It’s Not My Gift

This is the second message in our series “Think About It: Christian Cliches… what’s this even mean?” Last week’s cliche was “Let Go, Let God.” 

Imagine for a moment that all the church leaders came to you for advice, seeking your vast wisdom on the question, “What should the church be doing in the world?” What would you say?

You’d probably encourage the church to talk about God, to pray for people, to help the needy. What else would be on your list… and honestly ask yourself, “Am I doing those things?”

It’s so much easier (and comfortable!) to tell others what they’re supposed to be doing. When it’s our turn to be the doer… it becomes far more risky. When it’s our turn to start evangelizing or sacrificing our time and our stuff in order to serve those in need, that’s when we’re tempted to cry out, “That’s not my gift!” Too often, that’s nothing phrase is an excuse to avoid doing something risky and difficult.

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Big Changes Ahead!

There are major changes in the EBC Youth Ministry, starting this week! The following video will give you a basic look at WHY we’re making these changes and WHAT the big picture will look like. 

What will Youth Group look like?
Junior High and High School combined at EBC, 7:00-8:30pm. Here’s a basic timeline for what to expect each night (don’t sue us if we don’t follow this precisely every week, it’s meant to give you an idea of what to expect):
7:05 – Icebreaker/Game (get people talking)
7:20 – Announcements
7:25 – Worship Team
7:40 – Gospel Lesson
7:52 – Small Group Discussion & Prayer
8:15 – Food & Hangout in Fellowship Hall
8:30 – Dismissal 

Why is Youth Group changing so much?
We want Youth Group to be a place where nonChristians meet Jesus and where Christian teens have opportunity to serve one another. The Youth Leadership Team decided together that recreating Youth Group would be the best way for those two things to happen. 

How can I help?
Students, you can help by bringing a servant-heart to youth group. Invite a friend. Welcome visitors. Contribute to the small group discussions and prayer times. When the lesson is something you’ve “heard this a million times,” come with a heart that says, “Others haven’t heard this at all.” 
Parents, we will need hosts for the “Food & Hangout” time in Fellowship Hall each week. I’d love to have a rotation of parents and other EBC adults serving our youth. This is a great witness to the nonChristian teens who will come, to show them that EBC values teenager and to communicate, “You are welcome here!”

What is nine23?
nine23 (based off Luke 9:23) is our new “next-level” discipleship opportunity for high school students that meets every-other Thursday night at EBC. This group isn’t for everyone, because we will have expectations and hold you to them… but if you want to grow in your faith and start serving others then this could be a perfect opportunity for you!

What are the expectations for students who attend nine23?
If we see you developing a habit that is not in line with these expectations, we will talk with you. We don’t want to be the police, but we want to see you grow, and these expectations are here as guardrails to help you grow in Christ and serve others. 
1. You don’t want coming to YG to be about your entertainment anymore, you want to grow in your faith and serve others. 
2. Consistent attendance at Sunday morning worship, Youth Group and nine23. (If you aren’t present, how can you serve?)
3. Come prepared to nine23. Whether we’re reading a book or going through a devotional together, we want to hear your thoughts about it! 
4. Expect to be challenged. The youth leaders are making a commitment to you, we want to do ministry together! On the “off-week” we want to meet your friends, visit another student’s game/concert/etc. with you. We want to walk with you as you start getting involved in ministry to your nonChristian friends and peers.

Why should I come to nine23?
Because you want to be a leader, a disciple-maker, and a multiplier (or, an LDX). Not every LDX will look the same, because all have different personalities and gifts. Not every leader likes to be up front. Not every disciple-maker likes to talk about deep philosophical things. Not every multiplier is comfortable in crowds. But if you love Jesus and want others to love him too, then we want to help you discover what it would look like for you to become an LDX… and that is what nine23 is all about. 

Got more questions? I’d love to tackle them… shoot me a personal email or leave a comment below. 

Why Are So Many Young Adults Leaving Churches?

It’s pretty common nowadays for Christians to cite the “drop out rate” among teenagers and young adults, claiming that roughly 75% of “Christian” teenagers will leave the church either while attending college or shortly after graduation.  The knee-jerk response from many seems to be blaming youth ministries for playing too many games and teaching too much fluff. Granted, as a youth pastor I’m biased and want to defend my fellow youth pastors, but I’m not so sure that it’s so simple (or that there’s any ONE person/group to blame at all).

