Does Our Understanding of Evangelism Effect Our View of Sharing Faith?

My last post, which is a little reflection on a recent survey about how Millennials view evangelism, happened to come out the same day I attended an event where the speaker highlighted the need for understanding evangelism. While listening I was reminded of how important our understanding of evangelism is, and how that understanding then impacts way we prioritise it, and even do it.

In understanding evangelism as proclamation of the gospel we are to trust in God in the following:

  1. That he will spread the gospel through us.
  2. That the gospel will have an impact as we seek to share it with others.
  3. That it is God who calls people to himself.

In understanding these things we then find we are obeying God. It is not our duty to convert people to the gospel and the Christian faith, but it is our duty to proclaim.

Does Our Understanding of Evangelism Effect Our View of Sharing Faith_

We are to have a healthy realisation that the Word of God will speak to people as it is proclaimed to them. We are not relying, and nor is God relying, on our eloquence or lack thereof. What we are relying on is the Word, and trusting that it is the Word that speaks to the heart. In many ways, the pressure of evangelism is non-existent. It is the work of God in convicting and transforming hearts, it is not our work. Our work is to share the gospel.

This will then help us in our understanding of evangelism as a whole of body of Christ work, not simply the work of evangelists or the pastor at our church. The sharing of the gospel is an all-believer activity, the conversion through the gospel is an all-God activity.

Linking back to the question of why Millennials seems to believe it is wrong to share with someone their faith in order for them to begin sharing the same faith may also be because of this misunderstanding of evangelism.

When we believe we are the ones who do the converting then we feel the pressure and the awkwardness in sharing our faith. However, if we realise that God is the one who converts and we are the ones who proclaim the pressure of results disappears.

One writer puts it like this,

“…one of the most common and dangerous mistakes is to confuse the results of evangelism with evangelism itself…Evangelism must not be confused with the fruit of evangelism. If you combine this misunderstanding–thinking evangelism is the fruit of evangelism…then it is very possible to end up thinking not only that evangelism is simply seeing others converted, but thinking also that it is within your own power to convert others. This kind of thinking may lead you to be very manipulative… Misunderstanding this point can cripple individual Christians with a deep sense of personal failure and, ironically, can cause an aversion to evangelism itself.” (Mark Dever, Nine Marks of A Healthy Church, 134-136)

How often have we seen, particularly in youth ministry, the speaker seeking to manipulate the emotions of the people they are speaking to in order to see results? This comes down to an inadequate view of evangelism. And the same can be said for numerous pressurised situations where people try to force others into making a decision. This again lacks an adequate understanding of evangelism.

I’m not suggesting avoiding the challenge, nor am I suggesting avoiding calling people to follow Jesus and make a decision. Sometimes people need to be asked, and the opportunity given, to actually make a decision. But perhaps it’s not that surprising Millennials don’t want to ask people to follow Jesus and convert because it has been modelled so poorly over the last few decades and is now commonly misunderstood.

Published: 5 Benefits of Considering Youth Ministry as Intergenerational Ministry

Youth ministry is at its best when it seen as part of the whole church. Rather than seeing youth ministry as its own thing–simply useful for a certain generation–it is important to see it as significant and influential on everyone in the local church. This is why I agree with much of what has been written in recent years about the importance of intergenerational ministry.

I wrote a little something about this recently, and it was published on The Gospel Coalition Australia site.

“I’m sure we’ve all got our own stories about people of different ages impacting our lives and faith. It should be a natural part of discipleship. As the gospel is accepted, so it is to be passed on: from generation to generation. God is to be made known through our families—both biological and ecclesial.”

You can read the whole piece here.

You can read other pieces published elsewhere here.

7 Ways To Use The Bible In Youth Ministry

I believe every Youth Pastor I know would tick the ‘Yes’ box when asked the question “Do you use the Bible in your youth ministry?”

Surely.

I can’t think of a Youth Pastor who would do otherwise. I can’t think of a Youth Pastor who would think of ticking ‘No’.

It would be expected, wouldn’t it?

After all, youth ministry is a ministry of the church, led by believers, who themselves recognise and prioritise the scriptures. Christians the world over, parents and young people alike, affirm the Bible as the ultimate rule for life and faith.

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Yet, when we begin to scratch the surface and ask questions about how we use the Bible in our youth ministries I wonder what answers we might get…?

