they have no way to relate to what a teenager is experiencing on a day-to-day basis, all we have to do is think back to our own experiences as teenagers for guidance.  How often did we feel that God had abandoned us in the midst of our hormone induced rages?  How often did we feel that God was silent as we navigated the halls of junior high and high school?  These are all memories we can call upon as we seek to engage teenagers and participate in God’s action with them.  As leaders we are simply called to be with the teens we are ministering to.

Often we hear that churches seek to find young adults in their churches who are willing to give their time to work directly with teenagers within the community.  While this is a great idea, the fact of the matter is that church communities are seeking volunteers from a demographic that is rapidly running away from the church.  My own community has had this mentality.  What ends up happening is a young couple visits the church and a well-meaning congregant suggests that the couple would be a great fit to work with the youth, without learning anything about the young couple or their interests.

lightstock_113280_medium_user_3571244Adults over the age of thirty or forty (or even fifty!) have more in common with teenagers than they think.  And because being a part of youth ministry is a call to be a part of God’s action, those leaders involved in youth ministry do not need to be experts on teenage culture.  Adult leaders merely need to be aware of where and how God is working in the lives of teenagers, and then participate in that action as well.  Those who are called to work in youth ministry simply need to offer grace to the teenagers who they are in participation with.  My own experiences as a teenager reinforce this idea.  The youth leaders I felt most connected to, and remain connected with today, were not the twenty-somethings of our church.  They were the parents and older adults who simply took an interest in who I was and loved me because I was a child of God.

In my community there are two schools of thought among the adult leadership of the church.  One, we should be focusing on the youth who are on our membership rolls.  Those youth whose parents are active members of the community.  The second school of thought believes that we should be reaching out to the students beyond the doors of our church.  The teenagers who attend the high school down the street and have yet to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ or who do not see the gospel of Christ as relevant to their day-to-day life as a teenager.

The answer to which group of teens we should be ministering to is both.  We should be reaching out to members of our congregations and those youth in our communities who have yet to find a faith community.  We should be ministering to the teens who were raised in the church and have attended Sunday school all their lives, while at the same time reaching out to those teens who have yet to understand what terms like grace and peace can mean for them in a world that tells them the person with the most toys wins and that we should do all that we can to get to the the top.

Content, Methods, and Environment

Content of youth ministry is available online and in print.  Every Christian publishing house offers their own catchy flavor of the week youth ministry curriculum.  And while it is important to stay up to speed on the cultural influences in the lives of our teenagers, I do not think that youth ministry curriculum should be as reactionary as it seems to be.  Rather than reacting, usually after the trend has faded away, to the latest trend in teenage culture, youth ministry content should be embracing those trends as they are emerging.

This means that those who are working in youth ministry should be aware of the latest trends that their teenagers are being drawn towards.  This can be done by watching the television shows teens watch, listening (as painful as it might be) to the music teenagers listen to, or attending the events teenagers are being drawn to.  Youth workers should utilize their greatest resource: the student who they are ministering too on a weekly basis.  Through discussions and genuine interest in the lives of teenagers, youth workers can easily determine what trends are currently influencing the their teenagers.

The methods of building a youth ministry that meets the purpose of being apart of God’s action in the lives of teenagers can seem like a daunting task, and in fact it is.  Building a youth ministry that will sustain the long haul, and not be an overnight success that dies out after the excitement of a new ministry fades away, is task that must be undertaken by those who are committed to being a part of the ministry for the long haul.

sustainable youth ministry

If you are try to build, rebuild, or sustain youth ministry in your congregation, BUY THIS BOOK!

Mark DeVries lays out what most churches do not know about youth ministry and how to make youth ministry sustainable in his book Sustainable Youth Ministry.  This book should serve as a blueprint for any church looking to establish a youth ministry setting that engages youth in the present but is also structured in such a way that the ministry will reach youth in the years to come.

