Parents, Are You Cocooning Your Children?

I read Dick Staub’s “The Culturally Savvy Christian” a while ago but was flipping through it last night when I came across this gem:

…”Children raised in the protective cocoon are ill prepared to meet the challenges posed by the secular culture they will inevitably face one day.  Thirty years ago, Francis Schaeffer warned, ‘I find that everywhere I go children of Christians are being lost to historic Christianity…. They are being lost because their parents are unable to understand their children and therefore cannot help them in their time of need…. We have left the next generation naked in the face of twentieth century thought by which they are surrounded.” (p.31-32)

It’s good to protect and guard our children, to preserve their innocence… I would never want to discourage parents from doing that.  But we do them no favors by insulating them from the culture they will one day need to live in and in which they are called to be Salt & Light.

Do not be in a rush to see your kids grow up, or else you might be throwing them to the sharks.  But don’t be so cautious that you “protect” them from the world to the point that it’s as if you’re still giving your teenager baby formula because you’re afraid he’ll choke on solid food.

May our faith be mature enough to demonstrate biblical, Gospel-centered, holy, pure, redemptive lives that would set a concrete example for our children to follow as they learn from us what it means to be an adult.

Sermon Summary: “Law & Gospel: God’s Commandments & Promises”

Law & Gospel: God’s Commandments & Promises
Galatians 3:10-14

Paul writes that, “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse” but that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”  How amazing is God’s grace!  God did for us what we are completely unable to do for ourselves!  God doesn’t require us to be good in order to redeem us; to be redeemed you need to acknowledge that you’re a sinner.  We all fit that bill.

The Old Testament contains 613 commandments, or Laws.  Historically, the Church has taught that there are three “uses” of the Law: as a Curb, as a Mirror, and as a Guide.  God’s Law functions as a Curb in order to restrain society from falling into anarchy by giving basic functions for how people should relate to one another (don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t murder, submit to authority, etc.).  God’s Law is a Mirror that shows us that we are sinful and we need a Savior because we aren’t able to keep God’s Law perfectly and are therefore under a curse.  God’s Law is a Guide to Christians so they know how to live in such a way that honors their Savior and brings joy along the way.  Ultimately, the Law was given to show us our need for a Savior.

Don’t be like the person who couldn’t get the lid off a jar and then claims, “I loosened it.”  No… you didn’t.    The truth is, none of us can take any credit for saving ourselves.  Salvation is not a 50/50 proposition or a deal with God whereby we do the best we can and God “fills the gap.”  Don’t try to take credit for what God has done… you did not “loosen the jar” for God.

We must rely completely on the promise of God, not at all on our ability to keep God’s Law.  Are you trying to take partial credit?  Count on Christ’s righteousness, not your own.

  • Are you counting completely in Christ’s righteousness and not your own?
  • Are you trying to be “good enough” to earn God’s favor?  If you’re living by the Law, you are under a curse.  Sometimes church-goers are really “good” people who keep God’s commandments, but they’re trusting in their own goodness rather than in Christ.  Don’t fall into the trap of Law-keeping, trust fully in the promises of God! (Romans 3:24; 8:1, 38-39; Galatians 3:26; Philippians 4:17)
  • Christian, have you veered off course and started to think about the Gospel as something for “other people” but not as something you need to cling to daily?  The Gospel is everything… don’t forget that.
  • Does your life contradict the grace you have received?  You cannot “be the Gospel” (Jesus is the Gospel, not you!), but your life should reflect the grace and love that you’ve been given.

Why I Changed My Job Description

When I was graduating from school and started looking at job postings in Youth Ministry I have to admit there were a number of churches I mostly discounted from my search because the Job Description was for a “Pastor of Youth & Families” or something along those lines.  It was beyond the restricted parameters of “Youth” Ministry, and therefore I felt that the Job Description and expectations would probably be wider than I was looking for.  I didn’t want to oversee Children’s Ministry or entire Sunday School programs, I wanted to be a Youth Pastor.

Well… about a year ago I began to really wrestle with the reality that my ministry and my ministry philosophy haven’t been lining up very well because while I claim that it’s my job to come alongside parents in discipling their teenagers, I wasn’t really helping them be the primary disciplers aside from giving that notion lip service.  A few months ago I went into a Pastoral Staff Meeting wondering how I could propose the idea to the Senior Pastor and Associate Pastor about how I could add more Family Ministries to my responsibilities so that I could begin to strengthen my youth ministry by expanding my ministry to parents and families without stepping on other people’s toes.  What I didn’t realize was they had already discussed how to bring up a very similar suggestion to ME!

The Deacons and Executive Board and the Congregation all pretty much said, “Yeah, that makes sense… let’s do this,” and now my Job Description has formally changed and my title is now “Pastor of Youth & Families.”  Ironic that God changed my heart in this direction considering where it was seven years ago when I started looking through openings for Youth Pastor positions.

