Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Church Revitalization, Student Ministry, and Missions

In continuation of the Revitalize series, I want to discuss the next subject from Thom Rainer's blog 9 Questions You Should Ask Before Leading A Church Revitalization. In my last blog from this series we discussed prayer and its necessity to church revitalization. The subject of prayer seems trite, but many ministers take prayer for granted. Instead, I argued for strategic prayers. Furthermore, I would remind my readers, that I am a student minister not a senior pastor. All of my arguments come from the perspective of a second chair youth and college minister who is attempting to aid in the church's revitalization.

The question for discussion today is #2 "Will I see this opportunity as a mission field?"

Far too many ministers view local church work and missions work either domestic or international as too separate of concepts. This is foolish, because all Christians are missionaries. The change from one person to the next is the specific mission field and spirituals gifts given by God to the individual.  In his book Breaking the Missional Code, Ed Stetzer argued that the first step of a church to become mission minded is to have a burden for its immediate community to share the gospel with them. IN response to this mindset, the Christian should adapt the mentality of a missionary, meaning that he or she will adjust his mannerisms and methods to reach the surrounding culture while not losing the essential gospel. Missionaries have called this process contextualization for many years.

The question remains, how does being mission minded relate to church revitalization? As a student minister, it is important to note that many ministers do not know what goals they want to accomplish in ministry. I believe to properly answer the question of revitalization and missions, one must answer the more important questions of what we want to accomplish in the first place. I believe that the purpose of student ministry is to prepare teenagers to be mature, spiritual adults. I do this through a 3part discipleship strategy over a 7 year progression: spiritual maturity, personal mission, and multiplied influence from Ephesians 4:11-13. Each of the three areas have measurable indicators to understand and develop students into spiritual adults and leaders.

The second mark of my ministry is personal mission, and this is where the purpose of youth ministry correlates to church revitalization. There are three phases to personal mission: service, evangelism, and missions. Each one builds upon the prior. Service is the simplest, takes little training, and can be accomplished simply with a rake and trash bag at elderly person's back yard. Evangelism is the act of a student sharing her faith with another student in a personal manner. Mission is the use of both service and evangelism in the aid of planting churches and ministries. Thabiti M. Anyabwile confirmed these principles in his book What is a Healthy Church Member. The notion that Anyabwile supported is that a church can only be healthy when its members are healthy. This is further developed by the sister book What is a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. Church revitalization is then directly tied to the health and activity of the Church in the community to reach people for Christ. Stetzer returned to this topic later in the afore mentioned book to argue that a mission minded church leads to healthy church growth both numerically and spiritually.

Perhaps there are still some wondering why a youth minister is asking this question or even cares to discuss it. May I remind my readers that revitalization is a slow process that can take years to secure and more years to develop into a strong part of the church worldview. If the church would like to change its worldview, the best way to accomplish this goal is to develop its future leaders. Many churches focus on the median and senior adults for the leadership and leadership development, but this is often too little and too late. Change the mentality of the students and church will change the mentality of the church for long term results. If a student makes missional students, the church will be in a much healthier state. However, as a warning, if the church does not offer anything for students once they reach college and young adult ages, they will go to another church where they can work out their faith. Student ministry is to prepare leaders; adult ministry is the best platform to utilize those leaders.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Where's Dad? Effects of Fatherlessness on Teens

I grew up in what was once considered the stereotypical home. I grew up with both my parents in my life, married, in the same house, and still are that way. I have two brothers, and not one of us ever doubted or wondered if mom and dad were going to be there tomorrow. We knew that our parents loved each other and were committed to their marriage and to us. Now, this notion is becoming old fashioned and antiquated. As far back as 1992 this debate began to come to the front of people's minds. LA Times noticed the trend that due to the rise in divorces, the nuclear family was being redefined in an article they posted called "Parenting: Breaking the Mold." This trend has escalated with the growing trend of single parenthood, births outside of marriage, teen pregnancies, and homosexual parents adopting. Recent movies have begun to push the traditional family concept away such as the Box Trolls. As a student minister, I can confirm the statistics and trends that this really is happening and at an increasing rate. As time goes by more and more students come from homes other than the traditional model.

This has further given rise to a particular phenomenon: fatherlessness. Due to a lack of fidelity between partners, a woman will have a child or two with one man, but they move on and separate. The woman may choose to have more children from other men, and so may the man. However, what is interesting is the men seem to move on from both the woman and his offspring, while the children tend to stay with the woman. Technically, this trend has given rise to two phenomena: fatherlessness and single motherhood.

According to the National Center for Fathering, the extent of fatherlessness in America is of epidemic proportions, citing that as many as 24 million children in America live without "a" father figure present. The further noted that of children in grade school 39% do not live at home with their biological father. The problem with these statistics are the results. To list a few: 71% of all high school dropouts, 71% of all teenage pregnancies, 85% of children with behavior disorders, 63% of youth suicides, and 85% of youth in prison: all these are from fatherless homes. Good or bad philosophically or metaphysically, the statistics show there is a relationship that should be heeded.

Many Christian leaders have offered solutions to such a problem. One school of thought is student ministry, and the other is family ministry. I believe that it takes both. Yes, the youth ministry should engage students by the means of other students, but I see a very distinct model in Joshua and Judges for Christians to follow.

In Numbers 26:65 God decreed that an entire generation would pass away over the next 40 years because of their disobedience. The only two to be left would be Joshua and Caleb, the men who trusted God. This means that these two men would be the oldest men in the nation. They would be the only father and grandfather figures to many people. This gap would have been an enormous role to fill, but they did. In Joshua 24:31 it says that the next generation served God throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the leaders he raised up. In Judges Othniel became Israel's next leader of Israel. He was Caleb's son-in-law. These men stood in the gap and assumed the role of father figures.

Yes, I believe that as churches we need to try and reach the whole family, but I believe this is best accomplished by presenting our own families and desirable. We do family ministry best leading our own families with godly wisdom and inviting others into our family. We encourage other fathers to do the same. There is no real in depth complex method to accomplish this, because each family is different, and each father is different. We must father the fatherless.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Last Class of my Masters

Yesterday I completed my last official class for my Master of Arts in Christian Studies Degree. It has been a long and arduous struggle for me, and especially for my family. I begun at one school in one degree program, but moved after two years of not enjoying my education. I transferred to another school and a different degree. I have loved this program but in the midst of changing jobs, two children, demands of full-time ministry, and two moves, I had to take a break from my studies. Now, I have come to the end of my classes. All that lies before me is my thesis.

What is designed to be a three year degree has taken me five, but in that time I have learned many lessons along the way. I would like to share my lessons with you from my Graduate studies.

1. No Excuse is Good Enough:
People understand that everyone has a busy life, but the successful people in life get things accomplished. Half-hearted papers turned in late are simply no longer acceptable.

2. Good Research is Good Research:
Some students attempt to cut corners and simplify their research. They choose shoddy sources with questionable logic to support the argument they want to make. Many researchers will make a source support their argument, even if the source does not lend itself to such.

3. Do the Work:
Successful people work hard! Last minute cleverness does not replace good work.

4. Logic is Supreme:
Many people do not know the basics of logic and argumentation. As such their arguments will have holes or weak premises. However, good thinkers must use logic to their advantage.

5. Be on Time:
Late is no longer acceptable. Neither is last minute. A person must learn to manage his or her time.

6. Be Humble:
There is nothing new under the sun. Many other scholars and thinkers have been studying the same material as you for much longer. Be wary if you believe you discover something new in philosophy or theology. Many students are arrogant and do not stop to understand their inadequacy.

