Idea: Multiple Churches, One Youth Pastor

An enjoyable part of working within the #youthmin world is connecting with other youth pastors and youth ministry practitioners from across the globe. For a number of years I’ve been following a guy called James in the UK. He regularly blogs about youth work and ministry from a British perspective. I often find his posts helpful, and it really is just him vomiting his thoughts onto the page (or screen as it may be).

As it happens, James and I are reading the same book at the same time. Andrew Root’s latest work, “Faith Formation In A Secular Age: Responding To The Church’s Obsession With Youthfulness”. Yesterday, James had a few reflections on the beginnings of the book and I found it useful to engage with. You can read it here. In this post I’d simply like to engage with what he has written and add my two cents too.

Basically, James asks the question, after reading a chapter or two of the book, “Has the church embraced youthfulness – but given up on young people?”

James then outlines a few thoughts on how the church in the UK has been focussed on young people, and a lot of the time only young people, perhaps to the neglect of other generations. But, one of the key lines in this reflection from James is, “…I imagine that in the UK the drive to attract young people has less to do with authenticity, and more to do with survival.”

This is a key comment.

It is a key issue the church battles with today, and one that youth pastors and other church leaders know, feel, write about, and talk about a lot.

The first part of Andrew Root’s book is a fascinating look into the rise of youth culture in society, particularly American culture, and the effect this has had on our thinking. His contention, better argued than I will articulate here, is that the West, since the 1960’s, has had an obsession with ‘youth’, which filters into everything we see around us. So much so that whenever we think of something to do with ‘youth’ we believe it is authentic and cool. That which is authentic is generally that which is young, yip, and youthful.

In our churches we’ve seen this occur over the last 40-50 years through the strong rise in the youth ministry movement. Prior to the 1960’s, and the beginnings of student and youth orientated para-church organisations, the sole youth pastor within a local church community was not even a thing. Now, almost every church’s second staff appointment would be a youth pastor. To look after the ‘young people’ of course.

Furthermore, there has been a sharp rise in considering ‘youthfulness’ as being the epitome of church and church life. For a church to be authentic, happening, and growing, it needs to have the vibe that it is young, cool, and hip. When you look around Christendom currently, this sort of vibe is especially evident.

James talks about how many of the youth workers and pastors in his region have been given the flick because of financial restraints and the like. He talks about the decrease in specialist youth workers in his region regularly, it seems to be a major concern.

But this got me thinking about how many churches I know who have full-time youth and young adult pastors. Generally, it is only the ones who are large, perhaps with a Sunday morning attendance of 250+, that can afford such an expense. I am also aware that there are plenty of smaller churches who seek to employ a youth pastor (or similar) but can only afford to days per week at the most.

My question is, is the church of the future willing to work together in order to pay someone a full-time wage but have their youth work cross local church boundaries?

In other words, would two or three smaller churches in a particular area be willing to pay for one person to cover youth ministry in their region? 

I think this would be an interesting experiment for local churches to grapple with.

This would provide someone with full employment, paid through two or more churches, while giving broader scope for the churches than their own little patch. Some might call it kingdom thinking I suppose.

And this links back to the key comment James was making when he said, “…I imagine that in the UK the drive to attract young people has less to do with authenticity, and more to do with survival.”

Rather than actually think about survival (which I understand is a massive issue when the finances are barely paying the overheads), wouldn’t it be better to think more strategically and out-of-the-box in regard to youth ministry? When we’re solely thinking in terms of survival, looking to ‘attract young people’, then we’ve lost the plot.

What we need is a vision that understands the realities of what it is to work in faith-based youth ministry, but have that aligned with a larger vision of God being at work through his people, the Church. And, along the way it would be worth experimenting and working together with other churches for the spread of the gospel and work of his kingdom.

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Chair of Deacons Postpones Meeting To Confirm Identity of Youth Pastor

The monthly deacons meeting of Eastbourne Baptist Church was temporarily postponed 45 minutes on Tuesday night as the identity of the youth pastor was confirmed.

