How Hard Should We Work for the Gospel?

Ministry can be hard. It is taxing emotionally, spiritually, and even physically (you know lock-ins will send you to an early grave). When you work with teenagers you never know when one will show up unannounced. You never know when they will text a deeply personal struggle…and you have to respond. (usually text won’t do to straighten it out) But how hard should we push to allow opportunity for the Gospel to penetrate the lives of our students?

Spurgeon has something to say that young student pastors need to hear.

“People said to me years ago, ‘You will break your body down with preaching ten times a week,’ and the like. Well, if I have done so, I am glad of it. I would do the same again. If I had fifty bodies I would rejoice to break them down in service of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You young men that are strong, overcome the wicked one and fight for the Lord while you can. You will never regret doing all that lies in for you for our blessed Lord and Master.”

– Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “For the Sick and Afflicted,” 1876

Passing the Torch: We Need Each Other

I want to take the time to comment on and article written by Mark Howard for The Rooted Blog. I see a theme of mutual need between student ministry and the corporate church body that has been inadvertently skewed beyond recognition.
Across the board, the current state of student ministry in the church is a wide range. Some churches get it and are really reaching the next generation. They are speaking the Gospel in a way teenagers understand and see as legitimate. Other churches (and maybe the majority) are woefully lacking in connecting with the next generation. And I mean woefully! When student worship and teaching can become synonymous with “crazy time”, something has gone awry. In a stage of life when are teens are starved for guidance and direction, do they think church is a place to come just for laughs?
Given the circumstances, it’s no surprise that many youth are restless, insecure, jaded, and desperately searching for meaning to explain all the hurt and suffering they see around them, meaning for their very existence. Sadly, many within the church offer nothing more substantive than the vaporous teachings of the world. In some churches, “youth group” has become synonymous with over-the-top games, entertainment, and shallow teaching. They are told, yes, life here on earth is a mess, but don’t worry, one day you’ll die and go to heaven. There things will be right. In the meantime, want to see how many marshmallows I can stick in my mouth?
(that last quote cracked me up…chubby bunny, chubby bunny…)
Do we really believe the faith of our youth is so pointless that the best God has for them now is a temporary escape from the world on Wednesday night and Sunday morning? This sort of ministry just reinforces a belief in the meaninglessness of this life.
The church should be a lighthouse of hope, contrary to that lie! Life is not meaningless! Amidst the rising teen suicide rate, we should be shouting that there is real hope. That hope is not some mystical belief, but a person; Jesus Christ.
What student ministry needs to focus on is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul says is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe!
I am firmly convinced that what today’s youth need most is the gospel of Christ Jesus the Lord. He is the one in whom the fullness of God is found, and he’s the one in whom we are filled (Col 2:9-10). Moreover, he is the one who gives meaning to this life.
Are we showing teenagers Jesus? Anything else that we turn their attention to is a lesser thing. Jesus is the pinnacle from which our gaze must not move. So how do we see Jesus?
Where is Jesus found? In the worship of his people, the church. As others have said, the way we come to know Jesus is through the means he gave us: Scripture, true Christian fellowship, the sacraments, and prayer. These are the practices that by faith renew their minds in such a way that enables youth to view and live in the world with purpose and meaning as followers of Jesus. These are the practices that by faith force youth from their technologically imposed isolation, discourage their entitlement, and lead them to a spirit of humility and repentance. These are the practices that by faith expose their dependence on Jesus and remind them of their need for grace.
Student ministries must not separate themselves so much from the cooperate body of believers that teenagers do not regularly see the Body of Chirst in action. They need to see adults worship. They need to partake in the Lord supper (and be taught the meaning behind each part). They need to see prayer at work in the corporate setting.
When we segregate the teens so “they can do their own thing”, we send a contradictory message to them about what it means to be part of the body. “Church is just for adults” can be subconsciously learned after years of practice. And we wonder why college and young singles 18-25 are M.I.A. (missing in action) from church? If what is happening is truly important, why would we not want to raise up the next generation to understand and carry on that importance?
This article is a great reminder that the teenagers need the church, and the church needs teenagers. We cannot except the inadvertent teaching that church is just for adults. No, we need to put our focus squarely on Jesus and show that true meaning and purpose is derived from Him, and it is applicable for all ages. Teens need to see and believe that, just as adults need to see and believe that.
Your fellow worker in the field,  Adam
Lets finish off with an appropriate song from Sanctus Real: We need each other