I have enjoyed my degree, and yes I have learned a few other things along the way, particularly pertaining to my degree. Nonetheless, the life lessons I learned are of equal value of the content I learned. Thank you to my professors for not giving up on me during my break. I intend to finish strong.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How the Traditional Church Can Reach Millennials

What is a Millennial? A millennial is a person born in the 1980's to the early 2000's. Many different people have tried to place a particular year on this gap, but there is no possible way to accomplish this. Millennial is less of a specific age bracket as much as it is a perspective or worldview. Millennials are entrenched in postmodern thought and opinions. Western culture has changed a lot in the last few years.

Postmodernism is driving this cultural change. Postmodernism according to Brittanica is "characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism." They further define the term as "a general suspicion of reason." Millennials, we have a difficult time believing. I myself and a millennial, and I think in a very postmodern pattern. I never accept someone for who they are. I am always looking for the hidden agenda. I truly am a skeptic as are many other millennials. Additionally, I am very skeptical of reason. Millennials hate the idea of naivety! The thought of blindly accepting information as true makes me cringe.

There is so much more to understand and discuss when it comes to postmodernity. However, I would like to share what the implications of postmodernism is upon millennials and how their perceive the church. My first senior pastor I served under was Shelly Chandler, and he taught me that perception is everything. So let me list some of the implications:
  • aversion to institutionalism
  • aversion to naivety
  • aversion to tradition
  • aversion to purposeless enterprises and efforts
  • aversion to dogmatic theology
  • aversion to absolute statements
  • aversion to metanarrative
  • desires diversity
  • desires professionalism and excellence
  • desires sound logic
  • desires relevancy
  • desires personal relationships
  • desires to belong to a greater cause
Why do these implications matter so much? Because the church is generally perceived in the aversion section of these implications and not in the desire section. Today's traditional church is highly institutionalized, with the existence of committees for everything, liturgical traditions, institutional architecture. Many traditional churches use phrases like "God said it, I believe it, that settles it;" but this makes millennials cringe. Millennials also do not like metanarratives that attempt to define them, such as God's plan for redemption. They want to define the metanarrative.

However, I am millennial, yet I am very passionate about my faith and even work at a church. What happened? Let me clarify upon one of the concept of relativism. I abhor relativism and am a strong proponent of absolute truths. I particularly affirm the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, but I had to travel to this place. My travels happened through the use of logic. I am a philosophy buff, and to be honest so are the bulk of millenials, because we want to have the question "WHY" answered for everything.

So, I suggest a new tactic for traditional churches wanting to reach the younger generation. First, show compassion to this generation until it hurts. Express your love for them through service to them and their families. Second, be less dogmatic and more explanatory of logic. Assume that your people know nothing about the Bible. Assume your people do not even accept the Bible as authoritative, which could be argued that they do not according to some of their lifestyles. Teach and preach everything from ground zero. You have to make Christianity logically appealing to the point that all other options seem undesirable.

Ajith Fernando was a Christian from Sri Lanka, a culture that has been entrenched with pluralism for millennia. In his commentary on the Book of Acts, he noted that 70% of all evangelism in the New Testament was apologetic in nature, meaning that the evangelist had to reason with the recipient of the gospel. The New Testament era was one of the more pluralistic times in western culture, and I believe a return to apologetic evangelism and sound logic can serve the church well.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Church Revitalization and Student Ministry

Today I begin my series examining the idea of church revitalization through the work of the student ministry of the church. If you are new to the blog, scroll down two more blogs and look for the coming soon article. In my Coming Soon article, I give a cursory introduction to this series. I do not profess to know everything about church growth and revitalization, nor do I claim to know everything about student ministry. In part, I write this blog, because it is the struggles and topics that I encounter on a regular basis. The congregation I serve as student minister is two-thirds senior adults. There is a small contingency of median and young adults with even fewer students and children. However, it is the pastor's desire and mine that the church transition and make the turn to a healthier church.

For the basis of my blog, I will be examining Thom Rainer's article from Christian Post 9 Questions You Should Ask Before Leading a Church Revitalization. I will use each of the nine questions as a framework for the series. I reorganized the questions based upon what I consider priority.

The first question that Rainer broached was that of prayer: "Will I pray daily for my church and my leadership?" This seems a rather silly question for a minister of the gospel to ask, but I find it fitting. Many ministers find themselves highly trained and educated. Many of us ministers are graduate students holding at least a Master's Degree, and we find ourselves to have the answers. Many of us have read countless John Maxwell books on leadership or John MacArthur books on pastoral care, and feel that we are highly qualified for the task that lay ahead of us.

I believe that this question is so fitting, because prayer is by nature a humbling experience. Prayer requires that we admit our incompetence and inability to accomplish church revitalization. The chief prayer of the person attempting church revitalization is to ask God to raise the dead. Real spiritual revitalization requires that the Holy Spirit descend on the local body and breath new life into her. This is something that ministers find ourselves wholly incompetent. The only option we have is consistent prayer, asking God to do the work.

Where I am different, is that I am not a senior pastor of a congregation. Our congregation is not built upon the new model of a team of equal ministers either. I am a subordinate to the pastor, and I am to help achieve his goals and aspirations for the church. Where I believe that many student ministers fail is that they do not consider that their responsibility is to the whole church. In their book Leading from the Second Chair, Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson discuss the "deep and wide paradox" for second chair leaders. As second chairs we must focus intently upon our specific area of responsibility. As a student minister, I am chiefly responsible for the student ministry of my church. This represents the deep perspective of ministry. Nonetheless, a good second chair leader must also comprehend the wide perspective, meaning that we must understand that what we do or do not do affects the whole of the body. I must commit myself to prayer for the students, specifically by name, because some of them will be on the Stewardship Committee, Deacons, and Sunday School Teachers one day. Since they are one day going to be the leaders of my church and other churches, this means that I must keep their discipleship in view of such leadership. Furthermore, I also desire to develop leaders for our community, state, and nation. I must keep this perspective in view of their discipleship as well.

Student ministers, we must grasp that church revitalization will not when a youth group experiences revival. For it to be "church" revitalization the entire local body must experience revival. So, we must pray for the whole congregation. We must pray that our students will encourage the others in the church towards revival. We must pray that the godly men and women of our church choose to actively engage the students and aid in their discipleship process. We must pray for our senior pastor, because he is the anointed leader of the church, and he is completely devoid of power to revitalize the church. We pray for our co-ministers at the church, because if we do not experience revival, then no one will. Finally, we pray the Holy Spirit will make his dwelling place within our churches, staffs, youth groups, and so on that we may see the church rise from the dead.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Florida Baptists, Millenials, and the Cooperative Program

This past week I attended the Florida Baptist Convention and her pastor's conference in Lakeland, FL. I was primarily there to support my friend and former pastor Dr. James Peoples who was the president of the pastor's conference this past year and was nominated and elected to be the president of the convention this coming year. However, some things struck me as I wandered the exhibit hall and encountered many of the different ministers at the conference. I would like to share some of my observations about the convention.

First, I noticed the lack of young pastors and ministers in general. My senior pastor is by no means an old man, but he has the crown of an old man....white hair. To me his hair is an identifier, because of its brilliant white characteristic. I came into the auditorium looking for him, so I could sit with him during one of the sessions. However, his white hair did not stand out to me this time. Instead, I saw a see of white, grey, and blue haired men. I could not locate my pastor, so I sat elsewhere. While sitting I continued to scan the congregation while the convention began to argue over finances and where a particular 4% would be sent this next year. On the one hand I was encouraged. I saw a great deal of African American and Hispanic pastors. Our convention has been plagued throughout the years of being a predominantly white convention, yet a major portion of the demographic of Florida is African American and Hispanic. I even saw some Asian ministers present, because the convention has been very intentional about planting churches among Asian people groups. However, by and large the bulk of people in attendance were older ministers. It didn't matter what pigment of skin, because many of them had grey hair.