When we say we use the Bible are we saying…

  • …we affirm scriptures as the ultimate guide for life and faith for our young people?
  • …we use a verse or two in the youth talk each week?
  • …we open and read from the bible in our small groups or bible studies each week?
  • …we try to give creative ideas about how students can engage with the Bible?
  • …we believe it is a worthwhile text that can be given some consideration in the way we think?
  • …we affirm it but never really use it?
  • …we want to use it more but are afraid of turning people away?

When I ask myself these questions I challenge myself. I’m challenged to think about how I uphold the Word of God and the God of the Bible in every aspect of youth ministry.
Previously I’ve written about what a Bible-shaped Youth Ministry might look like. In a similar way to this post, the question is asked about how the Bible is useful for our youth ministries. What might helpful from here, however, is thinking about how the Bible might intersect with the way we operate as a youth ministry.

With this in mind here are seven ways we can use the Bible in youth ministry.

1. Use the Bible as a ministry training and leadership tool.

The bible speaks clearly about how the scriptures speak into every part of life and church life. In terms of training our volunteers and leadership teams the Bible is useful for this too. It helps show that the vision we have for our ministry is not something we came up with but something that is biblically grounded (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

2. Use the Bible as the primary way for understanding pastoral ministry.

Scripture teaches ecclesiology, the forming and structure of the church. Youth ministry is part of the church. It has the same intentions as ministry to adults, ministry to children, ministry to seniors, ministry to men, ministry to women etc., just with a different targeted audience. Teaching about ministry and the shape of ministry from the pastoral epistles, for example, is a great way this can be done.

3. Use the Bible as though God is speaking to people.

We understand that the scriptures are God’s words to us. God speaks his truth through the scriptures and it is through these God-inspired books that we are able to know the truth and the heart behind the truth. In shaping a youth ministry around the scriptures is to affirm that God speaks through his Word and will continue to do so today.

4. Use the Bible as a practical tool of defining ministry, not just for giving answers to questions.

Questions arise and answers can be found in scripture. The Bible depicts ourselves, helps in our understanding of God and the world, provides comfort for the hurting, displays God’s character, and outlines God’s plans and purposes for his world. It makes much of the redemption and restoration of God’s creatures (us), the coming together of His Church, and how all things lead to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

5. Use the Bible in youth ministry is to pray through the Bible.

The Bible is great for prayer. Take a portion of Scripture and pray through it. Use the ideas and structure of the passage to inform the way you pray and what you pray.

6. Use the Bible to shape the equipping, teaching, mission and building of community.

Teach and equip others, explore mission and community, through the Bible itself. Whether it is teaching about topics that are current in our culture or whether it is about understanding how biblical community is to be formed, the Bible can help shape these things.

7. Use the Bible in each program and event and meeting.

It’s not hard to use a passage of scripture at a youth group every or in a conversation. This is about confidence in the Bible and its ability to speak to people through its use, whether narrative or epistle or gospel. This isn’t about shoving the Bible down someone’s throat either, but it’s about taking the kernel of truth that exists in any particular passage and letting it be planted into the hearts of those who hear. It is having confidence in the Word of God that understands its sufficiently, clarity, accuracy, and necessity for our ministry.

Published: Gospel of Mercy: Remembering Our Identity In Christ

A huge influence on the way we think of ourselves, particularly as youth ministry practitioners, is related to our identity. This is relevant to anyone who isn’t a youth pastor or involved in youth ministry work too, obviously. But recently I’ve reflected on this in relation to the youth pastor position, and had a piece published about it at Rooted Ministry a few days ago.

Part of what I write is that…

“Because of this new identity there are changes to get used to. Things which we used to hold as important and central to our identity become secondary. Our identity as a father or mother, as an accountant or barista, as a top student or college dropout, well, these become secondary to being part of the people of God. These identifying factors, while not redundant, become lesser as our identity in Christ becomes greater.

This even goes for our position in the youth ministry! Whether on a pastoral staff or a volunteer youth leader, our identity is first and foremost with Christ.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Reflections On The Rooted Ministry Leadership Summit

In May just gone I had the privilege of attending a leadership summit organised by the US-based youth ministry organisation Rooted Ministry. I’ve written for their blog over the past couple of years and enjoyed many of the articles they produce. Unbelievably, I was invited to attend this small summit in Birmingham, Alabama with other 40 like-minded youth ministry practitioners.