It is understood that Chairman Nigel Andrews was unsure of the identity of the man sitting to his left; needing confirmation it was indeed the church’s youth pastor, Jason Jackson.

Chairman Andrews chose not to start the formal proceedings of the meeting until the man’s identity was proven. Only after conversation with other members of the diaconate, and a phone call with the young man’s mother, did Mr Andrews finally begin the meeting.

The alleged reason for Mr Andrews’ confusion was that he had never seen Youth Pastor Jason in a collared shirt.

Chair of Deacons Postpones Meeting To Confirm Identity of Youth Pastor

After gathering the thoughts of those on the committee he then asked Pastor Jason to produce his driver’s licence. Still unconvinced Chairman Andrews had a brief conversation with Mr Jackson’s mother, confirming his choice of apparel for the evening. It is believed there was a 25 minute delay in getting through to Pastor Jason’s mother, she was apparently outside hanging up his hoodies on the washing line.

The meeting finally got underway 45 minutes after its scheduled start.

After the meeting Deaconess Jennifer commented that she too was unsure who was sitting next to the Chairman. She thought he might have been the consultant to help the church in the next stage of their building program. But she was pleasantly surprised to find that it was indeed Youth Pastor Jason and has encouraged him to dress in similar fashion more regularly. Jennifer is quoted as saying, “Usually I see him wearing t-shirts and hoodies. In fact, I’ve never seen a youth pastor of EBC wear a collared shirt. It’s a new level of professionalism. If this continues then a number of parents may actually believe Jason to be an actual pastor”.

Despite the confusion Youth Pastor Jason said that he understood the reason for the confusion. He said, “No one is more surprised as I am in finding myself wearing a collared shirt. I saw it in my wardrobe and realised I hadn’t worn it since I graduated high school. Now that we’ve gotten over this speed bump I look forward to coming to these meetings in similar attire”.

Likewise, Chairman Andrews agreed that the collared shirt is a good move for Mr Jackson. He said, “Despite the hiccup at the start of the meeting I was impressed by Youth Pastor Brad’s attention to detail for such important meetings”.

In coming days Chairman Andrews will encourage Eastbourne’s Senior Pastor, Daniel Hooper, to have a word with Jason, suggesting he buy a new shirt for the next meeting.

Late last week Mr Jackson’s mother was seen lining up at Target with a couple of new collared shirts ready for purchase.


I submitted this satirical post to The Babylon Bee. It wasn’t accepted. I thought it worth publishing here. I hope you enjoyed it as much as enjoyed writing it. 

Day 14 – You Are Relational

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

The God we worship is a relational God.

He could’ve done anything he liked and what he chose to do was create humanity in order to have a relationship with him. We see in the first book of the Bible that he not only creates the world and everything in it, but there is a particular emphasis on him creating humanity as the pinnacle of his creation. We as his creatures reflect the image of God. We carry within us, and possibly outside of us, aspects of God himself. In recognising this we find we are image bearers of God. We bear the image of God as we walk and talk, as we connect and commune with others.

God, being a relational God and creating us to be in relationship with him, therefore, puts into us something of that relational characteristic that he has.

We reflect God’s relational character in our lives.

Therefore, we find we have a yearning for relationships.

We seek after relationships with others, we seek their company, friendship, acceptance and love.

You're More Than A Number - You Are Relational

The explosion of social media in recent years highlights the fact that we want to tell others about ourselves, and probably highlights our voyeuristic tendency to want to see what others are up to as well. But, it seems that we want to be in relationship with others, and seek that relationship in a variety of places. Whether it is face-to-face or online there is a yearning and desire for relationship in our lives. Some find these fulfilling relationships in positive places, others fall into the arms of harm and pain, suffering as they seek to find the relationship they desire.

This creation narrative in the opening chapter of the bible (Genesis 1:26-28) reminds us we are not accidents and that we are made for one-another. Not all relationships need to be physical or sexual, but they do need to be person to person, seeking to love one-another because that is what we are created to so. This kind of relationship is not simply between one person to another either. It is relationship with groups of people, with a community.

