Category Archives: Students
So tomorrow marks my potential youth service. I’m laying here in bed thinking of the past twelve years in student ministry and all the heart aches and unspeakable joys. I’m remembering all the students who have come through our ministries; the ones who are still passionately chasing the Lord and those who are sadly still chasing the world. I remember waterpark trips, summer camps, mission trips, and disciple nows. I rememberelays I was ready to quit and days where I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I have no idea what this next chapter in following Jesus will look like, but if it’s half as amazing as youth ministry then it should be incredible. “Lord thank you for allowing me the privilege of being a youth pastor, I have been truly blessed!”
One of my favorite things about living in the Bible belt is church signs. Seriously, you can tell a lot about a church by what they put up on their sign. You can also unfortunately find out what is really important to a church. Now I know that lots of them are cheesy and make you laugh as you drive by but occasionally you see straight up bad theology. Right there on the church sign for all to see. The last one that I remember adding to my frustration was one I saw in St. Louis Missouri while on a youth spring break trip, and it said “THE BEST PRESENT WE CAN GIVE GOD IS OUR PRESENCE”. This sign sends fire rushing from the top of my head to my fingertips, and unfortunately although lots of churches may not have thought to put it on their sign, its sentiment is true inside their building. They really and truly believe that God simply desires their presence.
Now for the record I grew up going to church. I grew up going to youth group, and college group and the BCM. I haven’t missed ten Sundays in the past twelve years and as committed as I am to attending worship, I can boldly tell you that God doesn’t care! I can practically see the hair standing up on the back of some of your necks as you read this, hang with me and at least let me explain my point before you slam the computer shut muttering heretic, hear me out. The statement that God is worried about my worship attendance is a horrendously selfish statement. It puts all the importance on my behavior, it makes me the focal point not God. The actual major faulty thinking with that particular way of thinking is that we have anything to offer God, a “present” that we can give Him as a sign of our love. We don’t.
It’s in these churches that we often hear the phrase “we give our best to God”. These statements are usually in reference to why we put on our suit and tie and nice shoes, tuck in our shirts, and iron our slacks before we step foot in “God’s House”. At the risk of sounding like a young rebellious pagan; God doesn’t care what your wearing! I hate to be the one to break it to you but your best, whatever it may be, is not good enough. Paul addresses this issue in the letter to the Phillipians:
“4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—”
Paul starts out listing his spiritual resume, he was of the Israelites, devout in their customs, a Pharisee (expert in Jewish law), he lists his passionate zeal for the law to the point of helping stone Stephen, and this list climaxes in his claim that he was blameless under the law. He is basically saying, “Look, if anyone thinks they have a reason for God to be pleased with them based on who they are or what they have done. I’m better.” But then he goes on to say that he counts all those things as “rubbish” in light of knowing Jesus. The Greek word for “rubbish” is skybalon which is defined in the Strong’s concordance this way:
1) any refuse, as the excrement of animals, offscourings, rubbish, dregs
a) of things worthless and detestable
Poop. That’s what Paul says his best is in light of the righteousness that is found only in God. The point Paul is making is that you simply aren’t good enough to please God. He goes on to straight up say that in Romans 8:8:
“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Your best is simply not sufficient to make God pleased with you. You have no presents to offer him, you have “rubbish”. No amount of Sunday attendance, Wednesday attendance, summer camps, disciple nows, quiet times, or church clothes will make God love you more. All we have is grace that has been poured out by an infinitely compassionate God that displays his love for you every moment that he allows you to continue breathing. A God who by the way doesn’t want your gifts he demands your life.
Have you been guilty of trying to earn God’s approval? What’s the hardest thing to believe about this truth?
My oldest girl is in the if you can sing it instead of say it, you should phase (which my wife and I are still in and hope our daughter never grows out of), so it’s not uncommon for her to break into song at the middle of the dinner table. It’s like living in a happier version of Annie, you know without the orphans and evil foster parents. I have come to find out that singing is actually quite helpful for learning scripture or the big theme of a particular narrative of the Bible. One of the songs that she was singing awhile back was the one about the wee little man, and a wee little man was he. It’s actually a well done song, I mean it’s not going to win a Grammy but its actually pretty close to the scripture passage. Check it out in Luke 19:
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 ESV)
Number Two: Religion is not from God
Now obviously there’s a lot that we can pull out of here but what I want to focus on is right there in the middle of the story.