How to Backslide in 9 Easy Steps

Tim Challies recently wrote this great article gleaned from the wisdom of John Bunyan’s classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress. He outlines how to progressively distance yourself further and further from Jesus Christ and a relationship with God. Bunyan’s own words are provided to illustrate each point.  Here is how to backslide in 9 easy steps:
  1. Stop meditating on the gospel. “They draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come.”
  2. Neglect your devotions and stop battling sin. “Then they cast off by degrees private duties, as closet prayer, curbing their lusts, watching, sorrow for sin, and the like.”
  3. Isolate yourself from Christian fellowship. “Then they shun the company of lively and warm Christians.”
  4. Stop going to church. “After that, they grow cold to public duty, as hearing, reading, godly conference, and the like.”
  5. Determine that Christians are hypocrites because they continue to sin. “They then begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the godly, and that devilishly, that they may have a seeming color to throw religion (for the sake of some infirmities they have espied in them) behind their backs.”
  6. Trade Christian community for distinctly unChristian company. “Then they begin to adhere to, and associate themselves with, carnal, loose, and wanton men.”
  7. Pursue rebellious conversation and fellowship. “Then they give way to carnal and wanton discourses in secret; and glad are they if they can see such things in any that are counted honest, that they may the more boldly do it through their example.”
  8. Allow yourself to enjoy some small, sinful pleasures. “After this they begin to play with little sins openly.”
  9. Admit what you are and prepare yourself for everlasting torment. “And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are. Thus, being launched again into the gulf of misery, unless a miracle of grace prevent it, they everlastingly perish in their own deceivings.”

See-Through HD TVs and the Never Changing Message of the Gospel

Technology is always changing. And I must admit, I love it. This new see-through HD TV looks amazing for sure! You can read this article about it if you want to learn more. It is easy to get caught up in the newest gadget or home necessity, but it will always leave you wanting. My personal testimony to this is when I got the sweet new iPhone 4…and a month later the iPhone 4S came out. With an ever-changing market we will always have more than enough temptation for materialism. But what can we count on to really last? Is there anything that will never change?

Yes.

Jesus says in Matthew 24:35, Luke 21:33, and Mark 13:31 that “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” You can count on the stability of Scripture.

So what are the “words” that Jesus is talking about? He is talking about the message of hope for a lost and dying world. This hope is the Gospel. While everything around us is always changing we never escape the sinfulness of this world and of our own lives. We need a Rescuer. We need something we can depend on.

Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” He is our hope and salvation. Because of His substitutionary death on the cross, taking the wrath of a Holy God, a way has been made for us to be righteous. Since we cannot be righteous on our own merits, we trust solely in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Like John the Baptist we call out, “repent and believe”. This is the unchanging message that our generation needs to hear.

While technology will be cool for a moment, Jesus’ words will last forever. Let us focus our lives on what is eternal. Paul echoes this in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Your fellow worker in the field,  Adam

Be Ready for Anything!

In student ministry we have to be ready for anything! Sprained ankle maybe? Take a look at this picture. This guy has made:

  • a splint,
  • an ice pack,
  • and a snack

all at the same time!  I applaud you sir! Well played.

If you are wanting to become a student pastor, or already are one, you must understand the many hats you wear.

You will be your own secretary, graphic designer, researcher, custodian, medic, and many more at the same time.  Be ready.  The work is hard, but the payoff is worth it.  To be part of changing lives of teenagers is great.  These years are a season when they are setting the trajectory for the rest of their lives!  How important is it to guide them in the ways of the Lord?!?

I’m reminded of Paul saying in 1 Cor. 9:19,22-23, For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them… To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

Why do we do what we do?  For the sake of the Gospel!  Paul is reminding us to be willing to change ourselves in any way needed, from pastor to custodian to medic, if it means we can present the unchanged message of the Gospel!

Your fellow worker in the field,  Adam

Going Against the Flow

While this video is pretty hilarious, sometimes it can feel that way in student ministry as well.