Thankfully, God in his infinite wisdom provides a community for believers that is to meet aspects of this relational need.

God has designed a community in the form of his people, the Church.

When we think of church we may not have great things to say about it. We may think of it as only a meeting place for singing songs, praying prayers, and hearing someone speak to us. Church is meant to be much more than a place to gather for 90 minutes on a Sunday. The church is to be a place where we find God-fashioned community.

In Acts 2:42-47 we see the early church, those who had contact with Jesus in his lifetime and witnessed his presence in physical form, came together with other believers in community. As part of that coming together they had meals together, prayed together, heard teaching together, and simply hung out with one-another. This was the germinating church, the church in its infancy as believers came together, bonded together, and were in community.

This is God’s people living together as God’s people.

In today’s Western society we can look around and see that our churches and communities of faith are not expressing themselves in the same way. Due to cultural and societal factors this doesn’t occur as it did in first-century Palestine. But as God has designed it we are made to commune with one-another on a regular basis, as an expression of our love for God and love for one-another.

In the book of Hebrews 10:24-25 we are encouraged to not stop meeting together but continue to do so in love and worship.

“…let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other…”

This is not only an expression of church but an expression of worship through community.

Just as we are made for relationship with God and with each other we are also made to express our relationships through community. Together with a group of people we play an important role in helping people know they are loved by God and others.

FOR REFLECTION

  • What relationships are most important to you?
  • How does knowing you were made for relationship and community affect your view of others?
  • In what ways can you contribute to a local church so that others know the love of God?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved
  7. You Are Saved
  8. You Are Free
  9. You Are Chosen
  10. You Are A Child of God
  11. You Are A Slave
  12. You Are Made For Good Works
  13. You Are A Follower

Day 13 – You Are A Follower

“Come, follow me…” (Matthew 4:19)

A disciple is someone who follows another.

When Jesus was hanging around earth in human form he collected 12 disciples. Each one he called to follow him, and as they travelled with him they got to know him more and more. This was typical of the day. Rabbi’s, Jewish teachers of the Law and Prophets, would have a group of followers, a group of disciples, who they would teach. In the case of Jesus, he choose people who weren’t typically considered disciple material. Lacking in education, and not well versed in the scriptures, Jesus’s disciples would not be people normally associated with a Rabbi. Yet, Jesus doesn’t do things that people would expect, does he?

Today, we are expected to lead from the front. You may even hear the term ‘self-leadership’. This means that we are to take responsibility for our own learning, growth, and decisions, and lead ourselves. We’re not people who are to follow others but are to follow our own dreams, passions, and feelings.

You're More Than A Number - You Are A Follower

From a young age we’re told we can do whatever we want. We can do anything in life, whether that be career, study, or sport. We’re constantly told that the most central and important person in the world is us. And with that comes the expectation we are to forge our own path in life.

For some this comes in the form of not following the advice and desire of parents. The rebellious nature of adolescence, pressures of school and family too, can bring about feelings of resentment. Instead, some decide to follow their own path out of spite, in direct opposition to what their parents would believe is the best for them or approve of.

Others recognise they have a particular passion and gifting in an area and seek to pursue that until they have reached a level of success others around them will never attain. The pressure of popularity, being better than others, and comparison, can drive people to work hard at following their passions and desires.

And then, of course, there is the chase of wealth. The pursuit of money and riches is easily one of the defining pressures of our day. Wealth and perceived success is a certain driver for many decisions and career choices.

When we look at Jesus we see he chose people who were ordinary. He didn’t choose those who were the best at their craft or artistry. He didn’t choose them because of their wealth or potential success. No, Jesus chose some average and ordinary men to come and follow him.

In Melbourne we support our football teams with passion. We’ve all seen those supporters who go the extra mile. They buy the membership and all the gear–the jumper, the scarf, the hat, the badges. They have their seat at the ground. And they follow the players and team constantly.

In some ways these kinds of supporters put many believers to shame. Why don’t we follow Jesus with the same passion and support as these football supporters? Often we find ourselves dragged down by what life throws at us. But considering we know what Jesus has done for us through the cross shouldn’t we be the ones who are passionately and actively following him?