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when theysaw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” (italics mine)
The “they” that are grumbling against Jesus’s decision to head over to Zac’s house are the religious Jews who believed that Jesus ought to not associate with sinners. Especially the kind lie Zac who made a living stealing from his fellow Israelites. It’s these people that we see Jesus struggle with throughout His earthly ministry, and it’s inevitably these people who eventually nail Him to a cross. The religious leaders especially seemed to cross ways with Jesus at every pass, Pharisees and Sadducees always scheming to discredit the Messiah they claimed to be waiting for. I Iove this insight from Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola:
If you examine Jesus’ exchanges with the Pharisees, you’ll discover a common thread. The Pharisees would ask a question on one level, and Jesus would answer it on a completely different level. The contrast was sometimes so stark that it would appear that Jesus was answering a different question. Why is this? It’s because the Pharisees’ questions were coming from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And Jesus’ response was coming from the tree of life—the life of God. -Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (source)
Christian teenagers today have more information at their disposal then the rest of history of mankind put together did and in this world information overload they are being propositioned by a host of world views. That means you had better have the words of life and not ones grounded in traditional religious moralism if you expect them to stand out. This past week I asked my students what the biggest criticism of Christianity is at their school. Taking the gold medal is, of course, “hypocrites in the church”, and placing, I’m guessing, a close second was “it’s just a big list rules.” Unfortunately this is what our society has taught them. A.W. Tozer says it this way:
“Religion today is not transforming the people – it is being transformed by the people. It is not raising the moral level of society – it is descending to society’s own level and congratulating itself that it has scored a victory because society is smiling accepting its surrender.” -A.W. Tozer
The Christian religion has merged with post modern society and relegated many teens perceptions of following Jesus to simply trying to behave correctly. Sure their Facebook may say “it’s a relationship not a religion” but their lives scream “I can’t do this good enough!” or worse “I can do this better than you.” Either way they wind up empty and despairing. We have to teach students that “life” is found in Jesus not in religion. See going back to Zac’s story both Zacchaeus and the religious critics were lost. Both of them needed the life of Jesus to bring them to a place of life more abundant.
What about you, do you have a Zaccaeus type story? Have a different slant on religion? Leave a comment below and tell me what you got.
This is part two of the series Five things your students need to know before graduation. You can find part one The Gospel here
So I’m in the midst of a major ministry shift. Which is a bit of an understatement to say the least; it’d be like McDonalds announcing that they were going to move from Big Macs and fries and start serving tofu and bean sprouts. The transition in my heart began slowly and grew exponentially over the past year causing me to take a hard look at my ministry and my calling. What I came to find is that despite my love for the next generation and my heart for youth ministry, the number of former youth group faithful leaving the church continues to increase. Now I am in no way claiming that I know all the issues and reasons that this mass exodus continues to increase but I do think that how we handle the time we have with them can make a difference. So as a fifteen year veteran of student ministry transitioning to chase the generation that we missed the first time here’s the five things you should teach your students before they graduate.
Number one: The Gospel
I remember the days where we sang all the hokey worship songs in our junior high youth group, you know, Pharaoh Pharaoh, River of Life, I’ve got joy, etc. but that was in the late eighties early nineties and then everyone realized that, “Hey, I think maybe junior high students possess the ability to actually worship.” and from there “normal” worship songs began to filter into the services and culture of junior high ministry. I bring that moment up because whether we like it or not youth ministry has become much more legitimate in not only importance but also in its approach and depth of teaching. Hopefully, gone are the days of pizza parties and shallow cheesy lessons that stress the importance of being good. As we’ve grown in our understanding of youth and moved into more “mature” topics we have to fight the temptation to do war with the behaviors of our students and dig into the root of their lives.