DeVries lays out ways of planning and structuring youth ministry but all of that is for nothing if the climate of the church is such that the entire church community is invested in the future of youth ministry within their community[3].  If the climate of the community is not open to investing in youth ministry or is “toxic”, any work done by volunteers or paid staff can seem more like chores and ministry activities[4].  The environment of the church must be such that the leadership, both lay and professional, are committed to not only investing monetary resources, but also investing their time in the youth ministry they are seeking to create.  When leadership creates a welcoming climate for ministry, that attitude will trickle down throughout the community.

Evaluation

Being a part of the Methodist church, as well as part of a military community, systematic number counting is the favored evaluation method for the community I currently serve.  The problem with this evaluation method is that often a ministry is cut or eliminated before it is given a chance to grow due to a lack of numbers.  Playing the numbers game in youth ministry can be a dangerous evaluation method.

evaluation

It has been my experience that the topic of numbers is a popular topic among those who are professional youth workers.  For many communities, the focus placed on numbers is directly tied to the question of funding.  How much money should we invest in our youth ministry?  Doug Fields puts it this way: “Many church leaders come from the marketplace, and they want to know if they’re getting “bang for their buck.”[5]

It would make more sense to focus on healthy numbers instead of the big numbers most people want to see.  How many kids have we made contact with this week?  How many teenagers have chosen to give their lives to Christ and accept the call placed upon them when they were baptized as infants?  What if churches in general used these metrics for determining success instead of measuring the number of people who show up for an event?  I think that focus on positive evaluation, rather than numbers for the sake of numbers would change the way churches look at their youth ministries and the way churches look at their ministries in general.


[1] Root, Andrew. Taking Theology to Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. , pg. 38

[2] Root, Andrew. Taking Theology to Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. , pg. 47

[3] “Too often, even the most compelling vision is thwarted because, in spite of all the right structures being in place, little to no attention has been given to the climate.” DeVries, pg. 79.

[4] DeVries, pg. 80.

[5] Fields, pg. 27.

Palm Sunday is Guerrilla Warfare

What is the story behind Palm Sunday?  This morning Christians waived palms and yelled “Hosanna! Hosanna!”  But what is the story behind the story?  Let’s look to Mark’s Gospel.

palm sunday icon

 

Throughout Mark’s gospel Jesus has slowly been making His way towards Jerusalem.  Moving from the outer edges of the Palestinian territory towards the center of religious and politically powerful.  Every year to mark the Passover, Jews would make the same trip to Jerusalem as pilgrims, but Jesus is not a pilgrim here.  He is as Ched Myers call Him, “a subversive prophet challenging the foundations of state power”.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

(Mt 21:1–11; Lk 19:28–40; Jn 12:12–19)

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

theaterThis is choreographed political theater.  Just like the conventions held by the Republican and Democrat parties are nothing but choreographed theatrics, what Jesus is doing here is staged political drama.  The people on the streets of Jerusalem, especially the disciples following Jesus would have known exactly what the actions of Jesus meant (and reflected) as they unfolded.  What Jesus is doing here replicates what Jews would expect a triumphant Messiah to do.

As Jesus is making his way through the gates and into the city the crowds begin to chant:

“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

The parade that unfolds mirrors what has happened throughout the history of Israel (Genesis 49.11, 1 Samuel 6.7ff, 2 Kings 9.13, Psalm 118.25f).

The prophet Zechariah spoke of exactly what Jesus is doing.  Describing it as a “final apocalyptic battle” where God’s chosen would take a stand against its enemies.  What Jesus is doing is a mirror of what Simon Maccabaeus did.

Who were the Maccabees?

The Maccabean Revolt occurred between 167 and 160 BCE.  It was a conflict between the Maccabees (a rebel Judean group) and the Seleucid Empire.  The practice of the Jewish religion had been outlawed.  A Jewish priest, Mattathias, refused to worship the Greek gods and sparked the revolt from the Seleucid Empire.  The rebel Jews fled into the wilderness and in 166 BCE led by Judah Maccabee, an army of Jewish dissidents into the Selecuid Empire in a guerrilla warfare type attack.

After the victory of the Maccabees, the Temple was ritually cleansed and Jonathan Maccabee was installed as the high priest.  Hanukkah is a celebration of the re-dedication of the Temple.