Following Jesus isn’t always easy. That was never the deal when we committed our lives to following Jesus. Following Jesus may bring with it a fair bit of struggle. People may not like us, we may not be popular, we may have to sacrifice wealthy opportunities, but within all that surely we should be passionate about following the one true and almighty God!

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his book, The Cost of Discipleship,

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

This means that he calls us to follow him with our all. He calls us to follow him with everything. He calls us to follow him with our lives. Not just part of our lives, or on a particular day of the week. All.

It’s a gripping and scary thought.

But for those of us who believe it resonates and resonates strongly – That we are followers of a great and holy God who through his Son has enabled us to have hope now and for the future.

When we say “yes” to God we are saying we are willing to become a follower.

FOR REFLECTION

  • Do you consider yourself a follower of Jesus?
  • Are there areas in your life that you aren’t following Jesus in?
  • That quote by Bonhoeffer, how do you react to that? Are you letting Jesus lead in your life?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved
  7. You Are Saved
  8. You Are Free
  9. You Are Chosen
  10. You Are A Child of God
  11. You Are A Slave
  12. You Are Made For Good Works

Day 12 – You Are Made For Good Works

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Can you think of something you’ve done this week which you would categorise as ‘good’?

Perhaps you behaved well in class. Perhaps you went to church. Perhaps you ate well. Perhaps you opened the door for someone. Perhaps you didn’t swear when you got angry. Perhaps gave someone a birthday present. Perhaps you sent a loving text.

What did you do this week that was good?

Often we find ourselves thinking in terms of good or bad. Am I a good Christian? Have I done something good with my life? Have I achieved the good I want to this week or month? Have I got good marks?

Well, the bible speaks of believers being good. That is, that we have been created for good works. Did you know that?

You're More Than A Number - You Are Made For Good Works

It is very easy for us to believe that the good we do will help our standing before God. In reality this isn’t the case. Our good works don’t improve of lessen our standing before God in any way. His love for us in unchanging. To be right with God is not because of these ‘good works’ but because of what Jesus has done on the cross. God accepts us because of what He has done through Jesus, not from our good actions, behaviours, or thoughts.

It’s a radical gift.

It’s why the song ‘Amazing Grace’ came into being. It’s amazing because we haven’t done anything to deserve this gift. It is grace because it is a free gift from God to us.

And out of this radical gift of grace we find ourselves bursting forth with thanks, joy, and hope for life.

Off the back of this great news we recognise that God has created us to do good works. Because of the gift we’ve been given we seek to gift others by helping, loving, and serving others.

Listen to what Paul, the writer of a letter to the Ephesian church, says:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

God has shown his incredible riches, grace, and kindness through Jesus. And out of this amazing grace from God we find ourselves created to do good works. As we follow Jesus and put our trust in him we have a joy in doing good works for others. Our hearts are now turned to help and love others, we desire the best for others and so seek to help them through the good works we do.

God’s hands are all over this as he has moved in us to accept this grace, and continues to move us to desire the best for others. As we continue in our relationship with God we continue to be made more and more like His Son. In this we desire to seek and serve those around us, learning how to do the good works that he has prepared for us to do.

Incredible.

FOR REFLECTION

  • Do you realise how much grace God has given you through the person and work of his Son Jesus?
  • Out of this truth, what is the response you have?
  • What opportunities do you have to do good works for others this week?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved
  7. You Are Saved
  8. You Are Free
  9. You Are Chosen
  10. You Are A Child of God
  11. You Are A Slave

The Forgotten Leader

In chapter 40 of Genesis we read of Joseph in prison.

He’s in prison because he’s been falsely accused of sleeping with the wife of Egypt’s 2IC (second in charge). But chapter 40 tells the story of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, who are also in prison with Joseph, having dreams that need to be interpreted.

