Youth Ministry & Outreach

Outreach? Evangelism?Evangelism has become a dirty word for many Christians.  It could be that the term has been hijacked by some within the Christian tribe.  The word has been transformed from being one of invitation or of reaching out, to judgement and condemnation.  To be an evangelist does not mean that you need to be on a soap boat with a bullhorn yelling at people walking down the street.  It also means that you do not have to stand in front of store doors handing out tracts, and asking if people are saved.

To be an evangelist is to reach out into the community and share the love of Christ.  It’s pretty simple really.

The average member of a United Methodist Church, depending on which statistics you read, invite someone to church or share their faith with another person every 33 years.  That’s it.  So, if I’m lucky, I will share my faith or invite someone to church 3 times in my life.  That’s it.

Is it any shock then that teenagers are afraid to invite someone to youth group (which is the really fun part of church) if the rest of the church isn’t willing to invite someone? Is it any surprise that teenagers don’t think they are able to invite “outsiders” to youth group when the only people inviting others to the church are the pastors?

We are in the midst of a monthly long drive to invite friends to youth group.  It began with some gripes:

“Why do we need ‘new people’?”

“What about us?”

I think the sentiments shared by my youth group are the same sentiments shared by the average person in the pew when the terms outreach and evangelism are lifted up.

“What about us?”

We are afraid that new people will redirect the pastor’s attention away from us to them (is that really a bad thing)?

What if those people want to change something?

What if the new people have a differently theological view or God-forbid political view?

Why does asking a friend, neighbor, or even stranger to come to church feel so awkward or difficult?  We don’t hesitate to invite friends to meet us at a brewery, the beach, or the latest restaurant in town.  Teens will invite their friends over to all-nighters and to go play paintball.  So why is it then, that inviting someone to experience the Good News of Jesus Christ so hard?

Unchurched Next DoorTalk about the dying church is very popular right now.  We hear often that the church has lost it’s relevancy and that we live in a post-Christendom world.  While there might be some truth some of that here are some stats from Thom Rainer’s book The Unchurched Next Door that might make encourage you to think otherwise, and to invite someone to church (or youth group):

  • “Only two percent of church members invite an unchurched person to church. Ninety-eighty percent of church-goers never extend an invitation in a given year.”
  •  “Eighty-two percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited.”
  • 7 out of 10 unchurched people have never been invited to church in their whole lives.
  • Most people come to church because of a personal invitation.

Learning to Think Theologically in Youth Ministry

imageI recently picked up Stanley Hauerwas’ new book, The Work of Theology, in preparation for an upcoming Crackers & Grape Juice podcast.  Jason, Morgan, and I will be chatting with Stanley next month at some point.  In my reading of late I have been trying to connected what I have read to the field of youth ministry.  Having spent the last year writing about missional theology in the field of youth ministry I am honed in on how larger issues of theology and dot ruined effect the lives of the students I work with on a daily basis.  I want to ensure that youth ministry, my ministry in particular, is a place where theological discussion and reflection is welcomed and expected.  I have found that all too often youth ministries are avoiding hard theological topics and opting for what Brian Zahnd describes as “Cotton Candy Christianity“.

“Theology so understood has no beginning and no end.  The theologian always begins in the middle and the theologian’s work is never finished.  The discipline of theology so understood can be and often is quite frustrating because you often have no idea what you are doing or should be doing.”

Does this not sum up the work of youth ministry perfectly?  Those who work in the field of youth ministry are jumping into a person’s life in the middle of it and rarely do we get to see the finished product.  Youth pastors and volunteers rarely get to see the fruits of their labor.  This is, in my opinion, the most frustrating part of youth ministry.  Beyond the annoying emails from parents and teenage drama, not seeing the “finished product” can leave you wondering sometimes if what you are doing is really having an impact.

Theological training needs to be a staple of youth ministry.  Students need to learn to think theologically.

Youth ministry in many cases today has become a mix of sloppy games, surface level Bible study, and Dr. Phil style counseling.  Over the past 5 years I have become more and more convenienced that youth pastors or youth directors are afraid to dive into theological discussions because they are afraid of making youth group, Sunday School, or Bible studies “too churchy”.

faith4Hauerwas has an answer to that excuse:

To be an agent of practical reason requires that we must be a person of virtue.

