Tag Archives: youth ministry
So I’m what you could call a story teller. I have been from the time I was little (a gift it seems I have passed to my oldest daughter), I would constantly hear my dad tell me to get to the point as I would be describing in detail so many things he wearied of waiting for the action. I’m still guilty of it, my wife likes to make fun of the fact that when asked by my last church’s search committee to briefly describe how I ended up in Arkansas and I mentioned the color of the station wagon that I rode in from California to Florida when I was five. For the record it was blue. As it turns out God is the master story teller, His Word recounts the history and emotions of the story mankind has been engaged in from the beginning, and all of it is amazing. I didn’t use to think this. I mean, I knew the Bible was important and I loved the stories especially the ones in the Old Testament, you know like when Jael nails Sisera to the ground with a tent spike through the temple while he took a nap, but I had a hard time understanding why, aside from just knowing the history, I should care. Then God showed me.
I’m sure most of you reading this are far more knowledgeable than I am and so this will be extremely shocking to you that I didn’t know this but I didn’t know that the whole Bible wasn’t just about history and understanding facts but was rather one giant love story of redemption. I had no clue that you could see Christ in every story in the Old Testament. I had intentionally not taught some of my favorite OT stories and stayed strictly on the Gospels, so I could teach about Jesus, but as it turns out the whole Bible is story about us and Jesus.
The story opens with the greatness of God who’s words speak things into being and sweet intimate fellowship with the humans in the cool of the day. Then we tanked it. From Genesis three on it’s the story of God bringing about redemption through Jesus. I’ll give you an example; in Numbers 16 we see a group of leaders attempt to lead a rebellion and basically try and get Moses and Aaron fired. God distinguishes between His leaders and the dissenters by causing the ground to open up and swallow those who oppose His leaders. The following day this is what takes place:
“41 But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.”42 And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared.43 And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting,44 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,45 ”Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces.46 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.”47 So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.48 And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.49 Now those who died in the plague were 14,700, besides those who died in the affair of Korah.50 And Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, when the plague was stopped.” – Numbers 16:41-50
So we see the people of Israel not learn the lesson from the previous day and return to gripe at Moses and Aaron (and by proxy God), and this time God has had enough and a plague breaks out among the people. Moses recognizes it and tells Aaron to hurry and grab his censer and get some fire off the altar and then lay incense on and take it to the people to offer atonement for their sin and hopefully spare their lives. So Aaron runs into the middle of the crowd and literally stands in between those dying of the plague and those who are still alive. He’s standing there saying that in order to kill anyone else the plague will have to sweep through me. He’s waving his censer crying out for the forgiveness of their sin. What we see here is a beautiful Old Testament picture of the truth of our condition before a holy God we have challenged His leadership in our lives countless times as is evident by our sin. But because our God loves us with an unfathomable love He sent his Son to run into our midst and make atonement for us with His very life. He stood as our mediator, our rescuer and now stands between the living and the dead.
This is just one example of the great overarching story that our God has given us. It’s one of my five things that your students need to know before they graduate because these young people need to see that all of God’s Word is full of life and substance beyond so and so killed so and so. They need to realize that God has always and will always chase them with His love and He’s been telling us that from the very beginning.
What’s your favorite Old Testament story? Have you been able to relate the truth of God’s redeeming love through the Old Testament? Have any great stories to share?
This is part four of Five Things your students need to know before they graduate. You can find the previous ones here: Part 1 (The Gospel), Part 2 (Religion isn’t from God), and Part 3 (God doesn’t want your best).
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.
So as the Dad of three 3 & under I am very familiar with Elmo. The fury little red monster comes into my house in a variety of DVD’s the majority of which are Elmo’s World. Needless to say I have seen more than any grown man’s share of Elmo’s world, and in light of the things that God has been doing in the past year of my life I have come to realize that I was Elmo.
Before you freak out, no I don’t laugh like a hyena, or dress all in red or have a large orange nose, but I had been doing ministry the same way Elmo does Elmo’s world, and I suspect that many of you may be as well. You see every Elmo’s world is the same. Seriously. Sure there’s different topics, different cheesy jokes for Elmo to laugh at, and things like that but the formula is exactly the same.
Elmo comes in and tells you what he and Dorothy (his pet goldfish) have been wondering about today; firemen, jackets, shoes, animals, global warming, predestination, etc.
Then they ask Mr. Noodle about said topic. He of course fails multiple times in demonstrating the topic before being coached by the question-askers to the right conclusion
Then they ask kids, and a series of children demonstrate successfully. This section is always concluded with “Now Elmo will ask a baby…” which is my favorite
Then Elmo wants to know more about whatever it is, and so he’ll watch the ____________ channel. Cause Elmo clearly has satellite.