Joseph seems to have risen to prominence, even within the prison walls, as he is tasked with looking after these two men. Having shared their dreams with him the cupbearer and baker ask Joseph to interpret them, which he does. When Joseph interprets positively for the cupbearer he asks him to remember him and speak highly of him to the Pharaoh. When these things happen the cupbearer is released and finds himself back in favour with Pharaoh.

The final verse of the chapter reads,

“Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.”

This sparked a thought about how we often forget those who play a significant role in our lives.

The Forgotten Leader Post

We all tell ourselves a certain narrative of the way things are, of what has happened in our lives. We are able to remember significant things, turning points, and people in our lives. But then, there are all those people we have forgotten, people who may have only had a small part in our lives at some point.

When we think about our own walk with Jesus we often have key people who are part of that journey. We might remember a youth pastor, or a youth leader that connected with us regularly, or maybe someone older in the church who asked how we were every now and then. Sometimes though we forget those other people who were around and part of the ministry; they don’t seem to play a role in our narrative.

This is often what it is to be a youth leader. It is often the case that we can be forgotten.

We become a forgotten leader. 

The forgotten leader isn’t any less significant. I often think it is better to be the forgotten leader than the one who goes down in a blaze of glory, remembered for all the wrong things they did.

The forgotten leader is someone who serves without expecting to be needed in years to come. They serve in the youth ministry (or any other for that matter) week in and week out. They continue to grow in their relationship with God, and students come and go through the programs with the forgotten leader faithfully serving.

This kind of leadership is certainly not what our culture expects. We want youth leaders that are flashy, that are bold, that are magnetic. But often these kinds of leaders don’t last long. Soon enough they’ve had their fill and move on to another place where a new set of people will attach themselves to them.

A forgotten leader is someone who is counter-cultural and at their heart a servant. They get on with the job of connecting with God and connecting with students, doing the task they have been given for that season. Their work often goes unseen, they help with setup and are often packing up well after the parents have picked up their children.

A forgotten leader is a servant leader; doing the one-percenters make the ministry work and being faithful to do what God has asked them to do. In this way the forgotten leader lowers themselves, not seeking first place, but highlights others before themselves.

When Joseph is forgotten by the cupbearer he was performing the task that God had asked him. The issue isn’t that he was forgotten, it’s about how he was faithful to God.

May you be a forgotten-faithful leader this year.

3 Ways The Beach Helps Youth Ministry

The beach is great.

If it was a choice between a warm beach location or say a cold snowy type location, the beach wins every time.

And so with summer holidays and hot days comes the annual visit to the beach. A few days spent relaxing, reading, and having a rollicking time with the family. Last year I spent hours making an awesome sandcastle with my daughter, this year it seems we’re more adventurous and have ventured into the cooler waters and waves.

Oddly enough, the beach had me thinking about youth ministry. Perhaps it was the salt water, the days off, or too much cricket watching (can that ever be the case?). Nevertheless, using the beach as an illustration for youth ministry it reminded me of three things we youth leaders need to have in mind coming into the 2018 youthmin year.

First, we need perspective. 

Sitting on the beach gives you a view of the large expanse of water in front of you. It gives you a view of stretches of sand, to your left and right. It reminds you that there is something bigger than your small self going on in this world. As one person sitting on a small patch of sand, millions of grains within arms reach, you are given perspective on life, faith, and ministry.

As Psalm 139:7-10 reminds us, God is huge. He is everywhere.

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”

In youth ministry we often need perspective. It’s not about the next event, the next catch-up, the next Bible study, the next service, the next hard conversation. It is about God, and declaring that he has come, and is with us through his Son and his Spirit. He will lead and hold us, as the Psalmist has written.

Second, we need grit. 

Generally sand is quite gritty. On some beaches it really does give your feet a good workout.

Youth ministry is the same. It is a hard work. It is constant work. It requires grit. It is the type of work that will give you a good workout, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Paul knows this from experience and writes in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10:

“We are not giving anyone an occasion for offense, so that the ministry will not be blamed. Instead, as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything: by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardships, by difficulties, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger, by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God; through weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, through glory and dishonor, through slander and good report; regarded as deceivers, yet true; as unknown, yet recognized; as dying, yet see—we live; as being disciplined, yet not killed; as grieving, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet enriching many; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

It might be a different context but Paul’s words speak of the kind of grit needed for ministry. The physical persecution is not generally associated with Western youth ministry, but that doesn’t discount the challenges it brings.