Here’s a quick list of why I wanted to change my Job Description:

  1. Good Youth Ministry cannot neglect parents.  Lots of youth pastors affirm this in theory, but don’t really give this too much time or effort because parents are usually already overcommitted enough to commit to anything else at church (especially if it would require them to admit weaknesses and failures to other parents).  I was one of those youth pastors for six years and didn’t want to keep being one of those youth pastors.
  2. Parents are called to be the primary disciplers of their children.  This is just biblical and pretty straightforward.  Just look at Deuteronomy 6:4-9 if you need explicit proof (there are obviously many more verses, but this is my favorite).
  3. I should be more involved in the Children’s Ministry.  I love being involved in VBS every summer, but other than that I haven’t really done a whole lot with the students who aren’t yet in Junior High.  I should know them already and have a good sense of what their ministry programs are structured like and teaching.
  4. To clearly define the emphasis on parents ministry that was in my original Job Description.  A lot of what’s in my new JD was in the original one, but there were other people overseeing ministry to the parents/families, so it was aways an interesting dance between the Youth Ministry and the other ministry leaders when we both found out that we were trying to do the same thing in different ways.  This is just more efficient, but it doesn’t mean that I’m “taking over” and “getting my way” all the time either – most of what’s already happening is good, but it would be better if all our church’s resources were pulling in the same direction at the same time.
  5. I’m bored and am looking for more stuff to do.  Just kidding… not true at all.

For anyone else who’s in Youth Ministry who might come across this post, I want to encourage you to consider how you’re Motivating, Equipping, and Empowering the parents in your ministry to become the primary disciplers of their children.  I like to tell parents “It’s never too late to start, but if you haven’t started by the time your kids are teenagers you’ll be playing catch-up and running up a very steep hill.”  Attend the Children’s Ministry programs periodically so you know those leaders and students.  Talk to the people who oversee ministries to parents and family-needs, and ask them if there’s any way that you could become a resource to them and how you could partner in that important ministry.

Below I’ve uploaded my new Job Description along with an overview of what my previous Job Description was.  I’d just like to point out that the goal here is to keep me primarily focused on Youth Ministry (I still call myself the Youth Pastor!), but I now OVERSEE the different facets of Family Ministries that pertain to families with grade-school aged children.

Job Description – Pastor of Youth and Families

2011 Summer Missions Week

Missions Trips are really important opportunities for students to bust out of their bubble and experience serving Christ in a new culture, but there’s always the danger that students will learn to serve “there” but not “here.”  Because of that, we are taking the days following the 4th of July (July 5-8) and setting them aside to serve Christ by serving the needy in our community.

Please prayerfully consider this opportunity to have your eyes opened to the needs in your own backyard… and do something about it in the name of Christ.

Tuesday and Wednesday (7/5-7/6) we will be serving meals through the Boston Rescue Mission’s “Kingston House” and then partnering with Starlight Ministry’s night-time outreaches to the homeless in Boston.  If you went to CSM: Toronto with us last year, what we’re doing these two days will be especially powerful for you as you engage in ministry to the homeless population in Boston.

Thursday through Friday we will be serving in various capacities in our local communities.  The week will be structured so that as many students can be involved as are able, so if you cannot commit to the whole week, that’s ok (except for the days in Boston, students serving in that way should commit to both days).

Travel and food costs will be left up to each student and will depend on the day, but costs will be very minimal.   Please contact Pastor Mike for more details if you or your teenager are interested.

Spoke Folk Concert & Summer YG Cookout!

Thursday, July 7th from 5:00-8:00pm we’re having a Concert & Cookout to kickoff our Summer.  We will be hosting “Spoke Folk” (a Christian missions group of traveling Christian teenagers who perform concerts as a ministry/outreach, learn more by clicking the logo above) who will provide a concert appropriate for children and teenagers, so families are welcome!

This will also mark “graduation” into Youth Group for our new 7th Graders, so come on out and give them a huge welcome!  We’ll have tons of food, games out on the law, and then go inside for the Spoke Folk program.  Bring your family, it really will be a fun time to kick off the Summer together!

Parents, we need your help in the following ways:

  • Cooks
  • Food Servers
  • Setup & Cleanup
  • Food Donations (we’ll provide the meat, buns, & condiments if you can provide chips and snacks and drinks).
  • Breakfast for Spoke Folk the next morning

Contact Pastor Mike to let him know how you’d like to help.

LWAYG: Navigating Willful Roadblocks

One of my favorite passages in the Bible having to do with evangelism is Acts 26:28-29, “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.'”  Paul got it… he knew what it would cost King Agrippa to believe in Jesus Christ and become a Christian.  Paul understood that it would take two main things, and I believe those are two things we don’t prioritize as much as we should in evangelism: Prayer and Time.

Some people put up “Willful Roadblocks,” refusing the claims of Christ because they simply aren’t convinced that Christ is worth the sacrifice they’d have to pay.  Really, I think more of us should count the cost so intentionally.  Many people who have this roadblock holding them back from believing in the Gospel have three main objections, adressed below.

1. “I just don’t believe in God.”