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This summit was three days of being fed in my faith, my love for God, my love for youth ministry, my love for writing, and for ministry in general. I made some great connections and friends, and was edified by everyone I met. I saw and heard more about American Christianity and life, and I also experienced some amazing Southern hospitality and food. Incredible.

In the months since this summit I have often reflected back on what I learned and the different conversations I had. Below is an outline of some of those reflections under four distinct questions.

Where Was God?

This is always a hard question to answer, because of course, God is everywhere! But, it is always worth asking because it helps us observe and be intentional about where we believe God is impacting us. It’s the kind of question I constantly ask on short-term mission teams, and we as a youth ministry ask it at the end of each youth night. The question is worthwhile in this context too.

I believe I saw God at work in:

  • The conversations I had with the people and those I connected with. I stayed with some friends before I arrived at the summit. It was great to reconnect with them and hear about how God has been shaping them and their lives in recent years. The conversations I had with my hosts and at the social gatherings of the summit were often powerful. And also, God was at work in the small group conversations we had as our writing and speaking was critiqued by others.
  • The terrific teaching we had from pastor and preacher Robbie Holt. Robbie was from a church in South Carolina (I think!). He spoke from Genesis 27-33, the story of Isaac, Esau and Jacob. It was certainly encouraging; and in some ways was preaching I hadn’t heard in a while. The applications to church, youth, and family ministry was particularly beneficial.
  • Having a greater understanding of the vision and passion of Rooted Ministry. To hear more about the beginnings and then the hopes for the ministry, the impact it is having, was really encouraging and felt like ‘home’ in some sense. An organisation that upholds the grace of God, theological depth, and relational youth ministry.

How Was I Encouraged?

I was encouraged in ministry through:

  • Understanding more about the breadth of contexts there are in the US, but also seeing how similar some of them are to Melbourne and to me.
  • Hearing the stories, the challenges, and encouraging growth of God at work with people, youth pastors, and the ministry itself. Often it is hard to find the encouraging stories in amongst the trees, but they are always there.
  • Realising that many of the issues to church-based youth ministry and youth pastors are issues everyone has to deal with in their own contexts. Issues like human sexuality and gender, social media, biblical illiteracy, evangelism and mission, loneliness and isolation, and mental health.

What Was The Impact Of This Summit?

I think this summit will impact my future ministry in the following ways:

  • I am encouraged to be even more conscious of shaping the ministry through the Bible.
  • Thinking deeply and theologically regarding ministry shape and philosophy, including pastoral responses and issues.
  • I’ll continue to mentor younger youth pastors and emphasise the use and effectiveness of the Bible in their youth ministries.
  • This summit has put a greater urgency in the mission and evangelism aspects to youth ministry. The summit highlighted for me the importance and urgent need to think and speak in evangelistic ways in youth ministry.
  • I was also reminded of the need to gain clarity on strategy for our youth ministry and family ministries. This includes communication of that strategy, particularly to new students and families. In a world where most parents believe youth group is going to be either, (1) a saviour for their child or (2) a place where they find wholesome values that are similar to their own experience, it’s important to outline why we do what we do.

Why Was It Worthwhile?

It was worth going to this leadership summit because:

  • It helped build relationships and hear encouraging stories of other people involved in youth ministry.
  • It provided exposure to different contexts. There were youth pastors from all over the States and provided a microcosm of experiences and issues people were dealing with in their own cities and towns. The US is the largest youth ministry market in the world and as ideas on youth ministry filters down through resources coming out of the States; no doubt Australian youth ministries will be impacted by them in the future. Having a first hand experience with a number of people from different parts of the US has helped me in understanding this more.
  • It strengthened my alignment to Rooted Ministry as a youth ministry organisation. I was grateful for the grassroots type approach to the ministry that they are seeking to undertake and encourage.
  • It has made me reflect on the state of youth ministry here in Melbourne and Australia. There are very few, if any, youth ministry organisations that are solely church-based, with the similar approach to that of Rooted Ministry.

All in all this was a terrific time and a worthwhile week. It was a privilege to be invited and have the opportunity to go. I look forward to writing for them more and perhaps reflecting further in coming months. I’m very thankful for the opportunity given to me because of the generosity of Rooted Ministry, my church, and individuals too.