All this requires grit. It’s goes without saying that this grit will come more easily when we are walking closely with Jesus. As we work with students and their families we seek to serve them and the church out of our enjoyment of God.

Third, we need to be fluid. 

At the beach you can sit on the sand and watch the waves come time and time again. You can also go for a swim and enjoy the cool water on a hot day. Stating the obvious, the water is fluid and can cope with what is going on in it and around it.

When working with students (and adults too) we need to be flexible, fluid. Often things won’t go to plan, people won’t turn up, or the weather might not be what we’d hoped for our program. In working with people, and in youth ministry, we need to be flexible in our plans and ideas. It’s helpful to know and be sure in what we think is the best way to operate, but sometimes others might actually provide better ways.

So whether it’s events or people, holding things losely, having planned to our best ability is something worth evaluating for ourselves coming into the new youthmin year.

At any time, not just at the start of the year, it is worth taking a few moments to gain perspective, grow in grit, and assess what we hold tightly. I can recommend the beach as a good place to do that.

My One Blogging Goal For 2018

With the turn of the new year comes the flurry of posts about how to improve your blogging in 2018. I think I’ve read a dozen or so already.

It’s made me think about my own blogging for the year ahead.

My One Blogging Goal For 2018

There is no doubt that I enjoy the writing process. It clarifies my thoughts, it helps me think out loud, it gives me the opportunity to express my opinions and ideas. Depending on what kind of day it is the writing will come easily, but more often than not it is hard. It requires actually articulating my thoughts in a systematic or structured way. Writing requires me to sit in front of a blank screen and turn that white document into something worth reading.

I’m not sure I achieve this very often, but it seems people do read what I write. I am appreciative of that.

And I’m particularly thankful for those who have read the odd post over the last 12 months. I’ve had a focus to increase readership and write more regularly, which was achieved, even if there were seasons where nothing was published.

But they were last year’s goals. And having read enough “Improve Your Blog” type posts it is apparently important to have goals coming into 2018.

For the coming year I have reservations about setting number goals about readership. It keeps me focussed on numbers, which at the best of times are encouraging but totally distracting and beside the point at the worst. So for 2018, instead of focussing on the statistics, which get looked at far too often, I have decided to make my goal writing-based.

That is, I want to write from the heart more this year. 

Reflecting on my own writing I don’t believe I write from the heart enough. Sure, I may have a post that moves someone else. I may have a good piece of writing that connects with a reader. But am I actually writing from the heart?

To me, writing from the heart is about putting words on paper that reflect more of who I am.

It isn’t giving more of my opinion, it isn’t making the post feel more energetic with faux-excitement. Writing from the heart is about writing truthfully, clearly, and with an openness that leaves part of me on the page. It means I’m not hiding behind words but I’m putting myself on the line when I write and publish.

While this goal isn’t particularly measurable, certainly not from the outside, it may cause me issues when seeking to evaluate come the end of the year. But that’s my issue. For now I’m committed to writing through this blog, seeking to help others in youth and young adult ministry reflect on their experience and be better in their work.

Let’s see how we go.

What about you? What’s your number one blogging goal for the year? 

Is It Time To Take The Guilt Out Of Your Bible Reading?

I suspect, every year, thousands of people give up on their attempted bible reading plan because they’ve fallen so far behind they don’t believe they’ll ever catch up, and they feel guilty about it.

You know the situation, I’m sure. You start off the new year with a plan to follow. You’re aiming to achieve what seems like the impossible–finish the whole bible in one year. But by the time the third week of January comes to a close you find yourself three days behind, the equivalent of 12-15 chapters to catch up on. The doubt about actually doing this in the first place creeps in. The guilt of not doing what you said you’d do piles up. And suddenly you find yourself questioning whether your relationship with God is actually where you thought it was.