It occurred to me that our convention of pastors is either getting older or the millennials are uninterested in the convention. I myself am a millennial, being born in 1986. I think like a postmodern, and I still have to carefully consider my skeptical attitude towards institutionalism, a trait held by many millennials. David Kinnaman has done extensive research in this area and reported it in his book You Lost Me. Kinnaman works for the Barna Research Group, and in his book, has defined many young Christians, my generation, quite accurately.

What is the reason for this disinterest in the convention? Another symptom of this problem is the trend of churches not giving to the Cooperative Program, but opting to send and train their own missionaries. I have spoken with many young ministers who say they have lost faith in the Cooperative Program and the convention. They do not give because they do not believe in the program any longer. Why?

The CP is supporting many church plants, missionaries, outreach ministries, pastoral care ministries, and many other purposes that millennials are passionately dedicated. Why would they refuse to give to something so noble and worthy of support.

I do not believe that this problem is as simple as millennials are selfish and want to know what they are getting out of it. I believe it is their lack of participation in the handling of the convention and CP. Very few young ministers are recommended to leadership positions in the committee and agencies of the convention. Few young ministers are asked to come preach at the events. I understand that the older ministers are wiser, more experienced, and more invested in these ministries, but if these older ministers want the convention, her agencies, and above all her missionaries and church planters to continue to be successful, then they will have to begin including the younger ministers.

Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, made an interesting comment during his sermon on the CP. If you haven't seen this sermon, it is certainly one of his best. He commented that he used to go to old preachers and ask them questions, now young preachers are coming to him. He touched on the subject that is greatly lacking in our convention: mentorship. The older preachers need to intentionally mentor younger pastors, pass on their wisdom, and pass on their zeal and commitment to cooperating together for the sake of the gospel if CP and the convention are going to survive. Yes, the younger men will change CP, but such is life. Let not our pastors become the ones who say, "We've never done it that way before." I believe that pastors should begin to consider their ministries, including the convention as a legacy to be inherited, not lost to the younger generation. A father looks forward to the day his son inherits the family business, and can lead in such a way to make the family proud. This same mentality is needed in the convention if we are to survive.

Jim Shaddix spoke at the pastors conference, and he used the illustration of a relay race. Armed with only his Bible and a relay baton, he gave a sermon about handing off the ministry to the next generation. An implication from the sermon for pastors is to not run to the best of your ability, hoping that someone is at the next leg of the race waiting for the baton. Instead, I believe pastors should be intentionally training up young ministers to accept the next leg of the ministry. I personally would be much more confident in someone, whom I have personally invested to run the next leg of the race, than someone I know little about.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Coming Soon: Church Revitalization through Children and Student Ministry Series

Coming Soon is a new blog series for me on church revitalization. A lot has been said about this topic in recent years, especially with the church planting movement taking place in much of evangelical denominations. However, much of this discussion has been amongst pastors and denominational leaders, but what do student ministers have to say about this? I am convinced that revitalization is long term work that results in long term success. This implies that the church most not be focused solely on adult ministry. There must be great consideration towards student and children's ministry.

Ask yourself this question: Where do you want the church to be in 10-20 years? If you ask the senior adults, they will be gone most likely. If you ask the median adults, they will be senior adults at that point in life. Conversely, if you ask the young adults, college age, student ministry, and children's ministry, they will be the deacons, elders, small group teachers, and other lay leaders of the church. If the church really wants to make the turn to revitalization, then a strategic focus on children's ministry and student ministry is a necessity.

My proposal is to expand on the thoughts of Thom Rainer in his recent post to Christian Post 9 Questions You Should Ask Before Leading a Church Revitalization. Each of the 9 comments will be examined from the perspective of a student minister (me), and how they relate to the entire local body. I will reorganize the comments a little by priority, meaning I believe there is a process to be adhered. First we will examine the topics that reflect personally to the student minister in addition to the rest of the staff. Second we will discuss topics of spiritual discipleship. Third we will discuss outreach, evangelism, and missions topics. Finally, I will be asking various leaders in to comment on these topics. Hopefully, someone will take interest.... Please be in prayer if you are a reader.

I do not profess to be an authority on any of these topics, but as a graduate student I at least know proper logic, argumentation, and research methods. So, as I learn, I share what I've learned. Thanks for everyone who reads this blog.

Replant: How A Dying Church Can Grow Again Book Review

Recently I picked up the book Replant: How A Dying Church Can Grow Again by Dr. Mark Devine and Darrin Patrick. I picked it up through David C Cook Free eBook program, which I would highly recommend. I thought it was fairly interesting when I noticed the Acts 29 Network published the book. Acts 29 is network of churches that are purposed in planting other churches on a global scale. Darrin Patrick is actually the Vice President of the Acts 29 Network. I like the heartbeat of Acts 29, and subscribe to their forum on LinkedIn. Furthermore, I am a Southern Baptist minister, and Dr. Mark Devine has taught at some of the denominational seminaries in school. I tend to respect professors that have served at such institutions. However, what ultimately caught my attention was the forward. The forward was written by Ed Stetzer who is the Vice President of the Insights Division with Lifeway. I love his work, and enjoy his blog The Exchange a lot, and it is sponsored by Christianity Today, a very reputable source of information. He has a way of always causing me to consider new opportunities for ministry. I determined to read this book.

The basic premise of this book is that a particular local body of believers should always consider the expansion of the gospel ministry as the greatest priority, even above its own existence. This is a great premise that should be given great consideration by church leaders, both ordained and lay-leaders. I personally find this concept as beautiful for the body, because if an individual Christian can be called of God to offer up his body as a sacrifice in martyrdom to the advance of the gospel, then certainly a local body of believers can be called to do the same. This book is a recounting of Dr. Devine as to how a church in St. Louis went through such a process during his interim pastorate.

In his book he recounted his desire to revitalize the church, and referred to this as his primary reason for taking the church. However, the story pertaining to the church is very atypical for church revitalization. Instead of introducing new programs, ministries, and revamping the outreach arm of the church, Devine led the church to merge with a mother church pastored by Darin Patrick. The mother church then took over all existing assets of the church and established a new ministerial staff. This was an arduous process and was voted upon and approved by the congregation.

Thus, theoretically, Devine did lead the church to be revitalized, because both the facilities and the local congregation were reintroduced into a thriving worship community. The mother church financially supported the local body until it returned to a thriving community. The mother stayed in leadership over the new satellite campus as well. In actuality, the church was not revitalized but disbanded. They gave their assets to another church, who then planted a new church in the place of the old one, and the former members joined a new church.

To me this not true church revitalization. Yes, the individuals and the group of believers in that facility were revitalized, but in truth the local body was disbanded. Devine subtly admitted this with his argument that it is better for a church to die and be reborn than to die and close, and for the record I agree with this statement. What I found inconclusive, is at what point must a church determine to die and be replanted instead of revitalized?

In my pattern of thinking revitalization is the process where the church procures new leadership, that moves the existing body from debilitated to healthy. Furthermore, a healthy church must be healthy in all areas of ministry. This means that the leadership leads the church away from precipice of death though the power of the Holy Spirit and back on course with its intended design and work in the community. Not long ago I was meeting with a colleague whose church has changed from being a predominantly white church to a Hispanic church because of the demographic in its region. To me this is revitalization more than disbanded.

I am not arguing against Devine or what the church did. In my opinion there are many other churches that should follow suit. Instead, I am calling for more research to help ministers understand what is "the point of no return" for a church? When must the church choose to disband and be replanted? What features of church growth come into focus: membership, discipleship program, amount of young families, sustainable growth and baptisms, financial ability to maintain facility? Certainly this information changes with each church, its demographic, and its inherent needs. If this information were perhaps more available to Christians, then we could make more educated judgments based upon our churches. Understandably, this argument assumes that the church evens wants to grow, be healthy, and advance the gospel, but based upon the assumption that all Christians ought to desire these things, there should be some plea from churches for this information.