He goes on to to explain that virtue requires training for action to be of value and that practical wisdom requires the habit of attentiveness.  This means that youth ministries need to be training their students not only in the how part of thinking theologically but also we need to be showing students how to be attentive to the world around them.  This means that we help students to see where injustice is happening, where God is at work in their schools, and how they are connected into the building ofGod’s Kingdom.

Thinking theologically is not a scary proposition. Just because the perception of theology as a “seminary word” that only those people are allowed to do is the norm doesn’t mean that it has to be.  Youth ministry settings are the perfect place to break the mold of what is normal in church.  Students have the energy and desire to learn about the world around them.  Thinking theologically will help to bridge the gap between what happens on Sunday morning and what is happen the their 6.5 days of the week.

Youth Ministry & the Primitive Church – Church Growth

A few weeks ago I spent two days on the campus of Virginia Wesleyan College with Bishop Tim Whitaker.  The retired United Methodist Bishop led a seminar about the mission of the church today. He used the primitive church (first 300 years) as an example of the church growing while not being the religion of the culture and at times being received hostilely.

The two day seminar walked the assembled group of United Methodist clergy (I’m not sure how I got in) through the history of the primitive church, the first 300 years after Christ’s resurrection.  

As I’ve been processing what Bishop Whitaker spoke about  I have come to the conclusion that the primitive church has a lot in common with youth ministry.  The primitive church represents Christianity in it’s infancy.  A time when the church grew not because of attracting people to a new building with a shiny new sanctuary but rather the Gospel message of Good News served as the only needed attraction.  The primitive church grew in the midst of not being the religion of the culture in addition to persecutions.

Church Growth – The Primitive Church Grew in Hostile Times

gods-not-dead-2While the writers and directors of God’s Not Dead 2 want you to believe the church today is under attack, it isn’t.  I would argue however that the the church today is facing a similar situation to the church of 1700 years ago – the church today is not operating in a culture that views the values of the church as it’s values.  This is especially true in field of youth ministry.

Unless you are in the heart of the Bible belt, the church is operating outside of the glory days it once enjoyed.  Church growth within the mainline denominations is stagnate at best.  Clergy who are evaluated on their ability to grow a congregation are now in the position of trying maintain membership numbers that are at best level.  There are pockets of light where growth is happening but the days of families moving to a new town and immediately seeking out a new church are gone.  This is trickling down to youth ministry.

If you’re in youth ministry, how many times are you asked whether or not you’re growing?  A youth ministry colleague lamented to me last week that he was frustrated because his congregation declined by 1% last year but still he was blasted by his church administrative council because the youth ministry only added 10 students to the ministry.  Is there a double standard here?

060111 cs conference 17_medThe primitive church grew because of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  They knew they would need the help of the Spirit to make this Christianity thing happen.  Yet today, we often think for our churches and ministries to grow we need fancy new labels, initiatives, or shinny new buildings.  Bishop Whitaker said this:

“persecution often had an effect on popular opinion about the Christians. The attitude of martyrs, especially young women, made a profound impression on many people. As Stephen Neil says in his A History of Christian Missions, ‘There are a number of well-authenticated cases of conversions of pagans in the very moment of witnessing the condemnation and death of Christians,’ and there must have been many more people who later became Christians as a result of witnessing a martyrdom”

The witness of the primitive church, in the face of persecution and martyrdom, led to conversion and growth.  What if today, instead of claiming there is a war against God or that God isn’t welcome on college campuses (Really people? I know multiple campus pastors on “liberal” campuses who are growing ministries where some say Jesus isn’t welcome) perhaps the church today, and youth ministry specifically, can be a witness for the world.  In this moment the Church has a chance to live out its calling to love the world and work to build God’s Kingdom.  It is the living out of our faith that can help reverse the post-Christendom decline.  Living out our faith can breathe new life by the Spirit into ministries that were once thought of as dead.