This is what many expected the coming Messiah to do to the occupying Roman Empire.

What Mark is doing here is taking the symbolism of a triumphant guerrilla general and reorganizing it to express something that is specifically anti-military, which we see in Zechariah 9.9f:

The Coming Ruler of God’s People

(Mt 21:5; Jn 12:14–15)

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

10 Hec will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

and the war-horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off,

and he shall command peace to the nations;

his dominion shall be from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Jesus is approaching to Temple not to defend it with military might, but instead he is going to disrupt the political power that has taken up residence in the Temple.

Prevenient Grace & Youth Ministry

2013 Confirmation

 

 

 

This week I am leaving full-time youth ministry to return to the realm of government contracting.  The decision to make this occupational change was a tough one to make but it was ultimately a decision that was made for my family.  In the midst of this transition, I want to reflect and share my thoughts on youth ministry.  What are the goals of youth ministry?  What is a theological starting point for youth ministry? I will conclude this series of posts with my own philosophy of youth ministry.

Prevenient Grace and Youth Ministry

Developmental Needs of Adolescents

If you were to ask someone who works in youth ministry if teenagers are really human, the youth worker might respond my with a sarcastic “no”.  In reality, the response from the youth worker is accurate.  Teenagers, adolescents, are still developing.  Their bodies are beginning to experience drastic changes and as as part of this development their brains are rapidly changing.  We often ask middle school boys if they thought about the consequences of their actions, but the reality is that middle school boys for the most part of not capable of thinking past their spontaneous actions.

Early adolescence is the time period when formation is most effective in teenagers.  This would explain why most Christian communities choose to invite youth to participate in confirmation classes just prior to becoming a teenager.  Faith communities choose to engage youth and begin Christian formation during the time when the youth are most receptive to learning about the faith.  This allows youth workers and faith communities to establish a relationship with their youth at a young age, and hopefully begin cultivating that relationship over the years that follow the youth’s confirmation experience.

The years a young person experiences during adolescence is a time of “storm and stress”[1].  Although this theory has not been embraced by all adolescent psychologists, if we think back to our own experiences between the ages for 12 and 18, patterns of storm and stress can become prevalent.  Whether it is a shift in friendships or changes within a teenagers dynamics at home, we can at least agree that the years a young person experiences during adolescence is a time of stress.

The Culture of Teenagers

For those who do not have teenage children, or do not work with teenagers, it can be hard to understand the teenage culture of 2013.  Between 1940 and 1960 the field of youth ministry identified the “youth culture”[2], which separated teenagers from larger cultural settings.  This was the same time when Billy Graham was beginning his youth for Christ movement.  During this time period the rise of institutional Christianity began also. Mainline denominations began to spread and establish roots in every big city and small town across America.  The separate youth culture that began during this time became ingrained into the culture of most mainline churches[3].

hrcThe idea of prevenient grace being the baseline for my own youth ministry pairs well with the grace that many teens show one another today.  Teenagers today are much more open and accepting of the differences among their peers than their parents would have been at the same age.  The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) movement has gained traction among teenagers who no longer see sexual identity and orientation and divisions within their community.  As a result of this acceptance, teenagers are expecting that their faith communities match their own level of acceptance.  Prevenient grace, although a theological term that many teens have never heard, is an concept that many teenagers are engaged in (either as participants or recipients) on a daily basis.

Teenagers today have access to more information in a thirty second Google search than their peers would have had one hundred, fifty, or even twenty years ago.  News and information is shared via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and email, and no longer does it take days or weeks to exchange ideas or new.  Teenagers today live in a world where they are more connected to the global community than many of their parents are.

Doug Pagitt argues that we have moved from the industrial age[4] to the information age[5], to the inventive age[6].  The world our teenagers are growing up in is more concerned about the ideas they are able to produce than the goods they will be able to manufacture.  Because the knowledge which at one time had been reserved for the elite levels of academia are now available to teenagers at the click of a button, teens are now part of not only learning communities, but are also able to contribute to the academic conversation as peers in the academic community.