I believe that some churches ought to be disbanded and merge with other churches or be reborn. I also believe that some church planters like this model because of its simplicity. However, I do believe that some churches need to transition from their current state and be revitalized. What I am attempting to learn in my own ministry, is how to determine which course of action is right for each church. Right now I see an impetus on church planting in my denomination, but I'm afraid this is too close to the opposite extreme of the previous impetus of the denomination. I think that more thought given to these areas can help to bring some balance to continuum of church planting and church revitalization.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Raising the Bar for Student Ministry and Her Ministers

Recently I found myself reading this book.... The title of the book is Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris. When this book was published in 2008, the authors were 19 year old twin brothers. The subtitle is "A Rebellion Against Low Expectations." I first heard about this book from Dr. Allen Jackson of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at a conference in Atlanta. I appreciate Jackson's views of youth ministry, and when I saw that the forward to the book was written by Chuck Norris, I had to get the book. Let's be honest if Chuck Norris wrote the forward to your book, then your book can beat up all the other books. Anyways, I thought I should give it a read as a student minister.

Well....as life so often goes, I bought the book, brought it home, and stuffed it on a book shelf about 3 years ago. Recently I was looking for a different word, and stumbled upon this one in my library. I thought to myself, that I am reading too many other books right now and have too much going on, so I should not read this. Nonetheless, my ADD got the better of me, and I found myself reading this book. Perhaps it was the threat of a roundhouse kick from the author of the forward...

These two young men wrote some fairly interesting material about how teenagers have become this categorization of mediocrity and low expectations. As a student minister who strives to build leaders in the ministry and set high standards for students to aspire, this book was the content I enjoy. What I was not expecting was implications it would have for me and my fellow student ministers.

In the chapter the "Myth of Adolescence" the two boys explained how in various studies teenagers are expected to not achieve anything or be responsible. I agreed with this notion, and I would further argue that I have seen a trend for an extension of adolescence into the young twenty year old and college students. It seems that adulthood in our culture is to avoided at all costs, until finally you have to grow up.

As I sat there pondering these thoughts about immature teens and college students who refuse to grow up and take up the mantle of leadership and responsibility it hit me. This problem is so pervasive it has even reached into student ministry and the student ministers. I mean, think about, youth ministers are the guys who acts like a goofball with lots of childish whims. Many church members think the youth guy should be in some outback office with his loud music and trendy office, so he doesn't disturb the peace of the main office. I have run into this all too often, when young guys show up to seminary and want to become youth ministers. They want to be that cool guy who all the youth look to and are buddies with, just like the guy or girl who was their youth minister.

When it comes to class, it seems like the guy who wants to be the youth minister is often lower in the GPA, late turning in assignments, and would rather play the intramural sports than study in the library. Many universities and colleges do not even view student ministry as a viable career for professionals to be a part. Furthermore, if I do meet a decent youth minister who has a plan and is teaching biblical values to students, he is often using the student ministry as his stepping stone to the senior pastorate.

This is why student ministries would rather play chocolate chubby bunny in the youth room rather than go on a mission trip to their schools. This is why the student minister is often not asked to preach for the pastor when he is out, because student ministers do not apply themselves in these areas. Why is this the case that student ministry and her ministers are thought of so low?

I refer back to the Harris brothers. They argued that it was due to the low expectations of adults set on students that students performed so poorly. I would argue that this reaches further to the student minister. So little is expected of the student minister in the modern church, its no wonder that there are many Christian leaders turning their backs on student ministry. Not too long ago I read this article from Christian Post, stating that modern youth ministry is a 50 year experiment that failed.

My response and solution is this - we must as student ministers raise the bar ourselves. No one is going to call us to higher standards but us. We must determine to be professionals with direction and vision for our ministry. We must aspire to be of the highest caliber of leader to best serve this new generation. We must strive to be someone whom the senior pastor can trust and considers a viable asset to the ministerial team. If we are to ever change the world, we must first change ourselves.

For further reading on the Harris brothers, I would encourage you to consider their blog: http://therebelution.com/blog/category/blog/#.VCwSdaR0zIW

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Campus Ministry a Must for Student Ministry

A trend I have noticed in student ministers over the last few years is their lack of desire for doing campus ministry. Campus ministry is the active work of the church on the local school campuses for the expressed purpose of reaching students with the gospel. I believe that this is a result of multiple antagonistic problems that are compounded into what seems impossible. I see three major reasons for why student ministers have lately given up of campus ministry. However, I also believe there is a solution to the problem.

Hostility from administrators is probably the first reason that comes to mind. This whole separation of church and state has gotten way out of hand, and is off base for what our founding father Thomas Jefferson. He used to the term to explain in a letter that there would never be a state church. However, this has been used to keep all faith from interfering with the education of the youth of America. The results of this have been catastrophic for the church, and the lethargy of her members has left the church in a precarious position. For this reason, many public school administrators see it as their responsibility to keep the church from infecting the minds of the youth. This may have been exacerbated by the involvement of institutions like the ACLU, who actively seek to keep the church out of schools and have punished school administrators for allowing such things. Due to this pressure, many student ministers give up at this point.

The second problem for campus ministry can be the amount of schools that are in the proximity of a church. This is especially poignant for youth ministers in urban areas. I have seven schools that are represented by students in the youth group that I lead. I will be the first to admit that it is impossible to visit all schools on a regular basis. You further have to handle the challenge of favoritism in this area. Some students cannot understand the difficulty of campus ministry, but they can understand that you the youth minister do not come to their school. What happens when you your time on what you can accomplish is that the students from the others schools get envious and sometimes hurt. Again many youth ministers avoid the problem all together by not doing campus ministry.

The last problem to face youth ministers for campus ministry is the work entailed in effective campus ministry. For campus ministry to be successful, it must be consistent. This means that you must be a constant presence on the school campus to reach the students there. The problem with that is what if you have kids, are bi-vocational, or many other problems. We live in a very busy society, and I know of a great deal of young adults with children who feel like they are so busy they never have time for family. As an effect of this, many youth ministers avoid campus ministry because it takes so much work, dedication, effort, and time. Campus ministry can exhaust a youth groups resources if one allows it.

So what should we do? Since, campus ministry is fraught with problems should we abandon it in search of something else? I believe to do such is to fail as a student minister. It seems ridiculous to me to abandon a potential ministry opportunity simply because it is difficult and full of problems. All students until the age of 16 are required by law to be at a school. In this school environment they are constantly around their peers and conveniently located for ministry. Sure there may be a way to search out all the students in your town one-by-one, but that would be poor stewardship of resources. Instead, I believe the public school system is a golden opportunity that should be resourced for the glory of God.

A statement that has always stuck with me through the years is one I heard from Dr. Jay Strack, founder of Student Leadership University: "Anyone can discover a problem, but only leaders provide solutions." This seems to me to be the case in campus ministry. There are many youth ministers who have given up on campus ministry altogether, and I believe this should not be the case. Thus, in the next section I have assembled 3 solutions to each problem.

The first solution to campus ministry is access. A youth minister must gain access to the campus, if he wants to properly engage the student. I was first exposed to the Funnel Principle by Matt Lawson. Matt at the time was the high school minister at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA. I was part of developing a conference for youth ministers at the time, and I had requested that he be at the conference just so I could hear him teach on campus ministry. His campus ministry methods are by far some of the most effective I have ever seen. Although I have augmented his funnel principle for campus ministry, it still holds true and effective.