When I witness this finger-pointing I usually experience a mixture of anger and frustration for a few different reasons:

  1. Because some people are looking for a scapegoat to blame rather than to actually get involved and do something to make a difference.  Some people just like to complain and point out things that need fixing.  I have a hard time having this conversation with these people without finding myself fighting to keep my cool.
  2. Because the problem isn’t only a Youth Ministry problem… it’s a Church (with a capital “C”) problem!  Whether your church practices infant baptism or infant dedication, your church has committed itself (and the parents have too, but we’ll get there) to rally around the parents and help them to “train up their child in the way he/she should go,” but we’re evidently not doing the best job in actually fulfilling this commitment.
  3. Because families are under-committed to their church and over-committed everywhere else.  Most parents I know would absolutely agree with this assessment, but they’re not really doing very much to correct it.  This is a sticky one which I’m not making light of, because I value sports and band and whatever else your kids might be doing, but if you’re demonstrating to your kids that everything has priority over church/faith/Bible Study/Youth Group, then don’t be surprised if your kid decides that church isn’t worth the time when he goes off to college.
  4. Because discipleship is primarily the calling of Mom and Dad.  My job is to assist parents in discipling their teenagers, not to replace them.  See Deuteronomy 6:4-9 for the Bible’s clearcut call about this.  One of the things that makes this so difficult is that if Mom & Dad aren’t growing in their faith or are fairly immature believers who don’t really know the Bible very well, then the odds of them intentionally discipling their kids and teaching them what the Bible says about God, Jesus, Sin, Salvation, etc. are extremely low.
  5. Because our culture is deceitfully spiritual but opposed to Christianity.  That’s a big statement, I know, but I think it’s true.  It’s alright to be spiritual, it might even get you greater acceptance to say that you’re spiritual.  But the problem comes when a Christian tries to make an exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way to be forgiven and saved (Jesus made this claim too, and it didn’t go over so well back then either: “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6).  So much of our culture revolves around an extreme version of tolerance and whatever-ism that if you want to live as a biblical, Gospel-centered Christian you will be seen as a weirdo to some degree or another.
  6. Because to some degree or another, I think they’re right.  Some of this might be insecurity, but honestly I do think that there are a fair amount of youth ministries who are missing the point.  As a youth pastor, my goal is to lead a Gospel-Centered youth ministry and to minister to teenagers in order that they would become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.  We should not settle for behavior-modification and merely teach Christian behavior and morals, which is much easier than working and praying towards God transforming lives from the inside-out.
  7. Because Jesus said the gate is narrow and few will find it.  Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few will find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).  This doesn’t mean we don’t preach the Gospel to everyone and invite them to the “narrow gate” (we do and we should make that invitation to as many as we can as often as we can), but this does mean that we shouldn’t necessarily be surprised when some “church kids” walk away and choose the wide gate instead.

When I was growing up I would always spend a week at a Christian camp up in New Hampshire.  One year I remember hearing, “God doesn’t have grandchildren.”  I didn’t get it, but I always remembered it because I could just tell that there was something significant about it.  I get it now: God doesn’t have grandchildren, just because your parents are Christians (and therefore are “God’s children”) that doesn’t mean that you’re automatically in God’s family and are “saved.”  One day we will all need to stand independently before God our creator and judge and give account for ourselves, we can’t ride our parents’ coat-tails into heaven.

So while this “drop out” trend is very disappointing to me, in some ways it shouldn’t be too surprising.  This is difficult a personal level, because I can think of many people I truly care about and love who have walked away – this isn’t merely a statistic for us to throw around for discussion.  This issue is a tragedy, because if we believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ truly is the only way to salvation then we need all hands on deck to redeem our culture, strengthen Christian families, and ensure that the Gospel is the center of our Churches.

If those three things change, I believe the statistics will start changing too.

Note: If there’s something you’d point to as a contributing factor for the dropout rate, please share it as a comment on this post, I’d love to see what others are seeing that I’m missing.  

Parenting: “We Get What We Are”

Last week I finished reading Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.  In the book, Christian Smith (a sociologist from Notre Dame) reports the results of the National Study on Youth and Religion (NSYR) which he conducted along with Lisa Pearce from UNC Chapel Hill.

There are two main takeaways I see of vital importance to parents, teachers, and youth workers:

First: The NSYR found that most teenagers’ religious beliefs could be described as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism which I’ve already written about in a post here.

Second: The NSYR serves as another reinforcement that parents are absolutely the greatest influence on their children.  Some studies have reported that this is not the case, but I’ve never been convinced by those reports.  Scripture teaches that parents (not the church, though the family of God is a great assistant teacher!) are charged to be the primary teachers and disciple-makers of their kids.  When writing about the influence parents have on their kids, Smith writes, “We get what we are.”

If you are laissez faire and casual about your faith in Jesus Christ, then don’t expect your children to grow up to be more mature in their faith than you have modeled for them.  If, however, you make prayer and reading your Bible a priority because you love Jesus Christ and want to know Him and serve Him, then that will also rub off on your kids.  We must not neglect the spiritual component involved in salvation and make this into a non-mystical and godless lifestyle, but in general the study has found that apples truly do not fall far from the tree.

What type of example are you setting for your kids?  Do you teach them to respect their authority while you complain about your boss or about your aging parents?  Do you teach them that education is important even though you haven’t studied to learn anything new in years?  Do you expect them to be Christians simply because you take them to church or youth group?

It’s my hope that over the course of this year our youth ministry will grow in its emphasis in equipping you parents to better disciple your sons and daughters to grow in their faith in Jesus Christ.  Discipleship is not simply about “behavior modification” and getting your kids to be “good kids.”  It’s about teaching them about the absolute importance of knowing God and what Jesus Christ has done for them on the cross… and teaching them what that means for their everyday lives.