The inventive age has given way to teens living in a world which they view through screens.  This includes smartphones, tablets, laptops, televisions, and desktop computers.  This has led to teenagers building realities which are beyond their face-to-face interactions with friends and family.  It might seem silly or inauthentic friendships, but the realities created by teens online are just as real as the relationships they build with their next door neighbor.

Teens are able to not only create friendships on every continent but they are also able to create identities which are different from the identities expressed with their peers they interact with on a daily basis.  Because of the connectedness created in the inventive age, grace is prevalent throughout the lives of teenagers.  Teens are more accepting of not only those who are identified as LGBT, but other differences and nuances that now exist among their peers are not seen as separating distinctions that would have been viewed as dividing issues thirty years ago.

In Light of Methodist Tradition

“What Christian adults know that teenagers are still discovering is that every one of them is an amazing child of God.”[7]

It has been my experience in the Methodist church that grace is an important theme that Methodist communities embrace.  The concept of the open communion table highlights the importance of grace practiced in Methodist communities.  Grace is something that I experienced as a member of a Methodist community during my teenage years.  It is because of the love offered to me, even at times when I did not necessarily deserve it, that I today now view grace as an important theological baseline for youth ministry.

God works through all of us preveniently.  Yet, when we do not want God’s love to work in us or when we do not think that we deserve that love, God still works through each of us.  Teens are at a point in their lives when it can become easy to think that the world is against them, that no one cares or loves them.  When a teenager gets into trouble at school or in community, often they are told that they have ruined their chances at college or a good job, ruining any hopes of a successful future.  What if the church was different?  What if members of Christian communities, especially those working in the field of youth ministry, looked at teenagers differently.  Grace that is offered preveniently to teenagers lets those teenagers know that they are not only loved by God but that they are are also loved and valued by the communities in which they live.



[1]  Dyson, Drew. “Taking Theology to Youth Ministry” (lecture, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C., 9/21/2013)

[2]Dyson, Drew. “History of Youth Ministry” (lecture, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C., 9/21/2013)

[3] This is why in 2013 we still see the youth membership of congregations separated from the larger activities of the church.  We have established “youth Sunday” where the youth of the community are invited to participate in worship.  We have children’s church and youth worship each week to cater to the needs of the young people, while keeping the adult worship service free from distractions that could be cause by children and teenagers.

[4] “The Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s brought about dramatic cultural upheaval in Europe and the United States.  Certainly earlier inventions like the printing press had a broad impact on society.  But the printing press didn’t directly change the way people fed themselves or moved from place to place or earned a living.  The Industrial Revolution did.”  Pagitt, pg. 21.

[5] “The next cultural shift began while the Industrial Age was still booming.  During the 1920s and ‘30s, the Information Age began to take hold, thanks in no small part to the growth of the manufacturing and shipping industries that had taken place during the Industrial Age.  As people had access to books, newspapers, radios, and eventually televisions, knowledge and information became the most valuable assets of the culture.”  Pagitt, pg. 21.

[6] “In the same way, the Inventive Age is being born out of the Information Age.  Knowledge is no longer the goal but the means by which we accomplish new, even unimagined goals.”  Pagitt, pg. 21.

[7] Dean, pg. 197.

 

Youth Ministry – Theological Starting Point

AUMC JP GroupThis week I am leaving full-time youth ministry to return to the realm of government contracting.  The decision to make this occupational change was a tough one to make but it was ultimately a decision that was made for my family.  In the midst of this transition, I want to reflect and share my thoughts on youth ministry.  What are the goals of youth ministry?  What is a theological starting point for youth ministry? I will conclude this series of posts with my own philosophy of youth ministry.

Theological Starting Point – Prevenient Grace

A theological starting point is needed for any ministry.  Whether you are creating an entirely new missional community focused on service to the poor, modeling the service of Jesus Christ, or a youth ministry seeking to serve the youth of your community, it is vital to have a theological baseline for all of your ministry activities.  In my context of youth ministry as a student of John Wesley, grace[1] is the theological baseline for my ministry activities.  Specifically, I hope to use prevenient grace[2] as the starting point for my youth ministry.