When attempting to gain access at a public school the first level of campus ministry starts with whom he calls the "gate-keeper." This is often the receptionist in the main office. Building a relationship with this person is the most critical, because she often holds the keys to meeting any of the administrators. She gives you access to the administrators but not the students. You then must engage the administrators. Once you have built relationships with the administrators, they will learn to trust you. As a precautionary note, this trust is earned slowly. The administrators will give you access to the faculty and sometimes the students, but this is still only the second tier. Just because you have gained access to the students does not mean you have a fully functioning campus ministry. Once the administrators and faculty have seen you interact with the students for a period of time and know that you can be trusted and are consistent, then you will reach the final tier. This last tier is to work with students side-by-side to accomplish goals for the gospel. In other words you have access to disciple students through the public school.

To flesh out the funnel principle further, one must think on how to move through each tier: a key word - service. Begin by serving and being genuinely interested in the life of the gate keeper. This should not be hard for student ministers, because as ministers we love people. It just takes time. Also, do nice things for the other secretaries in the office by bringing them donuts or coffee...just cause. Once you have gained access to the administrators, offer to serve the campus through service projects: clean up the parking lot, spread mulch in flower beds, rebuild picnic tables, etc. These are non-threatening ministries that will give you incredible access and proximity to students. Furthermore, it is a great form of giving back to the community. This is the first tier of the funnel principle. Through these events you will gain access to serve the students: back to school breakfast, sports-teams banquets, etc. Still this is the second tier of the funnel principle. Ultimately, as a youth minister you want access to disciple the students. Once you have proven your worth and trustworthiness, you will receive opportunities to teach, minister, and disciple alongside of quality students. Where do the discipled students come from? Your youth ministry of course. Start now by preparing them.

The second solution I have adapted for campus ministry is to adopt strategic schools. Few churches have the resources to effectively minister to an abundance of schools, so I submit to you the idea of adopting one or two to begin with. Often I recommend adopting one high school and one middle school, because at first the student minister is the campus minister. As time goes by you will garner more resources and quality leaders in your youth ministry to engage more schools. I liken this to adopting children. Very few people can adopt multiple children at once, but after a few years it may be possible to adopt another. You don't adopt out of desire to adopt, otherwise it would not be unheard of for people to have adopted 10 children regularly. No, we adopt children according to the will of God and the means he has given us.

Slowly over time, God may provide you with an administrator or faculty member at a church that he can use as your representative campus minister to a school. Use the volunteers God has given you, whether it be college students who are volunteer interns needing community service hours or retirees who have a heart for students. My best volunteer campus minister was a retired basketball coach. The school gave me a sticker for my nametag. He was so faithful over the years, they gave him a laminated sticker nametag.

The last and best solution to campus ministry is the discipleship of your students. You have to get students to understand that God has called each one of them to be missionaries, and he has called each one of them to a mission field, their schools. Through proper Bible study and evangelism training, any student can become a campus minister. More than that they can become your best campus minister, because they are required to be there by law! They are given instant access to anyone and everyone at their school. I use what I call the 3 M's, and I pull them from Ephesians 4:12. We help students in their spiritual maturity, to discover their mission, to multiply their influence. A student with exceptional character, biblical foundations, and a desire to reach their peers with the gospel is relatively unstoppable in the world of campus ministry, and you follow the funnel principle you will arrive at the third tier only to find that your students have already been ministering to their peers. You will have the blessed opportunity to join in the ministry of one of your students. This is the proudest moment for an disciple maker.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

College Ministry and Colleges

It seems that the most difficult ministry for modern churches to be successful in is the college ministry. I should know....I am the associate pastor of students at my church, encompassing everything from middle school to college. When I talk to my colleagues around the country, friends from college, seminary, and other ministry events and partnerships, they have a similar sentiment. We all have similar yet different struggles. One of my friends has a large college group, but very few students will commit to the church body and become leaders. The majority of my friends struggle just to get college students in the door. Another prominent problem is that many college students do not want to graduate to the next age bracket and prefer to stay in youth ministry.

Bill Bright has been quoted as saying, "If we can win the campus today, we will win the world tomorrow." We know that this is true as student ministers; otherwise, we would not be in the position that we are. We invest strategically in the future leaders of the world. Why then do our efforts have little to show for it. The Barna Group has asserted that on average 60% of high school students leave the church when they get to their twenties. As a student minister I feel this, and it affects me personally. I find it very emotional when students who were active in my youth group decided they have outgrown God and college group is not for them.

I believe this is in part because many college ministers do not know how to define success in their college ministry. Rupert Leary posted an article on The Gospel Coalition website called "5 Keys to Effective College Ministry." In his article, Leary outlined an intentional prayer plan, use a relational approach, recruit a team (he used term hire a team), wine the many by focusing on the few, and develop outreach projects and overseas trips as his five keys. These are all so important to college ministry but still does not answer my quest for what is a successful college ministry.

I do not use Rupert Leary, who is the campus outreach ministry at Campus Church in Raleigh, NC, to show his faults. I respect his work a lot as a disciple making minister to college students. I use his article as a good example of how I find lots of great resources for how to do college ministry and the principles of good ministry, but I still lack this intrinsic question of what makes for a successful college ministry. In other words, what is the goal of college ministry?

I believe this answer is found within the success of the church as a whole. A church is successful when it is providing relevant corporate worship, relationships with other Christians, outreach into the community and beyond through service ministries, evangelism, and church planting, and discipling of the saints through Bible study (Rick Warren via Acts 2:42-47). Furthermore, for the church to be healthy, it must be reproducing itself and continuing on into the next generation of believers.

This is what I want for my college ministry, which will just now be starting on Sept. 4. I want this for my college ministry, and to accomplish this goal I will employ all five of Leary's keys. Perhaps I am writing this blog today to flesh out what I know to be true, but also to be transparent in my apprehensions. I have never done college ministry directly until this position that I began in January of this year. I know that for my church to survive it needs a thriving student ministry, and I know that all church revitalization comes through the children, student, college, and young adult ministries. Perhaps the Lord will bless my feeble attempt to reach the throngs of college students in my city.

My new theme verse for campus ministry is Colossians 4:2-3, "Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door of the Messiah..."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Music, Theology, Faith, & Gungor

I find myself surprised when Christians get surprised when certain musical icons leave the faith. Recently there has been a large interest in a recent post by Michael Gungor, founder of the Christian band Gungor, that he is leaving some of the basic tenants of the faith, particularly those of the veracity of scriptures. In his blog "What Do We Believe?" Michael Gungor wrote about his doubts concerning the scriptures. He made lots of comments about the stories of the Old Testament and their truth. The funny part is that he chooses to reject the belief in a flood, creation, and similar events due to his ability to observe. I find this interesting because Mr. Gungor has no such ability to truly observe events pertaining to these events, just the same as everyone else born after their occurrence.

He further explained that to him everything is a belief, and all beliefs are built upon assumptions. However, this is only partly true, because the assumptions are built upon beliefs. Our worldview informs our presuppositions, and those presuppositions in turn inform our worldview. It's not quite as simple a system as what Mr. Gungor purports. What truly seems to be happening here is that Mr. Gungor attempted to walk people through a quick overview of metaphysics and existentialism.

He then wrote a quick treatise on behavioralism, where people are a product of their environment. That his faith is the result of assumptions that were fed to him from his parents or prior events in his life. So, he is choosing to rejecting certain "(un)beliefs" that have formed his worldview, but he is only exchanging them for another set of assumptions based heavily in secular humanism.

Now let me be completely clear. I am not attacking Mr. Gungor in the slightest. In fact, I have not necessarily written this post for him to read, but for those people who are either attacking him or curious about these events. He has simply opened the door to some subjects that I would like to address.

First, It is absolutely alright for a Christian to deal with some doubts. If this is what he is dealing with in his personal life, then he has every right to deal with these things however he wants. Doubts are a normal part of life for a believer. Even John the Baptist had doubts to the person of Jesus, a guy he grew up with and knew better than most other people. So, as Christians let's not roast a man for dealing with these questions. I had a time in college dealing with these questions, and I found truth and real logic that helped me to a much more firm foundation in Christ.