Published: The Public Progress of a (Youth) Pastor

While listening to a podcast of one of Alistair Begg’s conference messages I was struck by his exposition of 1 Timothy 4:12-16. In it he refers to the public nature of the ministry, and the progress seen of that ministry by the congregation. This sparked an idea about what that might look like for those of us in youth ministry. In reality it took far longer to write than I’d hoped but I think it has come out with what I wanted to say!

It was recently published at Rooted Ministry, and you can read the whole thing here.

“Through our own maturity as a believer – our persistence in relying on Jesus – and the sharpening of our ministry skills and abilities, we will find ourselves making progress. As we use these God-given gifts, skills, abilities, and aptitudes we will grow in these things, develop these things, and our progress will bear fruit in those to whom we minister to (no matter the size of the group).”

Inspire – A Reflection for SYG 2018

This coming weekend 3000 people from nearly 70 youth groups come together to play sport, connect with one another, and worship God. It’s also the weekend where we find out whether we have everything we need at our campsite, go to bed and wake up cold, and possibly get flooded. Yes, that’s right, it’s State Youth Games 2018.

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The SYG theme for this weekend is “Inspire”. The various aspects to the weekend will be focussed on this theme, particularly the main sessions on Saturday and Sunday night. And while there may be some inspiring acts of sporting greatness occur on the courts and pitches at the various venues, I would like to think the focus will be on how we are inspired by God, because of God’s Son, to be God’s people in the world.

I enter my third SYG weekend inspired by what God may do with the group we have going. We have the largest group I’ve been part of, 60-65 in total. Together there are great people, great leaders, great helpers, and great opportunities to build the community and faith of our youth and young adults.

I’m also reminded of Jesus’ words to his first disciples, something I preached on only days ago, “Come, follow me”. It is my hope that through the Spirit a work of God will take place in the hearts and minds of those who are with our group. That they will be called to follow Jesus, perhaps for the first time, or perhaps at a deeper level.

And this links to the theme we have as a group. Our t-shirts will have the phrase, “Walk in the light”, taken from 1 John 1:7, on the front pocket. It is a theme within our group we want to be promoting all weekend, and afterward as well.

Of course, one needs to know the light in order to walk in the light. And this phrase is set in the context of the author writing about God being the light. Only a couple of verses earlier John, the author, writes “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” For those of us who have faith in God know that this light is displayed most perfectly and brightly through Jesus Christ. It is Jesus himself who tells the world, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

And so to walk in the light is to recognise that Jesus is that light. When light is shone darkness disappears. And so it is with Jesus, who through his death and resurrection provides the light we need for life and faith and hope. Moreover, his death and resurrection provides the disappearance of darkness, of sin and ugliness and brokenness, in our hearts, enabling a relationship with God.

In essence, as we follow the light that is Jesus, we find ourselves following him who has called us.

And so we come full circle back to the words, “Come, follow me”.

It is my hope that we as a church community, and particularly our youth and young adults, are inspired to know God more and grow more like him because of their experience this weekend. May they see the light, know the light, and follow the light of life. As the great missionary William Carey said, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God”.

If you are a praying type, then please do so. Looking forward to it.

Published: Bible-shaped Youth Ministry

I’ve managed to re-work a short talk I recently delivered into an article for The Gospel Coalition Australia. It’s all about the usefulness of the Bible in shaping youth ministry.

“I can’t remember what we were explicitly studying during that season, but I do know that we were walking slowly through a book of the Bible, verse-by-verse, section-by-section. Through this experience I, and I’m sure the rest of the group, came to realise not only in the importance of the Bible but its usefulness as well.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Test Match Youth Ministry

There can be a range of emotions for anyone involved in youth ministry. The emotional rollercoaster can, at times, be brutal.

There are the obvious highs:

  • A kid becomes a Christian
  • The night runs smoothly
  • There is a significant conversation
  • The attendance is high or growing
  • The leaders are developing
  • It was simply a fun night
  • People were connecting with one-another
  • A parent gives positive feedback on the way their child is enjoying the youth ministry

All these bring terrific intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as well as emotional highs for any youth leader.

But, of course, the opposite is also true.