It’s true, God’s not dead, but was there ever really any question about that?  If we live as a church with the knowledge that God was never dead to begin with than we can move forward living out a faith that is light in the world -a world that is in desperate need of hope, reconciliation, and love.

We can learn a lot from the primitive church – large denominations, local churches, and even youth ministries.


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Who You Aren’t Isn’t Interesting

img_1855I just started reading Rob Bell’s latest book How to be Here.  If you’ve noticed by my past posts, I am reading more than usual. That’s because on Friday I will submit my Master’s thesis to Wesley Theological Seminary. Over the past five years I have not had the time or energy to read anything that was outside of my seminary course load.  During the academic year I was busy reading systematic theology books and Old Testament commentaries while during the summer months I was reading books about spiritual formation for youth ministry and missional theology.  I haven’t had much free time to read anything so now that the light is at the end of the tunnel I am reading what I want to read.

Rob’s latest book has been critiqued by some as being a motivational book with a sprinkling of Christian theology.  While I am only halfway through the book, I can tell you that the criticism falls short.  Yes, the theology is light but Rob isn’t known for writing deep theological gems that are going to shake the way the world views Christ.  Instead, in this book, Rob is inviting the readers to go on a journey where they not only gain spiritual insight but are also motivated to break through whatever in their life is holding them back from flourishing in this life in a way that God wants them to.

This book is perfect for youth ministry.

I know Rob Bell comes with “Rob Bell, Love Wins” baggage but seriously, this book is perfect for youth ministry.  And because youth ministry is where I spend most of my time these days the book is perfect for me.

“Not _______ enough.

Not smart enough,

Not talented enough,

Not disciplined enough,

Not educated enough,

Not beautiful, thin, popular, or hardworking enough”.

Everyday the students I work with judge their self-worth by what they are not enough of.  With constant standardized testing students are reminded more often than they should be that sometimes they don’t measure up equally to one another.  Which according to Rob, isn’t interesting!!

All of our shortcomings, all of the things others are better at than we are, and all of the things we haven’t done or won’t do mean nothing in the eyes of God.  Throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament God is calling people not who are of the religious or social elite but rather people who were the least likely of suspects: Noah, Abraham, David, Peter, Judas, Saul.  In each of these instances there was probably someone else standing close by who would have been more qualified to work on behalf of God but God had other plans.

Peter Denies JesusIn his book, Rob uses the example of Jesus calling Peter to lead the church.  Peter had denied know who Christ was in the final hours leading up to the crucifixion.  He denied knowing Christ not once but three times! But when Christ calls Peter, Peter immediately looks to someone else: “what about him?”  Peter the denier couldn’t believe that Jesus was calling him.

God isn’t interested in what we can’t do.  God can work with people who aren’t loyal or good looking (look at Jason) or even Bible scholars.  God can work with anyone, empowering them to literally transform the world.  This is a message students in your youth ministry need to hear more and more.  I sent a text message out to my students last Sunday saying: “Who you aren’t isn’t interesting.”  Many of them had never been told that what they couldn’t do or were unable to do wasn’t a big deal.

I’d love to share the lesson I developed based off this chapter of the book.  All you need to do is subscribe in the “Subscribe Here” box on the top right of this page and I will get the lesson sent out to you!

Loving People When the Preaching is Done

Last Call“Going to a certain building at a certain time to listen to a certain person talk about loving people is not the same as loving people.”  – Jerry Herships

We hear a lot from preachers about how we are supposed to love one another.  We hear that Jesus died on the cross as an act of love and that if we are going to be followers of Jesus we must love the same way – sacrificially.

We hear stories of Good Samaritans who loved strangers and those in need in ways that many of us can only dream about: befriending a homeless stranger, selling it all a becoming a global missionary, and adopting children into our families as our own.  These stories tug at our heart strings, making us wonder if we could really do that too.  We sit in our pews as the preacher paints a picture of a world where Christians come together to impact the world and their local communities in a way that only an organized body could do.

We’re inspired.  

We get up after the last hymn, feeling empowered to changed the world, we walk towards the door, shake the preachers hand, tell him how create her message was, head to the car, and go to brunch.  