Obviously there’s way more written about this than I have the time (or desire) to write about in this one blog post.  I simply point to the Evidence of Design, which says ” purpose, order, design, and structure point to a designer.”  As the band, Switchfoot, says, “The shadow proves the sunshine.”  There’s a reason why pretty much every culture’s traditions revolve around some form of worship – whether it’s polytheistic or not – there’s just something inside of us that knows there was a creator.

There are a lot of people who are atheists/agnostics because they don’t want to believe in God.  A lot of them have experienced tragedies and simply don’t understand how a good and loving and all-powerful God could have allowed that tragedy to happen, and so they dismiss belief in God.  I get it… and I don’t want this to come off wrong or insensitively, but God’s existence shouldn’t simply be dismissed and rejected because I don’t understand suffering.

We need to take suffering and good, hard, intelligent questions seriously.  But we also need to be asking ourselves whether or not someone is disagreeing with us about who Jesus is and what difference He makes because they have real objections or if they simply don’t want to believe and use science or philosophy or whatever as a way to keep on living however they want to live without needing to answer to God.

2. “Jesus is Not God”

As C.S. Lewis famously wrote in Mere Christianity:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

In summary of Lewis, Jesus is either “Lord, Lunatic, or a Liar.”  He cannot be viewed as just another Rabbi who taught good ethical things.

3. “Christianity Would Cramp My Style, Because Christians Can’t Have Fun.”

Alright, now that you’re done laughing I really want you to think about this one seriously.  A lot of people do believe this… and for good reason, because much of the time that’s the impression we give!  Jesus came to give us “abundant life,” to make us whole and complete, to fill us with joy and peace that passes all understanding.  The promises of God are overwhelming.

The problem here is that we don’t really hold onto His promises and we try to live with half our hearts given to Christ (for eternal life) and half our hearts given to this world (for life now).  Instead, we need to remember that God created our world and everything in it and He wants us to really trust that His ways really are best.

That means that we will refuse to do some things that others would consider “fun” like getting drunk, doing drugs, having sex with people we aren’t married to, and just generally making stupid and dangerous decisions.  Honestly, some of the most “fun” people I know are Christians (granted, I’m biased).

There’s really no “argument” here for you to have with people to convince them of this other than your life.  Simply put, “Let your light shine that people may see your good deeds and praise your Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  Live fully for Christ, and He will strengthen you to have joy even in the midst of suffering and trials.

When you’re talking with a friend or family member or someone else who seems to have a “Willful Roadblock,” learn from Paul’s example with Felix: Give it Prayer & Give it Time.

Gospel-Centered Teaching in Youth Ministry (or, “Do Youth Ministries Teach Moralism?”)

I think most youth pastors have come against the criticism that we primarily teach moralism (do this, don’t do that) rather than emphasizing the Gospel and biblical studies.  I don’t have tons of time today, so I’ll try to keep this short.

“Most youth ministries only teach moralism.”  I’m extremely thankful for the ministry of the Gospel Coalition and I have been richly blessed by their blogs and other resources, but as their influence grows I feel like I’ve heard this criticism a lot lately, and it’s really frustrating.  Sure, there are probably lots of youth ministries that’s true of, but I’d wager most of those youth ministries belong to churches who preach moralism rather than the Gospel.  So this has gotten me to thinking about how I see Law & Gospel working itself out in my own ministry.

Very simply put: “Law” refers to the commands of Scripture, the “Do this” and “Don’t do that” parts.  “Gospel” refers to the promises of God revealed in Scripture and is the root of the Christian life because none of us can keep the Law completely.  Since we are all Law-breakers, we are all under judgment because of our sin and we are completely reliant upon God’s grace to forgive, justify, and redeem us.

I agree with the Lutheran Formula of Concord’s view on Law & Gospel when it declares that the Law of God has three functions:

  1. that “thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men [and that wild and intractable men might be restrained, as though by certain bars]”
  2. that “men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins”
  3. that “after they are regenerate. . .they might. . .have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life”

Briefly summarized they are:

  1. curb
  2. mirror
  3. guide

So in our youth ministries when we teach about God’s will on sexuality or music or friendship, we are not simply teaching moralism.  We are teaching according to the threefold function of the Law.  However, we must be sure that the Gospel is kept central as we teach the Law, because the Law never saved anyone.

You only need to read Romans 7 to recognize that Gospel-centered ministry still affirms the Law and teaches that we should not covet or commit adultery, etc.  There are some who speak and write as if being Gospel-Centered means you don’t teach the Law, but I believe that’s a fast-track to Antinomianism (which, sadly, is already very much alive and well today).  If we do not help our students come face to face with their own sin, we do them no good by presenting the Good News when they’re numb towards the judgment they are living under.

That being said, I’m afraid there have been times when I’ve found myself talking about various aspects of the Law in a way that does not point to the Gospel but to moralism.  Moralism is much easier to teach than it is to teach in such a way that constantly points to Jesus Christ.

In Youth Ministry may we reestablish the Gospel as the center, but teach the Law as a Curb, Mirror, and Guide in order that students might live radically Gospel-Centered lives in their schools, homes, and wherever else they spend their time.