Second, Mr Gungor relayed a conversation he had with someone who stated that he was no longer to be considered a Christian because of the beliefs he has rejected. Gungor claims that this is due to his loss of unconscious assumptions from his past, but the truth of his statement is earlier in the sentence when his friend commented that it has nothing to do with how much like Jesus he is acting but about his beliefs. Let's be absolutely clear minded about this. What makes us a Christian is not our actions, or how much we act like Jesus. No, our actions are the proof of us being Christians (see James 2:14-18 and Romans 4). Our faith is our beliefs, and the only true source we have about Jesus is the Scriptures. This is not me being an old school fundamentalist, this is just good research and logic. If you want to know the most accurate details about events, you go to the record of eye-witnesses. If everyone were able to determine their own stories, accounts, and truths about Jesus, then all you end up with is relativism. Relativism is worthless, because no truth can be known. People may argue that relativism results in everything being true, but to make everything true, then everything must be false as well.

For Christians we only have one source of real truth, and that is the account of prophets and apostles recorded in the Scriptures. When we begin to diverge from that truth we then become dependent upon other lesser sources, lesser accounts, and ultimately our own whims. I do not trust in my own ability to determine truth, because I am prone to be wrong...just ask my wife. Mr. Gungor concluded that he judges peoples' faith according to their actions. However, I would argue that their actions are built upon their faith/beliefs.

And as a caveat, I would argue that Christian means belief in Jesus as according to the scriptures. Salvation is through Christ alone, not Christ and belief in the flood of Noah. When in glory, everything will become clear, but Jesus is always constant.

Third and last, I would like to use this to encourage Christians to know what you believe, to know good theology by reading the Scriptures, and evaluating what you listen to. I still listen to Gungor. I love his music, and his creative composition is beautiful. As a musician and guitarist, myself I really enjoy his music. However, I never get my theology from his music. Not because it is his music, but because I get my theology from Scriptures and no where else. I evaluate the music according to their truth. If people had been listening to his music and evaluating his lyrics, they would not have been surprised by this blog. This blog is a more transparent version of what is in his music.

When a person gets all bent out of shape because of events like this, we can understand two things about them: they do not evaluate the lyrics of the music they listen to, and they do not know the scriptures well. They are casual Christians, whose faith truly is built upon the assumptions of others as Mr. Gungor states, because they have never dived into the depths of God through the study of His Word.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A New Chapter in Life

For those who are following my blog (1 person)...haha, you will notice that I missed my weekly post last week. That is because my son Elijah Scott Stanland was born last Tuesday. I decided to take last week and spend it with my family. I would like to thank everyone for your prayers in this matter first and foremost and for your continued prayers as Nicole and I attempt to raise our children in the admonition of the Lord.

This past week has made me reflect a lot on my life and the events that have transpired recently. It seems that life is a constant state of change for me, and I have had to adapt sometime what seems overnight. Just five years ago I wasn't even married. So much has changed from the time when I was a young man in college, single and had little to no responsibilities other than my studies. When I was 20, my greatest ambition was to make enough money to feed my hunting and fishing habit, but so much has changed lately.

When I married Nicole, my life changed in an instant. I wanted the change and was excited to share my life with her as she has done with me, but I immediately was thrust into the challenges of marriage. Bills, expenses, insurance, home life, toothpaste tubes, and laundry all changed overnight. We learned the idiosyncrasies of each other, and still tease each other about them to this day. I went from choosing my own wardrobe to a dependance on my wife to choose my Sunday morning suites, due to me being color blind. Together we have known great struggle and victory, and continue to grow as individuals and a couple in Christ through it all.

The next major change happened just shy of two years ago when my daughter Julia was born. She has been the delight of my life ever since. No one else has the ability to bring joy to my heart like my daughter, and I will forever cherish these days. Thus, I became a father and knew the true understanding of having someone completely dependent upon you, your love, and your leadership. In her childish love and affection, she would love me no matter what my decisions were to provide for her, but now it is my responsibility to do my very best to provide for my family. 

In the midst of all this, we have moved a few times seeking where God would have me as a minister. Slowly, he has crafted me into a minister of the church. As of now I am passionate about youth ministry and love my job, and could never see myself doing anything else. I have learned how to work in a staff setting with other pastoral leaders, and I have learned how to be a better leader towards the students and adult volunteers who work in the youth ministry. Not that I have attained any great level of skill or wisdom, but at least I am comforted by the fact, that I can see that God has grown and matured me.

Now, a week after my son, and second child is born I reflect on all that God has entrusted me with. First, is my family! I believe that if according to scripture that my family is evaluated in order to qualify me for ministry, then that shows where my priorities should be. Therefore, I believe that my first disciples should be my children, and my wife is my partner. Together we raise our children, expand the kingdom as missionaries, and teach our children to be the same. My goal is to raise children who will be missions minded and will know their scriptures. They will one day have to choose Jesus for themselves, but I will saturate their life with his presence as best I can.

Secondly, comes the church. I feel so privileged to be the student minister at Fellowship Baptist Church in Tallahassee, FL. I find it such a great opportunity for the kingdom to be in such a location with such a church. I enjoy teaching students and reading up new leaders for the church, I believe it is part of my calling to be a part of this. In this new chapter of my life, I will step further into parenthood as a discipler for the church.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Youth Ministry and Church Revitalization

I have noticed that in recent years, there has been a hard push by many pastors and leaders in the SBC for church planting. I myself am a southern baptist, and will be because of doctrine and methodology. However, I am not so sure that I am fully on the band wagon with this approach to church planting. I am certainly not against church planting, but see it as an important ministry of the local church. However, I am concerned that there is a desire to cast off some of the churches that are floundering for the sake of planting a new one. Agreed, that there is such a thing as a dead church. Some churches have not reached out to their community in a long time, and the result is devastating. No new people, means no growth, no growth, means a slow death. Slowly but surely the pastor of such a church will watch his congregation die as he buries them. Then, the church will close its doors. I am keenly aware that many churches are on this scary path, but to have the attitude of letting these churches die and just go plant a new one, that fits the model the modern pastors believe is correct doesn't seem right.

So many times, ministers don't want to deal with the struggles of a "traditional" church underneath the leadership of pastor Fred and the deacons. Many ministers feel stuck and stagnant in some churches, and so the solution is to let a plateaued church die and plant a new one without all the perceived "hinderances" that come from a traditional church. I hear the phrase all the time from aspiring church planters, many that I went to seminary with, "it's easier to give birth than raise the dead," but doesn't this fly in the face of our God, who by his own design is in the business of bringing the dead to life?

First, I realize that church planting is perceived as easy, when assuredly it is not. Second, church planting is most likely easier than church revitalization. What I am concerned with is that a minister chooses to be a church planter because he wants the easy way that is within his means. However, I believe that faith requires me to trust in something that only God can do - resurrect the dead. I want to see dead churches reimagined and "replanted" to become vibrant, life giving faith communities.

There are many ways that churches attempt to do this. Sometimes they feel like if they hire a young, trendy worship guy who revolutionizes the music ministry, then young people will come as if Sunday Morning Worship is the new Woodstock for Christian hipsters. Other times as church will hire some young guy with young kids, hoping this will draw in more young families with children, but I say that men will only be drawn to one man - Jesus not a young minister. There are many more ways in which churches attempt to revitalize itself, but I believe Jesus has a much easier plan.

