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. 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.