May the Lord continue to bless you parents who are already doing this with your kids.  May He also inspire others of you to begin this work… it’s never too late!

Why It’s Important For Parents to Love God With Their Mind

I was listening to a lecture by Dinesh D’Souza this morning and in it he was talking about the blessing of Christian Apologetics.  He said that after speaking at a church a father came up to him and said, “I don’t know why you’re doing all this.  I have faith because I have faith, who needs all of this?”  Dinesh replied, “Good for you, if you have faith.  But what if your son or daughter comes up to you and says, ‘You know what Dad, how do you know that Jesus even existed?  I’ve been taking a lot of religion classes in college and a lot of religions are based on myth (like Greek religions).  Are we really basing everything on the testimony of four guys who didn’t have last names who might have seen each other’s work?  How do we know they didn’t make up the whole thing?'”

What would you say to your kids?  These aren’t abstract or marginal issues of our Christian faith… these are questions that cut right to the heart of the Gospel.  I’m not saying, “Parents, you need to check in to a seminary and start reading some heavy-duty apologetics books to teach to your kids.”  But I am encouraging you to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that’s within you (1 Pet. 3:15).

Very simply, I want to urge everyone to love God with all their mind (as well as with all your heart and soul).  I believe that many Christians today are pretty lazy when it comes to loving God with their mind.

Simply put, if dad and mom are Christians and take their kids to church every Sunday, but they don’t set the example in reading Scripture and really thinking about what the Bible says and asking hard questions (“How does the Trinity make sense?” “How can Jesus be fully God and fully human at the same time?” “Where is Heaven?”), when their son/daughter asks these questions to mom or dad they will be unprepared.

We agree that we want our kids to ask hard questions about Scripture and faith… so long as they ask the pastor!  As a youth pastor I love talking about these difficult questions, so I’m not complaining – but I do want to encourage parents to take the primary role in discipling their children.

I admire people who have the gift of faith (simply believe God because he “said so”), and I don’t want it to seem that I’m putting those blessed people down.  I want to encourage those who have an easy time believing God’s Word to occasionally pretend that they have a difficult time believing so that when they have opportunity to speak for Christ they have something to say other than quoting Scripture.  I also want to encourage those like myself who have the problem of “asking too many questions” to remember that we are not the ultimate judges who determine truth.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

Is Youth Ministry Missing the Mark?

USA Today recently ran an article entitled “‘Forget the Pizza Parties’ Teens Tell Churches” which has gotten significant buzz since it came out last week.  The best response I have come across so far is Bill Nance’s “Not so Fast, My Friends.”

The article begins this way:

“Bye-bye church. We’re busy.” That’s the message teens are giving churches today.”

“Only about one in four teens now participate in church youth groups, considered the hallmark of involvement; numbers have been flat since 1999. Other measures of religiosity — prayer, Bible reading and going to church — lag as well, according to Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., evangelical research company. This all has churches canceling their summer teen camps and youth pastors looking worriedly toward the fall, when school-year youth groups kick in.”

However, as Bill Nance points out, the statistics that are cited in this article don’t seem to be entirely honest.  The Barna Group’s report actually shows that youth group attendance among teens is about the same as it’s been since 1997.  If anything, what the chart below tells me is that personal Bible reading is on the upswing over the past few years… and that’s a great thing!

I also don’t want to overreact to the message of this article.  I agree that if you’re a youth pastor (which I am) and you’re trying to attract teenagers to your program simply by offering pizza then you’re wasting your time.  But I don’t know any youth pastors who count on pizza parties to sustain their youth ministry.  Do we eat pizza at some youth group events, of course (it’s good, and it’s fairly cheap), but the goal and the attraction is not the pizza.

Teenagers want to be challenged, not just fed.  Teens are not “children” who are too young and uneducated to wrestle with difficult questions.  If we are canceling camp and other programs because attendance is lower then we need to begin asking some hard questions (“Am I making an idol out of attendance?” “Why are we doing this program, is it still fruitful with half the people there?” “Is this program connecting youth with Christ, is that why they’ve stopped coming?” etc.).  I give the youth pastor in the article the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume that there’s more behind his decision to cancel camp that we’re unaware of.

We also ought to be careful in blaming parents.  While it’s generally true to say that “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” sometimes it does.  I know parents who are very devoted to Christ who have “prodigal” children who have wandered far from Christ; I also know many people who have grown in their faith far beyond the faith (0r lack of faith) of their parents.  That being said, parents do set the example for their children, and when a mom or dad is apathetic about his/her faith, it’s no wonder why their children wander from the Church and Christ.

We should be more intentional in taking a two-pronged approach to addressing this crucial dilemma: We should be disicipling parents to disciple their sons and daughters, and We should be primarily committed to mentoring students who have a hunger to grow in their faith rather than being primarily committed to running programs.

5 Ways to Spruce Up Your Prayer Life

Don’t really know “how” to pray?  Feel like your prayer life is getting rusty and dull?

Check out this nifty article:

Youth Ministry Today – – 5 Ways to Spruce Up Your Prayer Life

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