I believe that the children's ministry and the youth ministry are the key to church revitalization. First, a church must recognize that revitalization is a process that will take a long time, and the larger the ship, the longer it will take to set a new course and make the turn. Ask yourself where does the church need to be in ten to fifteen years, because the leaders of that age are in the youth group. Second, church revitalization does not mean energy alone. Because a good ministry takes both wisdom and energy. This is why a church needs both youth and senior adults. Senior Adults who have money and wisdom, and youth who lack these traits but have time and energy. These two ministries are the two parts of a whole. Median aged adults who have young to teenage children have little of all the above because of the demands of that stage of life. In many plateaued churches they have senior adults, and some median adults, but little youth. So they lack the final element.

This then begs the question. How do you fill the gaping hole of youth and then implement them, and as a disclaimer this little blog post will not fully answer this question, but is designed to get readers thinking. An easy way to kill a youth group and render it ineffective in the integration of its youth into adulthood in the church is to build the ministry on games, food, and excitement. This will only provide immature adults who are not ready to accept the mantle of church leadership. Thus, the senior adults will not trust these young people, will keep the mantle, and the young adults will leave the church out of frustration, because it offers nothing for them.

The proper way to prepare students for this is through biblical preparation. They need to become leaders in the youth group who are capable of accepting the mantle of church leadership one day. I use what I call the 3 Marks of Ministry: Maturity, Mission, and Multiply. To accomplish Maturity I have implemented the Navigator's hand Illustration - Hear the Word, Read the Word, Study the Word, Memorize the Word, and Meditate on the Word - to give students the proper means to grow in their faith. Then they evangelize, plant ministries, and discover God's design for their life in mission, and use their spiritual maturity, gifts, talents, and missions to multiply the church. As students grow they will become quality leaders, and quality should always precede quantity. Then, as they accept the mantle of church leadership they will begin to enact these same principles into the church as a whole. Slowly but surely, the church will be revitalized.

To me this is the ultimate goal of all youth ministry, and the growth of the church as a whole is dependent upon what happens in the student ministry. The reason many youth ministers don't think of this, is because they never ask the question why youth ministry exists?

Pitfalls for youth ministers:

  • Do not get frustrated with the church and senior adults. Frustration is a sign of impatience. Church revitalization is a long process that will not happen quickly.
  • Be committed. Nothing can be accomplished in church revitalization short of 4-6 years. 10 is a better time span. Rome wasn't built in a day after all, and you need to be patient and wait.
  • Your plan is always second to the pastor's. No matter what you are not the pastor, nor does the burden rest on you. You need to respect the anointed leader of your church and seek to serve him. He wants to see the church revitalized as badly as you more often than not.
  • Be organized. No youth ministry program that is unstructured will succeed. This is a game of strategy, and you should have a war room. Make sure that what you are doing is wise and well timed.
  • Don't do this alone. The other ministers at your church are your first line of support because of their wisdom and experience, especially if you are a young minister. Also, bring the parents in with your plans. It is important that you have many quality counselors in your ministry. No one goes to war without consulting his officers.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Shrewd Managers of Christ

Something that has always eluded my full comprehension is the "Parable of the Shrewd Manager" found in Luke 16. A synopsis of this passage is as follows: There was a rich man, who had employed a manager to be steward over his assets. The manager, however, was not very good or very honest at his job. His fault wasn't embezzlement or using funds for his own pleasures, but that he was mismanaging resources. The rich man discovered this and of course required an account from the manager. What is interesting is the manager does not attempt to alter the books, nor does he attempt to contrive a defense for his actions (all things I would have done). Instead, he seeks out the people who owe debts to his employer. With each debtor he cuts their debts and provides a settlement for them that is a great deal, but again at the cost of the owner. What confounds me is when the owner discovers what the manager has done, he commends him, because now the manager has friends in the former debtors of the owner. It is understood that he is likely still going to get fired and loose his job and the protection it provided, but now he has options.

After telling this story, Jesus makes a confusing commentary: "For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings."

This has always confused me, partly because I am such a "black and white" kind of guy. First, off why would Jesus commend his fictitious character for extorting money. Moreover, if I were the owner, I would have been furious. Not only did the manager mismanage resources, but then he in effect stole from the owner by cutting the debts of the others. The owner lost his initial investment due to mismanagement, and he lost even more due to the shrewd thinking of the manager. I would have thrown him in jail for trying to be slick willy.

Jesus' comment is what confuses me even more. How can sinners be better at using their funds than saved people? We tithe, give to offerings, and support volunteers efforts and disaster relief. How can Jesus say that they are better than us? We are giving our money to him and his church to be used for his kingdom.

So, I began pondering this passage, trying to piece together what Jesus is saying. First, I noticed what a brilliant story-teller Jesus was, because I get lost in the characters and the plot of a short few lines. Then, I began to notice that Jesus said unrighteous wealth, but it turns out he only meant temporary, earthly wealth or money. This was to contrast his uses of eternal dwellings. I understand that I am to leverage my temporary earthly assets, resources, and money to attract people to the gospel that they might get saved, but how are the lost people better at using their wealth than saved people? And to be honest, the meaning of this still eludes me.

Then today I saw this story on Fox News "Pilot Buys Pizzas for Delayed Passengers." I don't know what the spiritual status of this pilot is with Frontier Airlines, but the fact that a pilot, took pity on his disgruntled passengers and ordered Domino's for them astounds me. He might have a family, bills to pay, a mortgage, all the things that the rest of us Americans have to deal with today, especially in this downward economy, but he took it upon himself to buy 35 pizzas for his passengers at his own expense.

I begin to question myself and wonder, would I have been willing to buy 35 pizzas? Would I have taken the initiative to sacrifice what I had been wanting or even saving my money to feed these people in a random act of kindness. I do believe that it is these kind of actions that can lead to amazing opportunities to share the gospel. I wonder if this is what Jesus meant, that the world is better at compassion and leveraging their resources for the sake of others than Christians. I wonder what would happen if we got better?

I also find it intriguing that I just wrote a blog about this, when I am a youth minister, and the bulk of my audience, doesn't even have a job. Whatever, they have is their parents'. Nonetheless, this is something that God is working in me about.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Preaching to Students

There has been a movement in recent years by many youth ministers to not preach in youth ministry. Granted, I understand that not every youth minister will do ministry the exact same way, because we all have different styles of leadership, but some youth ministers have disregarded the necessity of a sermon for the students they are entrusted. Each youth ministry will be driven by different means of ministry, but I believe it is absolutely imperative to preach to students. To be transparent I am a youth ministry who is writing a Masters thesis on preaching, and have focused the majority of my masters on this topic....just so you know I am biased.

Dr. Alvin Reid in one of his blogs this past year made an argument for the need of revolution in student ministry in America. http://alvinreid.com/?p=3330 Dr. Reid is no newbie to youth ministry, but more importantly his priorities are right according to good theology. His first supporting argument was to present students, their families, and millennials with the Word of God, because that is the best we can offer. He quoted a great book by Kenda Dean, Almost Christian, and Dean's argument is the same that the church continues to offer good moralistic truths to students in a topical fashion, but good morals does not lead to salvation, life-change, or revival. The only clear source of such things is the possessor of life, Jesus, and his "memoirs" have been recorded in the Scriptures.

Now so far I have only made an argument pertaining to the necessity of scripture in the youth ministry, and to be honest I intend to make sure that ministry is saturated in scripture. (Side Note: The  navigator's model of grasping Scripture has given me a great foundation for methods of teaching students Scripture). Nonetheless, this has not made for an argument for preaching in youth ministry. The argument for preaching is that it has the potential to teach students how to study the Word and teach it to others. I will explain this through way of anecdote.

I have developed as far as I am aware a new homiletic method I call Inductive Exposition. I love inductive sermons because you save all your punch to the end. In a deductive sermon you give your conclusion and then support it. In an inductive sermon you walk the audience through the questions of your study and how you went about to answer these questions. For someone who teaches postmoderns I thought this was a great solution to the cynical students I work with who question everything. However, inductive was not enough for me, because I wanted to keep the expositional model found in many deductive homiletics. So I merged the two and created a method of preaching that walks the audience expositionaly through the Scriptures towards the conclusion of the scriptures. And all of this is preceded by good exegesis.