Is It Time To Take The Guilt Out Of Your Bible Reading_

From a young age, in church or in a Christian home, we are taught that reading the bible and praying are simply parts of the Christian identity and rhythm. I’m not going to disagree with that. I think the bible itself speaks of the need to read God’s words and be active in prayer with him. This is vital to any relationship with God.

When God gives Moses his words in Exodus 24 there is the understanding that his people are to respond and obey it. Then as part of the words God gives Moses, in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, there is the command to have them on repeat.

“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.”

A bible reading habit is about having God’s words on repeat.

Yet, while this is vital, helpful, and beneficial for us as believers we often feel guilty if we skip a day or fall too far back on a bible reading plan.

The point of a bible reading plan is not to make us feel guilty.

It’s to help us in our worship of God. It is to help us hear from him.

It is to help us understand the story we are part of.

It is to help us know more of our identity as the people of God.

When we do fall behind in our bible reading our response doesn’t need to be guilt. We aren’t saved or made right with God because of our bible reading. We are made right with God because of what Jesus has done. The Good News. Instead, when we do fall behind, we just continue reading where we were up to.

You see, there are no explicit rules around reading the bible. No one is restricting or demanding or making it a law to read a certain part or certain amount of the bible. The important thing is to read it. If you read a verse or read a whole book, whatever it is, the aim is to read it.

I was talking with someone a month or two ago who had a 100-day streak in their bible reading. Things then came up and they didn’t do it for about a week. Instead of just picking it up from where they left off, they gave up. They felt they were too far behind that they couldn’t catch up. Therefore, they didn’t see much of a point to continue reading.

But that’s not the point!

It’s an awesome achievement to read 100 days in a row, but the point isn’t how many days in a row you can read your bible. There’s no competition going on (unless it’s self-imposed, and that’ll probably raise questions around ‘heart’). It’s about connecting and engaging with God through his words. The point is that reading the bible is helpful for our relationship and understanding and worship of God. It’s vital.

I like bible reading plans because they actual help me work through scripture systematically. They help me have a goal and show me where I’m going. But at the end of the day they are just that, a plan. If I didn’t have a plan then I reckon I’d be flip-flopping through the bible and never really achieve anything in my reading. Instead, a plan gives structure in my bible reading and shows me what I have actually read.

I’d always encourage a bible reading plan to anyone (this one is a good one). What I wouldn’t encourage is feeling guilty about not meeting someone else’s bible reading requirements. Read what you can, work through a plan at your own pace, and worship God in the process.

Make The Bible Project Your Bible Reading Plan For 2018

If you’re a Christian who likes to make New Year’s resolutions then I suspect you may have the classic, “Read the Bible in a year” on the list.

Maybe.

As is my usual practice, I commit to this goal on January 1 and often come up short by the time I’m halfway through Leviticus. What’s that, mid-February?

Maybe you have the same issue as I do.

LP-BibleProject

Some suggest that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result”. That might not be its true definition but it can often be the experience of those of us who have the goal to read the whole bible and don’t achieve it, year after year after year. And it is not a bad goal–to read all 66 books of the bible in a year. In fact, it is a SMART goal. It’s specific, measurable, achievable, results-focussed and time-bound. SMART.

This year, rather than advocating for the Glenn McGrath approach to bible reading, I’ve come across The Bible Project’s ‘Read Scripture’ plan. This plan includes videos and other good resources to help people read and understand the scriptures as a whole. I often watch The Bible Project videos and listen to their podcast and find them extremely helpful in understanding the bible as a unified whole. They seek to tell the stories of the bible in fresh ways, and bring a wealth of knowledge and help in understanding and interpreting the scriptures.

As part of their ‘Read Scripture’ plan they have produced an app, which incorporates their videos and selected readings for each day of the year. If you’re like me, and enjoying ticking off what you’ve read each day then you also have the option of downloading the readings as a PDF to stick into your bible.

Good luck with any of your New Year’s resolutions, whatever they might be. But may I encourage you to think about attempting the ‘read scripture’ plan and have a go at reading the whole bible in a year.