According to the Articles of Religion, and John Wesley’s own writings, God’s grace is available to us even before we seek it.  Due to our own sinfulness we are in need of God’s grace and love to to reconcile our own relationship with God.  And since we have abused the free will given to us by our creator, we must now rely upon the action of God working on our behalf, without our initiation, to reconcile our relationship with God.  It is God’s work, and not that of our own, which makes salvation available to us.

My experience as a Methodist has taught me that the notion of limited atonement[3] is false.  This rejection of limited atonement also includes the rejection of the doctrine of predestination[4].  John and Charles Wesley both reject the doctrine of predestination.  The understanding of these rejections as part of my theological baseline for youth ministry is vital because it provides me with the criteria of who I should be focused on in my ministry with adolescents: all of them.

Grace, the love and peace of Jesus Christ, is universally available to all people, regardless of sex, race, creed, sexual orientation, or any other label we can place on an individual.  As a youth leader, if I am to follow the example set by Christ by loving those who have not yet chosen to love in return, then I must also love and minister to those who have yet to one, become active participants in the church, and two, express an interest or desire to be a participant in a Christian community.  This means that in everything I do as a youth leader it is my duty to love those who have yet to walk through the door of my ministry and to also see all of the youth I work with as being loved by God, and thus being loved by me.

Prevenient Grace Creates a Slippery Slope

The idea of prevenient grace as a baseline point for youth ministry can create a slippery slope when establishing guidelines for participation within  youth group activities.  The idea that anyone and everyone is welcome can become problematic when planning who can and cannot attend an event.  For example, when planning an international mission trip, if you are working with a baseline of prevenient grace, can you establish specific criteria for participants on the trip?  This is a question that our community is currently facing in light of what has happened on previously trips.

If we use the idea of grace as our baseline, and use grace as the way in which we engage our ministry, we are then able to navigate this slippery slope.  John Wesley also spoke of justifying and sanctifying grace.  To answer the question raised in regards to who can participate and who cannot, we can now look to John Wesley for guidance.  If we view justifying grace as the “ah ha” moment adolescents can have in their faith journey, a mission trip could be that next step after the “ah ha” moment.  Participation on a large scale trip could be the appropriate action taken by someone who is choosing to respond to the grace which was made available preveniently to them.



[1] “The unmerited love of God, which both forgives and transforms the sinner.”  González, pg. 70.

[2] “God’s grace ‘coming before’ (Latin preveniens) our believing in Christ.” Campbell, pg. 152.

[3] “The belief that only certain human beings have been elected or chosen by God for salvation and others will be damned.” Campbell, pg. 55

[4] “The view that God has determined beforehand who is destined for eternal life in other words, who are the ‘elect’.”  González, pg. 138.

sanitation, toilets, you, and Chuicutama

You can take all of the funny videos that have floated around over the past two years of Jason sitting on a toilet and forget about them.  They are a funny way for Aldersgate to bring attention to a global need: sanitation.  For many of us, just the word toilet upsets our first world (middle class) sensibilities.  We do not like to talk about toilets, let alone what goes on it a toilet.  We do not like to talk about toilets or what goes on in a toilet because have toilets.  But for many people around the world what goes on in a toilet, or outhouse, has serious implications for their life.

Families around the world live with the reality of not having safe drinking water or a place to do their daily business.  Water used for drinking, cooking, and bathing is contaminated by latrines or lack thereof.  Over the past few weeks Christians across America have become enraged by the idea that World Vision would employ people in same-sex relationships.  The anger felt, cause those same people to change the way they help World Vision.

What if we could feel that same level of anger at the way people around the world have to live?  What if we had that much anger about the current lack of sanitation for many people around the world cause us to change the way we view the world?  What if our changed view of the world caused us to act?

Check out this video from the Highland Support Project.  I have had the opportunity to work along side those who live in Chuicutama, Guatemala on this very project.  If your middle class sensibilities are upset by what you see, then respond by helping fund the rest of the project, or consider joining the team in Chuicutama in July.