Then we forget about it.

By noon or 1:00 PM we have forgotten what we were so empowered  by just a few hours earlier and we go on with our lives.

Living out our faith in acts of love is often easier talked about from the pulpit but when it’s time for boots to hit the ground we forget those inspiring and life-giving sermons that inspired us to do the work in the first place.

060111 cs conference 17_med

A few weeks ago I gathered with a group of United Methodist Clergy at a seminar led by Bishop Tim Whitaker.  The topic for the two day seminar was Christian Mission in the Primitive Church.

The Primitive Church, the first 300 years of the Church’s history, is full of examples of how the church cared for those in need as a way of living out their faith.  Bishop Whitaker said this:

“Concern for the needy was coherent with the practices of ancient Israel and the ethical teaching of the prophets, but it was also an extension of both the teaching and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Most of all, it was seen as an expression of the love of Christians for one another and of the love of Christians for their neighbors as a response to the generosity of God’s love through Jesus Christ. In the early third century, Tertullian remarked that it was common for people to say, ‘See how these Christians love one another.'”

The Primitive Church’s love for one another, as well as the community around them we noticeable.  They stood out.  Hospitality was given to strangers, food and financial support was given to those who needed it, and funerals were provided for people who could not have afforded one otherwise.  For the Primitive Church, there was more to talking about loving people.  Their talk was matched with action.

I ordered Last Call last year.  It was one of those books I really wanted to read but it kept getting pushed to the side when other things came up (like my Master’s’ thesis).  Pastor Jerry Herships’ memoir is a story about the church today being the church of ~1700 years ago.  By starting a church with a mission of serving the poor in Denver, CO, and being a church for people who are typically not welcomed or loved in a typical church, Jerry is showing just how the church today can return to its roots and love people after the talking is done.

Living out your faith is hard.  

It’s hard to be aware of the people around us ALL the time.  

It’s hard to know who to help and when.  

It’s hard as hell to love people who don’t love you back or who we don’t deem worthy of our love, but that’s the beauty of the Gospel.  

Christ loved us, those who weren’t worthy in the eyes of the temple.  Christ showed love when the preaching was done.  He didn’t wait for people to come to him but instead he went, which is exactly what Jerry is doing.

We can learn a lot by listening to good preaching.  But we can learn even more, and love even more, when we go out and love after the preaching is done.


I ordered Last Call last year.  It was one of those books I really wanted to read but it kept getting pushed to the side when other things came up (like my Master’s’ thesis).  I had some time this week so I decided to put a dent in it, with the intention of finishing it over the rest of next month.  A few hours later I had finished the book.  It is that good.  I am not a strong reader.  I never have been. But when I first started Jerry’s book I knew after the introduction that I this was something I needed to read and read quickly.  I will be sharing my reflection on this book about God, bartenders, and bad comedians over the next weeks.  I hope you will join me.  Cheers!

 

Spiritual Apathy & Youth Ministry

imgres“Trevor Michelson was simply stunned at the revelation. “I just don’t understand it. Almost every single time there was a rained-out game, or a break between school and club team seasons, we had Janie in church. It was at least once per quarter. And aside from the one tournament in 2011, we never missed an Easter. It was obviously a priority in our family—I just don’t get where her spiritual apathy is coming from.”

On of my favorite new websites is Babylon Bee.  This site posts daily articles similar to The Onion only the posts poke fun at the church with satire and ironically true “stories”.  Yesterday’s post I think was their best story to date.  I say this mostly because it was a story about teenager apathy towards the church and how sometimes we (parents, youth leaders, pastors, church leaders) don’t understand the signals we are giving to our kids.

“Why are there no teenagers in Sunday School this week?”

“Why don’t they ever show up to church?”

“This generation is going to hell in a hand basket!”

Here’s the funny thing, in a lot of these cases, we’ve done a great disservice to the next generation of Christians.  Yeah teenagers today are filled with apathy towards the church but for the most part that has been true of just about every generation of teenagers.  In general, teenagers are apathetic towards EVERYTHING!

