Leo Tolstoy: Youth Group President?

Check out this great article I came across via Trevin Wax.

Leo Tolstoy, a russian philosopher, best known for his novel War and Peace, pursued (unsuccessfully) moralistic perfection in his faith. Is this what we are really teaching?  Do we teach the bible solely so we can be better people?  The Gospel is about much more than fixing our behavior!  The great misinterpretation of the christian faith, that Tolstoy also believed, is that we must try harder to be accepted by God!

“Children and students, indeed all of us, are incapable of living the Christian life in our own merit. We are utterly unable to transform ourselves. Because of this simple truth, transformation is not about trying; it is about dying. The apostle Paul knew that transformation occurs when we continually die to ourselves and trust the grace of Christ fully: “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11).”

I love that sentence. “Transformation is not about trying; it is about dying.”  Check out this article and see if you agree with the conclusions!

Legalism: a tendency in Student Ministry

The full article (linked Here which you should check out), written by Cameron Cole, is the third of four articles addressing the State of Youth Ministry today.  Backed by the Rooted Blog and Gospel Coalition, you can be sure these articles are hard hitting and biblically rooted.  Here we have another great resource that I will encourage all church leadership to read, not just my fellow student pastors. There are great insights into the nuts and bolts behind why things are the way they are.

The first great quote warns youth pastors wanting to see immediate results. We are (generally) products of a culture that inclines us to desire instant gratification.  We want the same from the gas station burrito as from our students spiritual lives; perfection in two minutes or less.  But sanctification does not work that way.

Mark Upton, a former youth worker and current pastor at Hope Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, offered these wise words to me when I started youth ministry: “If anyone asks you about your ministry, tell them you will let them know in ten years.”

In an effort to see results faster, the temptation is to focus on the actions rather that the heart.

Wanting validation for their tireless labor, youth ministers occasionally focus on behavior modification as a means of providing tangible proof of the efficacy of their ministry. A kid carrying his or her Bible to school, signing a chastity pledge, or sporting a WWJD bracelet may appear like signs of spiritual progress—the fruit of ministry labor for a youth pastor—but if these actions come out of a student misunderstanding Christianity as a code of behavior rather than heart transformation through the Holy Spirit, then they do not necessarily reflect lasting life change.

I have to call for some clarification to the section entitled “kids are as destructive as nuclear warheads.” While I agree that moralism plus increased pressure to perform results in rebellion, I do not agree that this is a “teenage” issue.  This is a human issue.  You can say the same thing for my 3 year old, whom I am trying to teach not to hit his brother!  You can see this issue rampant among adults in the work place. While adults may learn to be more subtle or crafty, the heart issues are the same.

Very few youth pastors go through a year without the death of a teenager in the community where they serve. Many youth pastors preach moralism over the gospel in order to protect students from self-destruction.

I think that section is simply highlighting that teenagers are acting on their sinful nature just like anyone does apart from the grace of God through the work of Jesus in their heart.  So let’s not just call out the teens on this one, OK?

Cameron Cole follows up right on track when parents are indicted with the moralization of their children, rather than focus of Gospel transformation.

Parents rightly want moral children, as do youth pastors. Sometimes, families view the church exclusively as a vehicle for moral education, rather than spiritually forming them in Christ, and put pressure on youth and senior pastors to moralize their children.

Lastly, I encouraged church leaders to read this article because many student pastors are in great need of mentoring.  As I have experienced and continue to experience, mistakes stink.  I have learned from my mistakes in the past, but have much to learn still.

Many youth ministers are young, both in age and in their faith. Given all of the other responsibilities that adult pastors must juggle, nurturing the theological and spiritual development of the youth pastor can be overlooked. Furthermore, churches often view the youth department as entertainment and relationships but not a serious teaching ministry.

If student ministry can resist the temptation to being simply an entertainment driven, behavior modification system, we may see a generation connect with the life changing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Your fellow worker in the field,   Adam

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