Then he’ll still want to know more and so he’ll talk to whatever it is. A fireman, shoe, animal, John Calvin, etc.
Then Dorothy (the goldfish) will imagine Elmo being whatever
Then they sing the _____________ song to the tune of a monotone jingle bells
Ok, so the point of that was not to demonstrate my insane knowledge of the inner workings of a little red muppet’s tv show. The point is that until very recently I had a formula for student ministry that wasn’t too far from Elmo’s. What I mean by that is that I did things the exact same way year after year. Sure there was some minor differences, messages, mission trip destinations, etc. But all in all my ministry was the same most weeks. It was also effective at generating numeric growth (which any good church growth strategist will tell you is all that’s important), however when I stopped and really examined the quality of students it was churning out and they were mostly good kids. In fact many of them are great kids. But if I’m being brutally honest they weren’t disciple makers.
So I got rid of Elmo, and have taken a hard look at why we do what we do in youth ministry and I recommend you step back and take a good look at your ministry, regardless of how healthy it is.
What do you think? Are you Elmo too?
The Lord has been teaching me quite a bit lately, particularly in regards as to what it means to live for Christ in more than just a Sunday Wednesday kind of faith. I am being blessed with what I believe are some insightful questions that will hopefully shake the norm of youth ministry. I know that we too often don’t like to focus on the fact that we are in a battle, a spiritual battle that is raging in not just our students families, or schools but in their churches. In our churches. As youth pastors/workers we are constantly sending young and men and women out into that world and my first question is have we equipped them to take the land? Do they realize that they are at war? Do they know there is more to our faith than church attendance? Has God really changed their lives through His gift of salvation or did they merely walk an aisle and pray a prayer then continue life as normal? If not where did we miss it? And perhaps more importantly how do we fix it? I am committed to finding answers to these and questions and others that we’d rather not face and I think it starts here.
“1 The Lord said to Moses,2 “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” – Numbers 13:1,2
So God grants the peoples request and has them send a cross section of His nation, into the land “which I am giving to the Israelites.”It is important for us to realize that God has given them this land regardless of their forty day espionage and at the end of their forty day recon the spies return to report to the people.
“26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land.27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.28 But…” – Numbers 13:26-28
Whoa! Did you catch that? They came back and told Moses and the whole nation “we went into the land… and it does flow with milk and honey!” Basically we saw the land and its exactly like the Lord told us. But… Wait a second, but? but what? Either God is a liar or He’s not! He said that the land was exceedingly good, and it was! Let’s step back and look at this rationally, God told them the land is good, and it was. Therefore we can be assured that God is not lying. Being assured that God is not lying we can therefore trust the rest of what he says which is that He is giving us the land. Which should cause us to draw the conclusion that the land is ours, therefore all we have to do is take it.
I believe that many of us and our churches are at the point of this decision in our own lives. Do we take the land or do we doubt God and retreat to the wilderness? Over the remainder of this year I am committed to walking down the avenue that will alert us to what that means in our own lives and the lives of our ministries.
As I write this I just finished an hour long nap battle with my two and a half year old. She’s at the age where she needs a nap, or its crabby central, but no longer willingly lays in her bed. So for the past hour I’ve been persevering, and applying the necessary resolve to ensure she goes to sleep. As I struggled with not losing my temper and remaining calm God used this rather humorous resistance to encourage me, and hopefully you.
I started in the hall, like normal, returning the runaway to her bed the moment she left the bed, and after six minutes I had picked that little creature up eighteen times and returned her to her bed. Then she broke me, I could no longer handle the giggling, smiling little girl and her no naptime game, and I was benched. I hate to admit it but my wife was right to pull me, I had given up on the plan, lost focus and perspective and needed to cool off downstairs with the non napping children. But fifteen minutes later, when my wife had also run out of willpower, I returned to the contest with a fresh resolve and a willingness to fluctuate the strategy if need be to emerge victorious.
Eventually I simply outlasted her, she ran out energy, and simply gave in and fell asleep. It took me another forty minutes but as I sit here writing, she is up there sleeping and that’s encouraging. It’s encouraging because youth ministry is much like a battle, one where you can get so frustrated that you snap, lose your cool and need to sit out for a while and regroup. It’s important to be flexible about the how but not about the what. I was not going to yield to the sleep defying toddler and allow her to do what she pleased; she was going to take a nap. In the same manner teenagers in my youth ministry will hear about Jesus. They may not hear it the same way everytime or in the same program, trip, service but they will hear about it. Naptime today did not go as planned, and you will find that youth ministry unfortunately is too often this way. It’s a battle; and far too often one we feel as though we are losing, but there’s good news, there is hope for success, if we’re willing to be creative and unrelenting we will win.