The Babylon Bee post makes this painfully clear:

“Local father Trevor Michelson, 48, and his wife Kerri, 45, are reeling after discovering that after 12 years of steadily taking their daughter Janie to church every Sunday they didn’t have a more pressing sporting commitment—which was at least once every three months—she no longer demonstrates the strong quarterly commitment to the faith they raised her with, now that she is college-aged.”

A lot of the families I interact with at church who are facing the problem of an unengaged teenager or college student, the story is the same: Sunday mornings are optional (at best).  That’s not to say that soccer, baseball, swimming, underwater basketweaving, and SCUBA club aren’t important.  The criticism comes when outside of Sunday, especially if Sunday is off the table for a family, that church life is relegated to an optional activity.

imgresThe Stick Faith study proves this for us:

“The study found parents and other adults as the number one influencers of teenage religious faith and practice. The influence of parents and adults was found to be so strong that Smith and Denton refer to the common cultural assumption that a teenagers’ peer group is more influential than that of adults in teenagers’ lives as “badly misguided.”

The study goes further, critiquing the importance of youth ministry programs:

“I have been a part of some incredible youth programs.  These programs have been able to attract large numbers of students and lead many students to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. However, when I reflect back on the students who lacked strong parent support, our impact was not through our programs; it came through the ways we offered meaningful relationships with other adult believers that continue to be sustaining influences in their discipleship journeys to this day.”

The way teenagers approach the church today, and later in life, has more to do with the way they see their parents engaging in the church.  You can have the best youth ministry programs in the world but if parents are not engaged, there is a good chance students will lose interest or develop apathy later in life.

“The religion and spirituality of most teenagers actually strike us as very powerfully reflecting the contours, priorities, expectations, and structures of the larger adult world into which adolescents are being socialized… Teenagers pick up their religious cues from the surrounding adult culture.”

This isn’t to absolve youth ministry professionals and volunteers from responsibility.  Instead, I would suggest youth ministry professionals and volunteers need to start partnering with families.  Churches cannot do this on their own.  They need to work with families to develop the understanding for why their teens might be apathetic towards their faith and begin building ministries that are designed for the whole family and not just teens.

Check out Babylon Bee and all their good stuff here.

For more on the reality of teen spirituality, check out Stick Faith’s blog here.

 

Youth Ministry & The Primitive Church – Catechesis

060111 cs conference 17_medA few weeks ago I spent two days on the campus of Virginia Wesleyan College with Bishop Tim Whitaker.  The retired United Methodist Bishop led a seminar about the mission of the church today. He used the primitive church (first 300 years) as an example of the church growing while not being the religion of the culture and at times being received hostilely.

The two day seminar walked the assembled group of United Methodist clergy (I’m not sure how I got in) through the history of the primitive church, the first 300 years after Christ’s resurrection.  

As I’ve been processing what Bishop Whitaker spoke about  I have come to the conclusion that the primitive church has a lot in common with youth ministry.  Today if you mention the phrase “Sunday School” in a room of youth pastors you will hear a collective sigh with a unison rolling of their eyes.  Sunday School is something that at least in my youth ministry experience has been dreadful and always a point of unwanted stress.

Christian Formation – The Primitive Church Took This Seriously

At its basic level, Sunday School is Christian formation.  It is an opportunity to share what it means to be a follower of Jesus in a context that students will understand at whatever given age they are.  We can all remember the cute crafts of Noah’s ark we made as kids and then later learning that the ark was more than just a boat, it was a life line that led Noah and his family to a rainbow signaling a new covenant.  Sunday School is supposed to be the time when children, teenagers, and adults ALL learn about the Christian in a context that is appropriate for the stage of life they are in.

The early primitive church believe Christian Formation was important too.  Christian Formation was a requirement of membership in the community.  There was an expectation that you would know the basics of the faith prior to joining the community.  This was done through a process called “Catechesis”.

Catechesis is a fancy church word for a period of study people would go through prior to joining the church.  Meaning, the faith was taught by word of mouth for the purposes of preparing people for baptism.