What I did not anticipate was the students began to mimic my method of teaching. I went through a season in my ministry where I had a large number of upper class leaders, particularly guys. They were such impressive leaders, and many of them had a firm grasp on the scriptures that I thought it was time they learn to teach. This was true especially since a few of them were considering going into vocational ministry. So, we began our series, and the first student preached a sermon that sounded very similar to mine, and he did a good job at teaching the scriptures. I thought that was interesting, but then the second student spoke in similar fashion. All eight students preached in a similar fashion to me, where they started by asking questions of the text, and then studied using some free online resources I gave them to find the answer. Then they formatted their sermons to explain their questions, the text, and how they came to their conclusions. They were communicating the scriptures effectively. What sealed this in my mind was when one of the students offered an invitation after his sermon, something that I don't regularly do in youth ministry, and one of his peers accepted Christ.

As I reviewed what had happened I realized that my preaching had inadvertently caused the outcome of their preaching methods. My preaching method taught students how to ask proper questions about Scripture and then how to find out the answers. It was a basic way of teaching students how to study the Bible. Then, after the students stumbled upon their own realization that they had effectively grasped God's Word, they were emboldened to teach its truths to others. Now, I structure my sermons, applications, and illustrations, with more thought going towards the students mimicking me and learning the principles of Bible Study.

So, I ask the question of youth ministers out there: What would your youth group begin to look like if you began to teach them the scriptures, which are the power of God, in such a way that they begin to study the scriptures for themselves and are able to teach them to others. Just let your imaginations wander and dream of the possibilities. I personally, will never do anything different, and preaching the Word of God has become the foundation of my ministry.

In view of this I resound Dr. Reid's argument that not only will this produce a biblical youth group but biblical disciples who then stand on the precipice of a great awakening. History has affirmed this, and I believe the Spirit has revealed this vision to many youth leaders that it is coming again.

BTW: I would really appreciate some comments on this if anyone feels like adding to this discussion.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Integration vs. Assimilation: A Great Whole

Often it seems that church leaders tend to argue over semantics. I have witnessed to Christian leaders argue that same argument but from a different angle only because of the vocabulary chosen by the two men. In the beginnings of my ministry I would often not pick up on things like semantics, instead I would simply support whichever speaker I tended to prefer anyways. However, over the years I have begun to thing about the importance vocabulary choice. As I study through the epistles of Paul, it is quite apparent that he was very strict about his vocabulary. The Apostle Paul was certainly a great mind, particularly in the fields of theology and philosophy, both Jewish and Greek.

The topic of discussion today is that of assimilation and integration of people into the church. Some of the larger churches in America have the luxury of employing a large ministerial staff, and sometimes one of those people is the associate pastor of assimilation. The purpose of this position is to give thought and guidance to the people who visit a church, new converts, and/or new members who then need to become part of the church body at large.

The first real question pertaining to assimilation is its importance. Is it truly necessary to ensure that people are becoming part of the church. While this may appear as an obvious answer, it is clouded by generational and cultural worldviews. For example, a senior adult who has been in church all their life and believes that what is wrong with America today is that so few people go to church any more on Sunday mornings will undoubtedly believe that a person should become part of a local church body. However, a millennial or person of the young adult and college age generation like to church shop. David Kinnaman has argued in his book UnChristian that many of these young adults like to go to the church that will offer them what they are wanting. Certainly the argument is valid from Hebrew 10:25 that Christians should not neglect the assembly of the saints, because this is encouraging, but I believe that this question needs further thought.

I believe that it is absolutely imperative that a Christian becomes part of a church in a particular process. First, the person must be saved. Conversion is the first step for any person wanting to have a relationship with God and other Christians that transcends the physical; however, conversion is not the key to church membership - baptism is. Therefore, for a person to join a church he or she must be baptized. (There is much more theology to this, that I will perhaps discuss in a future blog). Once a person has been baptized, the public testament of faith to both Christians for accountability and to nonChristians as a witness, then they should begin to grow in their faith. This growth should be marked through their personal growth, their growth as evangelists, and ultimately in their reproduction of more disciples. This process is completed upon spiritual parenthood. There is one key factor that makes a person a parent - children (new converts); furthermore, a Christians should make spiritual children, who then become disciples and produce more disciples. Thus, the truth of Proverbs 17:6 is true that the 'children's children are the crown of the aged, and the glory of the children is their fathers.'

For this process to be completed in a Christians life, he or she must become part of the church where other Christians can mentor them according to the fashion found in Titus 2 for the growth of the church and the individual. Where I begin to differ in semantic from some other Christians leaders is the terminology of assimilation.

Assimilation is defined as "to take in and incorporate as one's own, absorb." It is further defined as "to bring into conformity with the customs, attitudes, etc., or a group, nation, or the like.." Source This language is disconcerting, because it reverberates with that of Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed but the renewal of your mind..." The world uses the mechanism of conformity to augment people to fit within their mold. The word for "conform" in the Greek her is "syschematizo," which is where we draw the English word "schematic." To me, this is the altering of one's worldview to match that of the world's, or the sinful, unholy, antithesis of godliness. While the world's mechanism of change is conformity (perhaps assimilation), the Holy Spirit's mechanism is transformation. The word for transformation in the Greek is "metamorphoo," and it carries the meaning of being changed into a completely new creation. It holds to the theology found in II Corinthians 5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." While this mechanism is not at the whim of the church, we can act the representatives of the Holy Spirit who has already taught us lessons that can be passed on to younger Christians. As the Holy Spirit reveals himself and illuminates the scriptures, the transformation often termed the process of sanctification is made more complete.

The other option is integration, which is defined as "to bring together or incorporate (parts) into a whole; to make up combine, or complete to produce a whole or a ledger unit, as parts do." Source This term seems to follow in accord with the scriptures closer to me than assimilation. In the process of integration the new convert maintains their individuality. Their essence is transformed by the power of Christ, and now in the redeemed state offer an intrinsic piece to the local body of believers to produce a greater whole than what was before. I particularly prefer the concept of completion inherent to integration. As we seek to further the Kingdom of God, we invite new Christians into this grand mission as their particular talents and gifts are being crafted by the Holy Spirit.

As the process of integration unfolds in the life of a new believer, it seems to me that there should be a process, similar to one stated above but now through a new lens. Introduction (baptism) should lead to a time of personal growth and mentoring that will guide them through what I term the three marks of ministry: maturity, mission, and multiplication. (This is an adaptation from Roger Glidewell's Three E's of Ministry found in his book Youth Ministry by the Book). As the person begins to advance in spiritual maturity they begin to look desperately for their mission or way to use their spiritual gifts and talents for the Kingdom of God, it is the church's responsibility offer ministries to act as conduits for their members through acts of service, and as a result their service will result in more converts (the literal conquest of the Kingdom of God). This process will continue until the ultimate result of becoming the likeness of Jesus Christ.

My prayer that I enable students and Christians to become integrated into the body of Christ, where they maintain their individuality as a child of God with specific talents, gifts, and creativity that the Church may become a greater whole.

Grand Reopening

So, I haven't been much of a blogger in my life, mostly because I don't think anyone would really care to read what an insignificant youth minister would have to say. However, lately God has placed it on my heart to begin writing. I wish he had been more specific, perhaps with a prompt and word count like my professors, but I pray that this will be something I can grow through.

For now I will be writing on youth ministry, church ministry, family, doctrine, philosophy of ministry, and preaching. The last of these topics is something I am incredibly passionate about since, this is what I intend to finish my Masters. If no one reads this, then that will be ok, because I am writing these blogs more to record my thoughts, especially if it is a topic that God is teaching me about.