When a large segment of student ministries around our nation may appears to be driven by entertainment and surface-level theology, teaching the Gospel and Truth of scripture seems hard at times.  Don’t give up friends!  If you watched the whole thing, this girl makes it to the top!  In ministry it may feel like we are going the wrong way on the escalator, but Jesus reminds us in Matthew 7 about entering the Kingdom.  “13Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.”

This journey is worth it!  Hang in there!  Go against the flow!  Teach the Truth!

Big Words for a Big Problem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MTD – Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  I believe this article, the second of four about the current state of youth ministry today, is right on target.  (click here for the full article at Gospel Coalition) Brian Cosby recognizes that the Bible is not to be taught as a guide for being more moral in our society, but the redemptive hope for our souls found in the Gospel!

“That a youth ministry “teaches the Bible” does not necessarily mean it teaches the gospel. Many mistake the gospel with moralism—being a good person, reading your Bible, or opening the door for the elderly in order to earn God’s favor. But the gospel is altogether different.”

Most teenagers are skipping (sometimes fumbling) through life without deeply thinking about their worldview framework through which they make assumptions about reality.  With an ambiguous and often contradiction laden framework, many teens can still coast through Student Ministry without challenging these beliefs!

“According to sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, most American teenagers believe in something dubbed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD).  Within this MTD “religion,” God is a cosmic therapist and divine butler, ready to help out when needed. He exists but really isn’t a part of our lives. We are supposed to be “good people,” but each person must find what’s right for him or her. Good people will go to heaven, and we shouldn’t be stifled by organized religion where somebody tells us what we should do or what we should believe.”

And this problem is not just in the realm of our student ministries, but it filters into the church at large!

“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has little to do with God or a sense of divine mission in the world. It offers comfort, bolsters self-esteem, helps solve problems, and lubricates interpersonal relationships by encouraging people to do good, feel good, and keep God at arm’s length.  When this self-help theology is combined with a sola-boot-strapia sermon from TBN, we start having teens singing, “God Is Watching Us from a Distance” while—at the same time—wondering why Jesus isn’t fixing their parents’ marriage or their problems with cutting.  MTD isn’t just the problem of youth ministry; it’s the problem of the church. And American Christianity has become a “generous host” to this low-commitment, entertainment-driven model of youth ministry.”

I love this quote. It hammers home that our theology should drive our methodology!  Not the other way around!  Always keep this in mind student pastors.

“While our theology of the gospel should inform our method, the American church—to a large extent—has practiced just the reverse. The question on many youth leaders’ minds is, “How do we get bored teenagers into the church?” The question should be, “How are we to faithfully plant and water the gospel of Jesus Christ for his glory and our joy in him?”

This article ends with hope for the church.  That hope rests in Jesus Himself.  Jesus will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!  So we trust Him. We seek Him. We focus our ministries on Him!

I applaud Brian Cosby in this informative and challenging reminder of the dangers this generation and our churches are facing.  May we stand in the gap with a tenacious focus on the Gospel!

Your fellow worker in the field,  Adam

A [Brief] History of Youth Ministry

Through a collaborative effort between the Rooted Blog and the Gospel Coalition some great articles are being published about the state of youth ministry today.

The first century philosopher, Cicero, said, “Who knows only his own Generation remains always a child.”

It is my prayer that our generation will continue to build on the shoulders of those who came before us and constantly refocus ourselves on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, faithfully passing this truth to those rising under our teaching.

All youth pastors and volunteers need to read this article to understand where we have been and where we are going.  Take these things to heart!

Your fellow worker in the field,  -Adam

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A Brief History of Youth Ministry

Editors’ Note: Everyone has an opinion about youth ministry. Parents, pastors, and the youth themselves have expectations and demands that don’t always overlap. But the rash of dire statistics about the ineffectiveness of youth ministry has prompted rethinking in these ranks. So we devote one day per week this month to exploring several issues in youth ministry, including its history, problems, and biblical mandate. The Gospel Coalition thanks Cameron Cole and the leadership team of Rooted: A Theology Conference for Student Ministry for their help in compiling this series. Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama, will host their 2012 conference from August 9 to 11. Speakers Ray Ortlund, Timothy George, and Mary Willson will expound on the conference theme, “Adopted: The Beauty of Grace.”