During this period of study, participants were permitted to attend worship services but were required to leave the service prior to the distribution of the Eucharist (for you United Methodist the Eucharist is Communion).  The Eucharist was typically celebrated at every service and not reserved for the first weekend of the month.

In the arena of youth ministry I think we (professionals and laity) have dropped the ball in two regards here:

  1. Overall, Christian Formation is secondary thought in youth ministry.

  2. We have completely removed sacramental theology from youth ministry.

Ask anyone who works professionally in youth ministry and they will tell you that Sunday School is the one aspect of their ministry where they struggle the most.  I have a love/hate relationship with Sunday School.  On one hand I love it because there is an opportunity to share the faith at the most basic level. We remove the silly games and are left with the study of scripture.  It is during this that students have an opportunity to really learn the basics of not only what it means to be a disciple of Jesus but also they have a chance to learn the overarching story of scripture.

I hate Sunday School because for most families it is an afterthought.  They might encourage their child to attend Sunday School if there is time in the family schedule but for the most part parents themselves are not attending Christian Formation classes so why would you expect their teenager to do so?

If we really want students to know what it means to be a follower of Jesus, shouldn’t we be just as passionate about teaching them the stories of scripture in addition to going on mission trips or attending church camp?

Second, I think we have done a disservice by removing sacramental theology from youth ministry.  To be honest, in most cases we have removed the sacraments entirely.  Unless you come from a Baptist or Non-denominational tradition teenagers are not baptized often in the church.  On top of that, youth directors/pastors/volunteers in most mainline traditions are not allowed to preside over the Table.  Senior Pastors are most times too busy to join in youth group or have outsourced youth ministry entirely to a younger leader.  So not only are students not learning the basics of the faith but also they are not experiencing the Grace offered to us through the sacraments.

Youth ministry needs to return to the basics of the faith.  We need to rethink how we share our stories and participate in the Grace-filled opportunities that are usually afterthoughts in youth ministry.  How we expect this next generation of believers to understand what if means to be a follower of Christ if they are not being taught the basics of the faith?  Let’s look to the Catechesis of the primitive Church and go from there.

 

 

Youth Ministry and The Primitive Church – Small Groups

I spent the beginning of last week on the campus of Virginia Wesleyan College.  I was on campus for two days to attend a seminar led by Bishop Timothy Whitaker.  The title of the lecture was The Future Identity and Mission of the Church.  I know what you’re thinking.  Yes, this is the best way to spend the day after Easter which is supposed to be your day off.

060111 cs conference 17_medThe two day seminar walked the assembled group of United Methodist clergy (I’m not sure how I got in) through the history of the primitive church, the first 300 years after Christ’s resurrection.  

As I’ve been processing what Bishop Whitaker spoke about  I have come to the conclusion that the primitive church has a lot in common with youth ministry.  While early Christians did not have to worry about youth group activities to plan or summer mission trips (I mean after all they were in the midst of persecutions with the whole being eaten by lions and stoned to death deal) they were trying to spread a faith in a land where Christianity was unfamiliar and seen as a threat by many.  If you have ever stepped foot into a middle or high school you can tell fairly quickly that Christianity is unfamiliar and at times seen as a threat in those environments.

House Churches & Small Groups – The Primitive Church Did Not Meet in Churches

The primitive church met in  house churches & small groups to begin.  Not because they wanted an intimate connection with one another but because there just weren’t a lot of them.  In addition, a large group gathering would probably attract too much unwanted attention which could lead to more being eaten by lions.  Early Christians did not want to stand out in a crowd that in some cases was hostile towards their newly discovered faith.  In some cases it was more about self-preservation than it was about hiding the Gospel.

Middle and high school was a rough time for me.  My parents were in the midst of a nasty divorce, we moved three times, and I was a band nerd.  Youth group was a place I went for refuge and support.  It was a place where I could be myself, talk about all the shit going on at home, and learn that Jesus was right there with me in the middle of it all.  With all of the good stuff youth group had to offer, I kept it my dirty little secret.  Don’t get me wrong, I had church friends who were school friends who were also, in some cases, fellow band geeks (that’s you Laura) but other than the handful of close friends who crossed the line between school and youth group I never invited an outsider in.