Do you want to learn more about this Lenten project at Aldersgate?  Click here for more information!

 

Youth Ministry – Goals

Youth at Jounrey 2014

 

 

This week I am leaving full-time youth ministry to return to the realm of government contracting.  The decision to make this occupational change was a tough one to make but it was ultimately a decision that was made for my family.  In the midst of this transition, I want to reflect and share my thoughts on youth ministry.  What are the goals of youth ministry?  What is a theological starting point for youth ministry? I will conclude this series of posts with my own philosophy of youth ministry.

What are the goals of youth ministry?

Any ministry, whether it is to serve the homeless or visiting the shut-in, must establish itself through identifying the goals the ministry wants to meet.  Youth ministry in this sense is no different.  The goals of youth ministry however are tailor specifically to meet the needs to adolescents in the context of their specific communities.  This means that not only should the goals of youth ministries be focused on the community, but specifically the portions of the community where youth are engaged: homelife, sports fields, school, band rehearsal, part-time jobs, and church.  This list will never be complete.

As youth grow, as well as their communities grow, so to will the spaces where youth ministries will have to be involved.  The goal of youth ministry should be to engage youth with biblically grounded teachings in ways that adolescents can directly relate to the teachings.  This means that another goal of youth ministry should be to be relational ministry.  We should seek to build relationships with those who we are in ministry too and with.

A thriving youth ministry is one that is grounded in aiding youth in both understanding and following the teachings of Jesus Christ.  This means that from start to finish teaching and fellowship are biblically grounded with the aim of experiencing Christ not only during ministry activities but also through those who we are engaging the ministry with.  This could range from seeing Christ in the actions of another student to engaging Christ through service to experiencing the hospitality of Christ while sharing a meal.  Lessons can be tailored to fit into the context of the youth’s experiences as adolescents, while being grounded in the Old and New Testaments.

If youth ministry is to be engaged relationally, it should then be a goal of both the professional and volunteer youth worker to be in relationship with adolescents both within their church community, and within the local community.  This means that the youth worker cannot be confined to an office within the church.  The youth worker (professional and volunteer) must be an active member of the community, on Sunday morning yes, but also Monday through Saturday as well.  Christ was not a passive participant in His own ministry.  He did not sit back and wait for people to come to Him.  Youth workers should model the ministry of Christ by not only engaging adolescents on Sunday morning in worship but by developing relationships with them by attending sports games, concerts, and other important activities in the life of developing adolescents.

Place-sharing[1] is one way that both volunteers and paid youth workers can relationally engage those in the community where they are called to ministry.  By engaging in relational youth ministry in this manner, ministry is then able to focused around commonly held interests or experiences.  The youth worker as well as the youth participant have common ground to begin developing a relationship[2].  By place-sharing with youth, we are not attempting to become influencers within that space.  Rather, we are entering into these places to stand with those who are suffering and to become participants in that suffering as well[3].

Purpose, Intent, and Motivation

Andrew-Root-BIOPhoto-BWAndrew Root identifies purpose, motivation, and intent as criteria youth workers can use to to evaluate their own ministries.  Root defines purpose as “our intentions in connection (or disconnection) to our motives”[4].    Our intent for ministry are the surface level things we want to see accomplished within our own ministries.  This can range from having the goal of youth seeing the Bible as relevant to simply getting our youth in through the doors of the church[5].

Our motivation is the hidden or implicit reasons communities choose to engage in youth ministry.  Root identifies several motivations a community might have to engage in youth ministry.  This list includes but is not limited to keeping kids good, involving kids in service, and passing on the faith tradition[6].  While these motivations might seem genuine on the surface, they become superficial means to engage adolescents.  For example, once you teach a young person to be good, then after they learn how to function as a good person the church no longer serves a purpose in that person’s life.  Motivations are typically short-term goals with results that last an even shorter amount of time.  Often though our motives become what Root describes as, “self-centered, self-gratifying, or self-justifying”[7].  This means that as youth workers we must always be clear about not only our motives but also the purpose of a our ministry.