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To read books on youth ministry these days, it is hard not to get the sense that this experiment we call youth ministry in the local church has failed. This perspective is not shocking or new. Mike Yaconelli, founder of Youth Specialties, stated this rather boldly in Youthworker Journalin 2003. According to Lifeway Research, 70 percent of young people will drop out of church after high school, and only 35 percent will return to regular attendance. Christian Smith’s National Study of Youth and Religion found that most American teenagers have a positive view of religion but otherwise do not give it much thought. Kenda Creasy Dean, in her book Almost Christian asserts, “American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith—but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school.” This result is far from the intention of most youth ministries. Smith describes the religious outlook of teenagers as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a far cry from the gospel of Jesus.

To get an idea of where we have come from, let’s turn back the clock more than a half century. Space here only allows the broadest overview, so bear with the generalizations. Back in the 1940s Jim Rayburn began a ministry to reach teens at the local high school, which became Young Life (YL). Their mission—to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and to help them grow in their faith—remains to this day. The strategy was and is for caring adults to build genuine friendships with teens and earn the right to be heard with their young friends. At the same time, Youth for Christ (YFC), was holding large rallies in Canada, England, and the United States. YFC also quickly organized a national movement that turned to Bible clubs in the late 50s and 60s, shifting the focus from rallies that emphasized proclamation evangelism to relevant, relational evangelism to unchurched youth.

By the early 70s, churches began to realize the need for specialized ministries to teenagers and began hiring youth pastors. Some of these were former staff members from YL and YFC. With this the church imported the relational strategy of the parachurch movement. During the 70s, youth pastors seeking to reach large numbers of youth for the gospel began to employ a more attractional model. Gatherings with food and live music could draw enormous crowds. Churches found that large, vibrant youth groups drew more families to the church, and, therefore, encouraged more attraction-oriented programs. Later in the decade, this writer watched leaders swallowing live goldfish in both the church youth group and local Young Life club when we brought enough friends to reach an attendance target.

By the 80s the emergence of MTV and a media-driven generation meant church youth ministry became more entertainment-driven than ever. Youth pastors felt the need to feature live bands, video production, and elaborate sound and lighting in order to reach this audience. No longer could a pile of burgers or pizzas draw a crowd. By the end of the decade the youth group meeting was being creatively inspired by MTV and game shows on Nickelodeon. The message had been simplified and shortened to fit the entertainment-saturated youth culture. By the start of the 21st century, we discovered many youth were no longer interested in the show that we put on or the oversimplified message. Christianity was no different from the world around them. Some youth ministries intensified their effort combining massive hype with strong messages that inspired youth but did not translate to everyday life. We realized we were faced with a generation whose faith was unsustainable.

The Result

What happened in all that? First, we moved from parachurch to church-based ministry (though the parachurch continues). In doing so, we segregated youth from the rest of the congregation. Students in many churches no longer engaged with “adult” church and had no place to go once they graduated from high school. They did not benefit from intergenerational relationships but instead were relegated to the youth room.

Second, we incorporated an attractional model that morphed into entertainment-driven ministry. In doing that we bought into the fallacy of “edu-tainment” as a legitimate means of communicating the gospel. Obscuring the gospel has communicated that we have to dress up Jesus to make him cool.

Third, we lost sight of the Great Commission, deciding instead to make converts of many and disciples of few. We concluded that strong biblical teaching and helping students embrace a robust theology was boring (or only relevant to the exceptionally keen) and proverbially shot ourselves in the foot.

Fourth, we created a consumer mentality amongst a generation that did not expect to be challenged at church in ways similar to what they face at school or on sports teams. The frightening truth is that youth ministry books and training events were teaching us to do the exact methods that have failed us. The major shapers of youth ministry nationally were teaching us the latest games and selling us big events with the assumption that we would work some content in there somewhere. In the midst of all this, church leaders and parents came to expect that successful youth ministry is primarily about having fun and attracting large crowds. Those youth pastors in recent decades who were determined to put the Bible at the center of their work faced an uphill battle not only against the prevailing youth culture but against the leadership of the church as well.

The task before us is enormous. We need to change the way we pass the faith to the next generation. Believing in the sufficiency of Scripture, we must turn to the Bible to teach us how to do ministry (rather than just what to teach). Students need gospel-centered ministries grounded in the Word of God.