Youth group was my safe space and I wasn’t going to do anything to compromise that.  I was afraid of the public shaming, ridicule, or whatever those delinquents at TJHS would throw my way.  In hindsight this was silly, but in the moment it was reality for me.

I think teenagers today are dealing with the same thing.  The gap between youth group or church and school or the rest of the world is growing by the second.  Bishop Whitaker referred to this as Christianity no longer being the religion of the culture.  In most middle and high schools (probably more predominantly outside the Bible Belt) this is true.  It has been my experience in youth ministry that it would be easier to have students talk about sex with the senior pastor than to invite a “non-church” friend to youth group.  Don’t worry Tim, the sex talk isn’t for a few weeks.  You’ve got time to prepare.

youthgroupWhile churches are figuring out what Christianity will look like in a world where it is no longer the dominant religion of the culture I’m afraid youth ministry is getting left in the dust.  All too often in Facebook groups and on youth ministry blogs I see people who are trying to grow ministry based on 1990’s attraction style ministry.  They get short-term traction with no long-term gain.  Students will bring a friend on the night an iPad is being given away but when it’s time for Bible study it’s just the PK’s or kids whose parents made them go.

The early church had an urgency to figure out just what Jesus did which created excitement.  Christianity was new and full of mysteries that they would help to figure out.  

Maybe youth ministry needs a bit of primitive excitement.  

Let’s stop spoon-feeding answers to kids and start walking with him.

Let’s let them know it’s ok to question and doubt and to get pissed off at God every now and then, because if it’s not OK to get pissed off at God I’ve got a lot of explaining to do.

Let’s cut the “Jesus is my boyfriend music” and invite some worship with substance in it and allow teenagers to grow in faith even if that growth makes us uncomfortable.

If youth ministry can adapt to a new reality the church faces today, the next generation of church leaders will be able to lead and grow the church tomorrow.


Stay tuned for more reflection on the time I spent with Bishop Whitaker.

 

You Know N.T. Wright, Right?

Last week Jason and I recorded the pilot episode of Crackers & Grape Juice, our new podcast venture that seeks to talk about theology without cumbersome theological language.  I’m not sure if we succeeded or not but it was a lot of fun.

nt-wrightOn Friday, just a few days from now Jason, Morgan, and I will be speaking with N.T. Wright.  A retired Anglican bishop, N.T. Wright is arguably the most influential theologian today.  He is a fellow in the Royal Society of Edinburgh, was honored with honorary doctorates from Durham University and the University of Andrew, and has written countless books.  He is a man who really needs no introduction.

In May 2013 I did my first “real sermon”.  I say real because it wasn’t terrible and there was actually some substance to it.  I relied heavily on Wright’s work on covenant and justification.

A few months later I was leading a group of high school students in a conversation about death.  While Jason was supposed to be there (he was late which is no surprise to anyone who has ever seen him speeding past the church as the sunrise Easter service began) I ended up leading a conversation that went into the weeds quickly and never really recovered.  The following week I leaned on N.T. Wright to steer the conversation where it needed to go, explaining how many Christians believe that the soul remains in a state of rest after death.

The first (and only) time I preached on Easter N.T. Wright saved me from sounding like a bumbling buffoon:

NT Wright, the Arch Bishop of Durham said, “Easter has burst into our world, the world of space, time and matter, the world of real history and real people and real life”.  Easter is the catapult that thrusted hope and grace into our lives, into the lives of those who did not want it, and into the lives of those who wish to ignore it.  If that is the case, if today is the catapult, what are we to make of it?  How are we to respond?

We can respond faithfully, just like Mary and Mary from our scripture reading, dropping to our knees and worshiping at the feet of Christ.  Or we can respond like Thomas, doubting that death can be raised from the dead to the point that we feel we need to place our fingers in the holes in Christ’s hands.  

preview_TWOTP_WIDE_HOME_PAGEHas N.T. Wright saved you in the pulpit or Sunday School room? For me, his work was instrumental to my success in Kendall Soulen’s systematic theology class.  The students I work with at church even know who he is and have asked that we use more of his videos from The Work of the People.