Nurture or Conversion

Developing theological criteria enables youth ministry settings to fall into one of two categories (although many times ministry settings like to see themselves as fitting into both categories): nurture or conversion.  In my own ministry, I find myself falling in the nurturing category of youth ministry.  I do not believe it is possible to convert someone without first engaging them in a relationship and nurturing that relationship to build a level of trust.  Then, once a level of trust is established, conversion can occur.  Duffy Robinson says this about nurture, “Our mandate is to reach out and touch.  We reach out to students to bring them to a relationship with Jesus Christ.  We help them to become strong and established in that relationship.  Then we equip them to go out and re-produce that process of nurture in the life of another person.”[8]



[1] “Making their relational interactions the place of God’s activity” Root, Andrew. Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007. pg. 200

[2] “A youth pastor doesn’t need to provide willing adults like Paul with a meticulous how-to manual… Rather, what is needed for the adult leader to be an authentic human being with and for the adolescent, opening his or her unique person to the adolescent, inviting the adolescent to share in his or her life.”  Root, Andrew. Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007.  pg. 202

[3] Root, Andrew. Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007. pg. 203

[4] Root, Andrew. Taking Theology to Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. , pg. 23

[5] Dyson, Drew. “Taking Theology to Youth Ministry” (lecture, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C., 9/21/2013)

[6] Root, Andrew. Taking Theology to Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. , pg. 26-31

[7]  Root, Andrew. Taking Theology to Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. , pg. 45

[8] Dyson, Drew. “Missional Youth Ministry & the School of Rock” (lecture, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C., 11/16/2013)

Nature & Mission of the Church

missional_church

What is the mission of the church?  Does the nature of Christianity in the 21st century play any role in discerning the mission for the local church?

While the mission statement of the United Methodist Church is, “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”, these words only scratch the surface of what the church has been called to be.  And if you were to ask Will Willimon, he would tell you that the UMC has drastically failed at this mission.  What it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ can vary from denomination to denomination and even vary between congregations of the same denomination.  To understand the nature of mission, first we must understand the nature of the church.

Nature of the Church

The church exists to be in partnership with others.  The church is not a singular entity, nor can it survive on it’s own. The church is not one person gathering to worship or to serve the community; but, rather it is the community gathering around One Person, so that the lives and work of the gathering community will mirror the life and work of Jesus Christ.  When a church is existing to mirror and follow in the life of Jesus Christ, the church is then being called out of this world.  The church is being called out to be the beacon of light on the hill.

The church is also called out to be a living sacrament and instrument of the grace of God, continually working to advance both the Kingdom of God as it exists today and in the future.  This call to be a living sacrament has been a part of the Christian story from the earliest gathering of followers of Christ after Pentecost.  The Apostle Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  What does it mean then to be a “living sacrifice”?  In my estimation, this requires followers of Christ to devote all aspects of their daily lives to living out the teachings of Christ.

While it may seem obvious to point to our holy texts as evidence for why the church is by it’s very definition and founding mission focused, this idea has been reaffirmed by generations of Christians.  The assembly of Vatican II agreed with Paul’s words from Romans by stating, “the church is called ‘the visible sacrament of… saving unity’ and even the ‘universal sacrament of salvation’”.  Even while the church was busy determining doctrine and dogma, the foundation of being of the world and for the world remained at the forefront of what the church was and is to be.

 

Nature of Mission

My understanding of mission is formed through Jesus’ proclamation concerning the reign of God and the significance of the Easter event (Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday).  Bosch writes, “God’s reign is not understood as exclusively future but as both future and already present.”  For me, as a Christian, this is a call to me to live in the new kingdom where the least are now first, and as a church leader my ministry should be shaped around the idea that the kingdom is here and we do not need to sit and wait for an invitation to the be a part of God’s reign.  We have the opportunity to experience God’s reign now!

Second, it is the Easter event that provides “boldness” for Christians today.  Bosch notes that without Easter, the gospels make no sense.  New life is offered to us by Christ because of the resurrection.  In ministry, this means we are to call out that God has overcome death and because of this we too can seek new life emboldened by the work of the risen Christ.

