New Children’s Ministry Initiative Makes Worship Leaders Walk Out Of Service

In an effort to be more inclusive of children in their services Pleasantville Baptist Church has encouraged those under the age of 12 to bring their own instruments to church for the opening bracket of songs.

For three weekends in a row the services at PBC have included a time for inviting children to the front with their instruments. In preparation for the change to the Sunday service the PBC Worship And Musical Praise Singing Committee (otherwise known as WAMPS for short) decided to provide instruments for those who need them. Thinking particularly of visitors, or children who don’t have their own instrument, WAMPS provides a surprisingly large wicker basket full of maracas, shaker eggs, castanets, handle bells, tambourines, jingle sticks, and, for one lucky child, a kazoo.

New Children's Ministry Initiative Make Worship Leaders Walk Out Of Service

Those attending on Sundays have taken this idea to heart. Each week families make sure their children now take their favourite musical instrument to church, alongside the few coins they contribute to the offering. Dale Lewis, father of three boys aged 9, 7 and 4, says it has really encouraged his children in their worship of God. He said, “After this initiative was introduced our boys have really enjoyed bringing their recorders and joining in with the music team.”

Part-time Children’s Director, Kimberly Hutchinson, is particularly pleased with this initiative. She’s been suggesting this idea to the WAMPS committee for the last four and a half years, finally getting them to agree to it after the positive response during their Christmas service.

However, in dramatic scenes this past Sunday, worship leaders Ella McKenzie and Cory Smith couldn’t cope. Not having led worship at PBC for a couple of months they were surprised to see so many children in front of them with their random assortment of instruments. During the seventh repeat of the chorus to one of the church’s favourite songs, ‘Shout To The Lord’, both McKenzie and Smith had had enough. They stopped singing, put down their instruments, and told the congregation they “…couldn’t continue to lead worship with the racket being made in front of them.”

The congregation were left confused as to what was happening up the front. Unfortunately, no one heard what McKenzie and Smith said because the children kept worshipping with their own instruments; drowning out any possible sound from the late-1980s microphones still waiting to be upgraded.

In a meeting with the Senior Pastor during the week both McKenzie and Smith explained their decision to walk out.

“We walked out because all these other instruments meant we couldn’t feel the Holy Spirit. At our six-hour practice during the week we agreed that the four songs we’d chosen would take the congregation on a journey of reflection and into the moment. We didn’t feel this could be achieved with the out-of-tune kazoo being blown on 1 and 3. Don’t get us wrong, we think it would be lovely for the children to be involved somehow, but perhaps that could be clapping their hands as they stand next to their parents.” 

As we write, the emergency WAMP meeting is now entering its fourth hour. Sources are suggesting that a literal understanding of Psalm 150 may be turning the tide in the children’s ministry favour.

“Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.”

As Matthew Finkle, one of the children’s ministry volunteers, said upon arriving for the meeting, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!”


Other satire pieces, where I attempt to amuse myself, can also be found at the following:

Blogging In Youth Ministry

The other week I came across a youth ministry site highlighting their top five youth ministry blogs. As I read through the list I noticed 80% of those mentioned were actually youth ministry sites who provide a blog with a range of contributors. This is slightly different to a personal blog, whereby the individual youth pastor might write their own content on their own site. Unfortunately, I can’t link you to the list because it seems the post was taken down.

Nevertheless, with four of the five blogs coming from large youth ministry sites I was reminded of this article by Tim Challies earlier in the year. While writing about the current state of Christian blogging he highlighted the demise of personal blogs in favour of edited articles through large ministry organisation websites. It seems the same goes for youth ministry as it does for the wider church.

Blogging In Youth Ministry

Over the past few years I’ve noticed more and more personal youth ministry blogs drop in content. Instead, authors become part of a larger ministry platform and provide content for them at the expense of their own blog. Evidently, the youth ministry blogging sector isn’t as large as the general church. However, it is telling that there are few who continue to regularly produce blog posts in youth ministry through their own blog.

I’ll also be the first to admit that I enjoy writing for the larger ministry sites too. I have had some writing goals in recent years which have included being published on these ministry sites (You can even read what I’ve had published on those sites here). At the same time, I’ve been conscious to continue to write regularly for my own audience; seeking to work at the craft of writing and reflect on ministry to youth and young adults. There is something about putting my own thoughts down in my own space. As I curate my own content I improve my writing and communication, and gain clarity on my own thoughts and thinking.

There are some great organisations creating some terrific content in written, verbal, and visual form for those of us in youth ministry. The production of high quality curriculum, podcasts, articles, and other resources is worth using and adapting. These are worth contributing to as well. However, there is currently a significant lack of youth pastors and youth ministry practitioners giving their own thoughts and reflections in their own space. As I look through my youth ministry blog feed I see 25 different blogs on the list, five of them are personal blogs actively writing about youth ministry. That’s not many; and it has decreased in the last few years.