I have a nervous excitement as Friday approaches.  Nervous that I am no where prepared to have a theological conversation with such a brilliant man and excited because it’s N.T. Wright.

What would you ask him?  Which of his books has been most influential in your faith journey? What has he written or said that confused the crap out of you?

 

Preaching & The Main Attraction

Last Call“I was never the main attraction. People always came to see whoever it was I was introducing. I was the one who told them about the headliner and got them excited about the headliner, but it was always about making people focus on the main attraction.  Bring the spotlight to the headliner – that is what the gig was about.”  

Preaching is the bread and butter of what most pastors do.  On average, pastors spend 10-18 hours per week preparing their sermon.  The time spent is a combination of reading, journaling, prayer, reflection, and actual writing.  There are times when you call a preacher used time wisely and then are the times when you can tell the preacher needed to be closer to 18 hours of prep time.  Most people just do not realize how much time preachers put into their sermons.

But with all that prep time reading the Bible, finding secular examples to share (because there are not enough stories in the Bible?), and then organizing it all into a 3-point presentation that will get everyone out of church in time for lunch, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the forefront of most sermons that are preached on Sunday mornings?

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I spent the beginning of this week hanging out with Bishop Tim Whitaker.  When I say I was hanging out with him I mean I was on one side of the room and he was at the podium on the opposite side.  I did ask him a question during a break, which means I had a private conversation with him, which means we are basically new best friends.  Tim (because we are now best friends) argued that preaching today focuses less and less on the proclamation of the saving act of Christ, the Apostolic Kerygma, and more and more on the individual doing the preaching.

According to the former Dean of Drew Theological Seminary Clarence Tucker Craig, a kerygma is simply “the message which the apostles preached.” Craig adds that three things must be present for any kerygma: fulfillment of what God had covenanted with Israel; deliverance by the Divine; Christ’s position as the head of the church.

Today in a lot of the preaching happening on Sunday mornings the Apostolic Kerygma is just the background story used to make a point about something that occurred in the preacher’s past or that is currently happening in their life today.  When Tim mentioned this during his lecture you could begin to see heads nodding, people leaning to one another outing their pastor buddy who does this regularly, or those who knew Tim was speaking directly to them.

The first sermon I ever preached was one of these sermons.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I was a first semester seminary student with zero preaching experience and was on taking Church History and Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (not the lineup you want as you prepare to preach).  A friend told me to just keep it about myself.  I was new to the church and they needed to know who I was.  So that’s what I did.  Needless to say, I became the main attraction.

After worship, in the reception line, people told me how nice is was to hear my story and that they looked forward to hearing more of it.  There was even a guy who told me, “don’t worry, you’ll get better.”  While I knew that getting better was the only place I could go, it was not until earlier this week that the my story part clicked.  In the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ we, those who teach and preach, need to keep that at the forefront.  We need to keep at the forefront how God kept and is keeping the covenant made with Israel.  Our communities need to be reminded that Christ’s arrival on earth via Mary and death by cross was an act of divine deliverance.  As a result of this covenant and the act of deliverance Christ is now the head of the church and as such, it should be His story we are sharing on Sunday mornings (or Monday nights like AfterHours Denver).

We are most certainly not the main attraction.  Which happens to be a good thing.  While my screw ups, failures, and misguided attempts to live as a disciple of Christ will make for good sermon illustrations they need to remain just that.  We are just the warmup act introducing the Headliner that needs no introduction. If you want your congregation to get to know you write a blog.  If you want your congregation to get to know Christ, let Him be the main attraction.

 


I ordered Last Call last year.  It was one of those books I really wanted to read but it kept getting pushed to the side when other things came up (like my Master’s’ thesis).  I had some time this week so I decided to put a dent in it, with the intention of finishing it over the rest of next month.  A few hours later I had finished the book.  It is that good.  I am not a strong reader.  I never have been. But when I first started Jerry’s book I knew after the introduction that I this was something I needed to read and read quickly.  I will be sharing my reflection on this book about God, bartenders, and bad comedians over the next weeks.  I hope you will join me.  Cheers!