  • Criticism from a parent for failing to communicate
  • A night where everything planned goes wrong
  • When you’re the only one left to clean up and lock up the church
  • Observing that no one else is taking initiative to lead, serve, and connect with others
  • A medical emergency in the middle of the program
  • A conversation that is awkward
  • The hard slog of week in week out with hardly anyone coming along

Here you can see how disappointment and discouragement can occur. Things don’t go right or there is simply nothing to feel motivated and happy about.

Test Match Youth Ministry

The thing with the emotional rollercoaster is that it is exactly that; up and down, up and down. Riding these waves of emotions often causes increased stress and anxiety, it can become tiresome, and also lead to the seeking of more and more highs. In this way, the rollercoaster can begin to affect the way we do youth ministry.

Helpful ways to settle these emotions is to gain perspective.

Perspective is crucial to understanding the long-term stability of oneself and the ministry.

Early in youth ministry I would have been up and down most weeks because of the way the program ran, what the night consisted of, and how the students reacted to its various parts. But now, realising that this is a long-term game, I don’t get that as much. If things aren’t that great, then it’s OK, it’s one week and a crucial question at the end of a night is, “What can we learn from this?”

You see, youth ministry is like a test match.

A cricket test match.

A test match goes for five days, the players need to be patient, perform their roles, understand what they’re there for, and apply themselves in a stable and steady way.

In test match youth ministry any leader needs to do the same.

We need to understand what we’re there for, what our role is on any given night, and apply ourselves to that. This involves intentionality and being alert to what’s going on. It means we look out for other ways we can help the team. And it also means we make sure we gain perspective while we’re in a season when things don’t go so well. There’s always next week, and the week after that. It’s a long-term approach, a long-term game that requires persistence and endurance.

It’s hard to judge what I love more. Youth ministry or test match cricket. But in both I see parallels in the need to keep perspective. Make sure the long-term game is in the picture, rather than getting emotionally caught up in the short-term ups and downs.

Divine Action In Youth Ministry

One particular aspect to Andrew Root’s latest work, Faith Formation In A Secular Age, is the concept of divine action.

Divine action is God’s work in the world. It is his activity in the world through the means of the Spirit and human beings. An older generation would term this ‘God’s providence’, and Root himself uses ‘God’s transcendence’ to describe the same thing. Nevertheless, divine action is helpful in capturing the idea that God is actively at work in the world.

Divine Action In Youth Ministry

Root wants to counter the disease of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) and believes that reaffirming the concept of divine action will do just that. MTD is the idea that God wants me to be a good person (moralistic), God is a being who should help me feel good (therapeutic), and God is a concept to decorate our lives with but isn’t an agent who really does anything (deism). Divine action, and the truth that God is at work even in the ordinary lives of middle-class Westerners, is Root’s solution to the ‘D’ in MTD.

With the loss of recognising God in our lives we are left believing that God isn’t there. We are left wondering if God is actually real, and whether he does indeed care for us.

As I finished reading this book I was also working through a teaching series on the story of Ruth. While the Lord barely makes a mention throughout the four chapters, never actively speaking himself, his handiwork is clear in the lives of the characters, Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. If there is ever a book of the bible that teaches God’s divine action and transcendence in the lives of ordinary people then this is it.

When we turn to youth ministry I wonder whether we recognise the handiwork of God?

In all aspects of youth ministry in your church; with your students, with your families, with your leaders, God is at work. He is working in each of their lives and in the ministry-at-large.

And of course, it’s hard to see how God is working at times. It’s hard to see, in the moment, the ways God is comforting, strengthening, freeing, connecting, growing, and inspiring different people and their lives.

It is hard to see God at work when our eyes aren’t seeing it or our hearts aren’t feeling it.

How often we might doubt when someones say they think God is speaking to them? How often do we question whether someone is actually growing in their faith? How often do we feel disappointment over a poor conversation, or a seemingly poor youth night, or a rowdy couple of kids in our small group?

Yet despite this, God is often working while our limited perspective clouds our view of God’s divine action.

In this day and age of result driven, short-term, growth it’s hard to gain perspective. In this day where God is seen as a divine being who will only give happy, heart-warming therapeutic advice, it is no wonder we exclude the divine action of God in our own lives and the lives of others.

The bible promises that God is with us. And through his Spirit he continues to be at work. May we remember this in the excitement of summer camps and in the depths of winter lock-ins.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6:)


You can read my review of Faith Formation In A Secular Age here.