The nature of mission is also biblically footed.  In Matthew’s gospel the elements of mission that are key are the call to mission, which is grounded  in “the story of Jesus as told in earlier passages” and the portrayal that mission is a call to both Jews and Gentiles.  These two elements of Matthew’s gospel are paramount to the understanding of mission through the lense of Matthew’s gospel.  The identity of what mission means for Christians is rooted in the understanding that the Son of Man took on flesh and that the Great Commission is framed from the beginning to the end of Jesus’ ministry.  In regards to the portrayal of mission as a call to both Jews and Gentile, the theology of Matthew’s gospel does contradict itself, yet Matthew does not try to reconcile this: Jesus was sent to Israel and Matthew’s affirmation and promotion of the mission for Gentiles.

In Luke’s gospel mission is portrayed as initiated by the Spirit. The Spirit that descended upon Jesus during his baptism is the same Spirit that descended upon the disciples and descends upon us today.  It is not us who initiates or sustains the mission of the church, it is the work of the Holy Spirit that enables us to fulfill the mission we have been called to.  Bosch writes, “the Spirit not only initiates mission, he also guides the missionaries”.  This means, that the work accomplished by the church in the name of Christ is a direct result of God working through the church, and not work of the church.  For mission to be successful, it must be initiated and sustained by the Holy Spirit.

From the writings of Paul the key element for understanding mission is that the church is called to be a new community.  This does not mean that the church is to be a community separate from the world, but rather the church is to be so engaged in the world that it is impossible for the mission of the church to be ignored by the members of the community.   A key point to highlight is that “Gentile Christians should never lose sight of the fact that Israel is the matrix of the eschatological people of God.”.  Gentile Christian communities are not to be seen as a “new Israel”.

Mission is “God’s turning to the world”.  By turning towards the world, instead inward upon itself, the mission of the church has the power to become the agent of peace, hope, and reconciliation.  The very nature of the mission of the church has to be based in the local church so that those who are called to be the earthly agents of God are able to not only proclaim the reign of God but to also serve and advocate for the same people that Christ said would blessed in the Kingdom of God:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

Not only is the nature of mission to care for those listed above by Christ, but it is also the churches earthly responsibility that the blessedness assured to the least by Christ is realized.  This is to be done in partnership with those whom a missionary is called to serve.  No longer can mission work have the focus of “us doing work or preaching for them” but instead the mission work of the church should “us doing working and preaching the word of God with them”.  David Bosch notes that mission work can “no longer be viewed as one-way traffic”.

DC Beer Bracketology – The Elite 8

elite eight

The Elite Eight have been announced! Stillwater Classique will go head to head against Bluejacket Forbidden Planet.  Devils Backbone Vienna Lager will  face off against AleWerks Tavern Ale. Monocacy Riot Rye will square up against Troegs Perpetual IPA.  And Victory Swing Session Saison will compete with Franklin’s Golden Opportunity.

Here are my picks: Stillwater Classic, Devil’s Backbone, Monocacy Riot Rye, and Franklin’s Golden Opportunity.

I love the idea of placing locally crafted beers on a pedestal throughout March.  Locally made craft beers are made with the community in mind.  Whether it is sourcing as many ingredients as possible locally or creating jobs to connect the community with the beer being produced, local craft breweries show us that big-box, mass-produced products are on the decline.  While we all love the convenience of shopping at the Costcos of the world, there is something to be said about walking into a local brewery and being on a first name basis with the owner.

ForgeHeader-258x210-1

 

Forge Brew Works in Lorton, Virginia is a perfect example of this.  FBW opened in October 2013 and already is giving back by allowing local groups to meet in its facility.  The pub theology group I am a part of meets in Forge’s bar area.  I cannot think of a better way to to be connected to the community that through beer.  Everyone loves beer, and if you happen to be one of the 0.000001% who don’t like beer, you probably know someone who does.

 

Be on the lookout for the Final Four of DC Beer Madness in the Washington Post.

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