I can speak first hand on this topic since I would ashamedly admit that the better part of my ministry consisted of these types of urges during my invitation times. I would give an opportunity for those who did not know Christ to give their lives to Him, and then for those who already had Jesus in their life I’d offer up some try harder, don’t have sex, stay away from parties kind of challenge and close. What I’ve found is that not only is each succeeding class more Biblically illiterate than the one before but they are equally Gospel illiterate. Sure they know that Jesus died on a cross and they think that belief in that can keep them out of hell (it can’t, James 2:19) but that’s where it stops, and unfortunately, whether we assume they know it or we just don’t clearly present it, we aren’t communicating the amazing truths of the Gospel.
There are far to many truths in the Gospel to be summed up by my feeble minded self, and so let me share one of the best definitions of the Gospel I’ve heard;
“The just and loving Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent his Son, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin on the cross and to show his power over sin in the Resurrection so that all who trust in him will be reconciled to God forever. – Dr. David Platt
It’s a bit more than Admit Believe Confess isn’t it? This Gospel will not leave you the same, this Gospel provokes a response either for or against it. It requires repentance, it demands surrender to the Lord of Lords, and it is imperative that to partake of it will cost you your very life. This is what our teens need desperately to have proclaimed to them, that from cover to cover God is calling them to come and die, so that they may truly live. Matt Chandler in his book “The Explicit Gospel” writes concerning the Gospel in the individual:
“It says something personal about us: “We are rebels.” It says something specific about this rebellion: “Christ has made atonement.” It holds out a promise requiring individual response: “If you will confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised hi from the dead, you will be saved.”
Above all things make sure your students graduate knowing the magnitude of the Gospel.
What do you think? What would be your one thing you’d make sure students hear before graduation?
Almost two years ago my wife had my Bible engraved with the words “Treasure Map for a New Adventure” I don’t think that either of us we’re prepared for what that would really mean. We had just accepted a new position as the youth pastor a church in Central Arkansas, and that had meant saying goodbye to our home and our friends from the previous five and a half years. So our “New Adventure”, we thought, was this next phase in our youth ministry journey, after all it’s what we do, who we are. Well over the past two years God has for a lack of a better term screwed me up. Starting last March Jesus began to seize my life in a complete new way, a way that at first made me uncomfortable. I began to look at the things I had been doing, how I had been approaching ministry and in light of what I had thought was important began to shift what we were doing (See getting rid of Elmo). There were a lot of things that God changed and birthed in me during this phase, but perhaps the most dominate thing has been a fervent passion for the Word (Thank you David Platt. punk.). I suppose that alone will destroy things you believe, assuming they weren’t actually in the Bible, and cause you to move beyond casual church Christianity. Shortly after the initial dynamic switch in my world God began having people tell me they thought I was going to be called to pastor. Well if you’ve ever talked to me about youth ministry you know that is about the last thing I could see myself doing. I’m a “lifer!” (A phrase my best friend and mentor coined referencing guys that are in youth ministry for their whole lives). It was really easy to dismiss those comments, I’m a career youth pastor with no pastoral experience, I have never been to seminary, and I’m anti-establishment. No way any southern baptist Bible belt church is hiring me. Besides, I told myself, I certainly would not make a good pastor. Well there were too many things happening, people telling me, and desires welling up inside me so I reluctantly asked God what was His desire for me. I reminded Him that I love my students, they are growing, they are the future, I’m not sure I’m qualified to be a grown up pastor. I sought Him constantly for about two months and His response came to me over two days in early November.
“You are in Potiphar’s house. Preparing for something larger. You are going to be a pastor.” I was actually relieved to finally have some clarity, as unbelievable as that seemed. I was still very uncertain that I could do all that pastoring requires but knew that if God was telling me to go do that, and I didn’t want to end up in fish I should probably move that direction. Besides Joseph was in Potiphar’s house for a long while learning to speak Egyptian, run a household, and unbeknownst to him getting ready to run a nation. Then Day Two took being unprepared to a whole new level.
“The church you’re going to pastor is to be one you start.” A CHURCH PLANTER?!!! You don’t have any money when you’re a church planter! I have a wife and three children and a good paying job and an Awesome house, and… I DON’T KNOW THE FIRST THING ABOUT PLANTING A CHURCH!
So that is pretty much exactly where I find myself. Following God in obedience, stepping out of my comfort zone and past experience to chase His will for me. To allow Him to do whatever He desires, clinging to Him for dear life as I step out into this new adventure.