As I’ve thought more about this recently it is worth naming some other observations I believe have made an impact in this area. At the end of the day I’d love to see more youth pastors and practitioners writing about their reflections on youth ministry. This would help all of us as we seek to be better in our roles, and encourage us to keep going. But for what it’s worth, here are a few more thoughts about why there may be a distinct lack of bloggers in the youth ministry space.

First, it is a niche area of ministry.

Youth and young adult ministry is niche. There aren’t too many who stay in a role long-term in this area of ministry. If they do they may not feel like they need to share their expertise through a blog.

Second, youth ministry brings with it young pastors with little experience to share.

I don’t think this is a reason not to blog. But, I realise that many youth pastors are young themselves and young in terms of experience. This raises the question of what they should share in a blog. However, I often feel the same, even with nearly 20 years experience. There are observations and reflections I find helpful from people of all ages and experiences. Some may be things I’ve heard before, but they are given a new perspective or voice. There are other things I may simply need reminding of. Whatever the case, if you’ve got a writing bone in your body and in youth ministry then come and join the small band of bloggers doing the same.

Third, there is a higher rate of consumption through visual media than through written media.

As the years have gone by so has the increase in the use of YouTube and Insta as some of the main ways content is delivered. The written word, and spending time to think and clarify thought through the written word, has been overtaken by other means of distribution. In the age group of our ministry, and even in the age group of fresh youth pastors, videos and podcasts are more and more important. I do wonder whether this has had an impact on youth ministry bloggers.

Fourth, in the age of platform people seek platform.

There is the very real temptation to always search out a larger audience. We are in the age of likes, comments, and shares. Those who seek to produce content hope their work will be distributed far and wide. But it seems the search for platform has become normal. So, if we want our message to be read by the most amount of people possible then it makes sense to write for large ministry sites rather than a personal blog viewed a few times per week. It would be of no surprise if the decrease in personal blogging, in youth ministry or throughout the church, is because there is a sinful search for platform.

I want to encourage those involved in youth ministry to start writing. It may not be a particular desire you have right now but I’d ask to you pick up a pen (or keyboard) and write your reflections about youth ministry as you work in it.

I started my blogging adventure four years into paid ministry. That was 2009. It’s coming up 10 years since I posted my first blog. Since then I’ve written some terrible stuff. But in recent time I’ve been encouraged to continue to write, and hopefully become more thoughtful, articulate, and clear on my reflections in youth ministry.

You can do that too. 

Writing, not only the published pieces on a blog but also those words in a journal and notebook, have all contributed to thoughtful engagement in youth ministry. Some believe youth ministry is a pretty thoughtless exercise – dodgeball and abstinence training as some have said – but they don’t know what they’re talking about. As you continue to do the work, pray, stay, and love others I’m sure you will find plenty to reflect on, much of it worth sharing with the rest of us. I’d encourage you to do just that.

10 Tips For Leading Discussion Groups

I don’t particularly like leading youth leader meetings where all we do is plan the coming term. To me, there needs to be something of substance in the meeting, something that can help us get better at what we do. At our most recent meeting I collected some thoughts around what makes for facilitating a good discussion group. Here are the 10 tips I came up with, ‘geniusly’ framed as an acrostic poem.

10 Tips For Leading Discussion Groups

1. Develop Rapport

Quickly introduce yourself and gather everyone in. The best way to get people comfortable is asking them how they are, what they thought of the talk in general, and sharing something you found useful.

2. Intentionally Listen

You’re not there to simply tell others in the group your wisdom, you’re there to hear them share. When someone is speaking listen to what they’re saying and ask them follow up questions.

3. Show Jesus

Our topics and points in our talks should be centred on Jesus. Therefore, it would make sense for our discussion time to also include pointing to Jesus. This could be through mentioning another related Bible passage, or reflecting on how knowing Jesus has impacted you.

4. Comfortable Silences

We’re working with teenagers. There’s going to be awkward silences. Get comfortable with them. But, during this time always be thinking about another way you could ask the question or ask someone specifically in the group to share.

5. Understand It’s A Growth Process

Our discussion groups are a place, we hope, where people will learn and grow. But, realise it won’t all happen on one night. The ongoing nature of these groups, and the culture we foster in them, helps facilitate growth and maturity in life and faith.

6. Share Your Stories And Heart

Those in your group are wanting to know your perspective or your experience. As leaders we have a great opportunity to share something of ourselves. If you can think of an example of how the topic for discussion is something you’ve wrestled with before then share it.

7. Simple Questions

Ask simple and clear questions. Avoid confusing questions that are long and have different aspects to them.

8. Involve Everyone

Notice who is and isn’t talking. When asking a question sometimes it is good to ask someone specifically to share.

9. Opportunity To Challenge

We have an opportunity to challenge the thinking and behaviours of those in our groups. Don’t shy away from the challenging question. Even the simple question ‘Why?’ can do the trick.

10. No Wrong Answers

People should feel comfortable enough to share without being ridiculed or laughed at. Through your facilitation those in the group can sense whether it is safe for them to share. When someone does share we want to affirm them and thank them for sharing, even if we believe what they have said isn’t quite right.

Would you add anything? (But realise, that if you do add anything you’ll ruin a beautifully constructed acrostic!)

Is It Wrong To Share Your Faith?

I was recently listening to the “Youth Culture Matters” podcast where the hosts were interviewing David Kinnaman, the President of the Barna Group. Barna is a research organisation and has written extensively about the intersection of faith and the generations, particularly Millennials/Gen Y (born ~1980-2000).

In this latest interview, and off the back of Barna’s most recent research, the conversation centred around the view of Millennials and evangelism.

To the question, “Is it wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith?” 

  • 47% of Millennials (born ~1980-2000) agree.
  • 27% of Gen Xers (born ~1965-1980) agree.
  • 19% of Boomers (born ~1945-1965) agree.
  • 20% of Elders (born ~1925-1945) agree.

Australian Baptist Generational Ministry Research (1)

While this isn’t particularly earth-shattering it is interesting to have this information in data form. We can see that nearly half of Millennial believers are not comfortable with thinking about sharing their faith in order to have someone from another belief system converted. Interestingly, at least 1 out of 5 believers of the other generations also have the same view.

Anecdotally, I think I would affirm what this data seems to be saying. I know plenty of people my age and younger who are not particularly willing to share their faith for evangelistic purposes. And there are no doubt a few reasons for this.

First, the purposes of sharing faith these days seems to be more about expressing our beliefs and portraying our values to others, it doesn’t seem to be for the conversion of others. Holding to our own values and holding to our own beliefs is now something taught at a young age. Culture seems to say we can pick and choose from a variety of belief systems and therefore whatever we have in front of us is our own truth. This has certainly seeped into the church and so faith becomes more about what we value of faith rather than keeping to a particularly orthodoxy.

Second, whenever there is talk of evangelism I know a lot of people cringe. They begin to think of Billy Graham rallies, which were great for a certain group of people but not the way we think of healthy evangelism in this era. There is also the thought of missionaries overseas who through Christianity has influenced plenty of cultures, some in poor ways. The cultural adaptation of the gospel hasn’t been applied and soon enough it has become a Western faith, rather than a global faith for all. The thought of evangelism and telling people there is one way and that way is through Jesus is looked on poorly.

Third, the training of people in evangelism hasn’t been high on the agenda. While the church and mission organisations may well have been speaking about the need for evangelism the training of the people is lacking. I’m not talking about sneaky techniques to try to persuade people and twist their arm into becoming Christians. I’m talking more about how we can foster faith conversations, and encourage people to invite friends into faith conversations and groups. It is one thing to hold a particular evangelistic talk, program, or group, it is another to have people who are confident enough to strike up conversations about religion and faith.

They were some initial thoughts off the back of listening to the conversation. You can listen to the podcast here, and read the more detailed article explaining the data here.

There seems to be plenty of work for those of us in the church and in mission organisations as we seek to see the gospel go forth through the generations.

Australian Baptist Generational Ministry Research: A Recent Publication on Participation and Priorities

In the last month or so an important and interesting piece of research regarding generational ministry in Australian Baptist churches has been published. In the journal known as ‘Exchange’ Darren Cronshaw has written an article entitled ““Sticky Faith” in Australian Baptist Churches: Surveying Generational Participation and Ministry Priorities”.

It is not often that research is conducted in regard to Baptist children’s, youth, family, and young adult ministries and so I was intrigued to read this. I suppose I should mention that I do know Darren and have worked with him before. However, I hadn’t spoken to him in a while and so seeing this I was enthusiastic to see the results and what he had to say.

This article brings together the data from the National Church Life Survey (NCLS), which is a huge church census conducted every five years in Australia, and interviews with denominational and generational ministry heavies. As Cronshaw writes,

“This article is part of a denomination-wider theological action research project on building capacity for mission in Baptist church, a foundational part of which focuses here on how to better engage with a younger demographic…the article reflects on opportunities and challenges for fostering better practice, in generational ministries”.

And really, the guts of the article, after introducing the topic and outlining the methodology, is all about (1) what the situation is regarding Baptist churches and those in the younger demographic (read: Millennials and Generation Z), and (2) what practices churches can take to retain and grow their churches in those demographics.

Australian Baptist Generational Ministry Research

Considering I’m Baptist and I work with this demographic you can imagine why I’d be interested in such research. Below I will simply outline some of the findings I found interesting or worth commenting on. If you’re interested in knowing further then I’d encourage you to get a copy.

1. Growth in Baptist churches mainly comes from those switching denominations.

I do actually find this a little surprising. I know denominational affiliation has long-ago disappeared, particularly in the Gen Y and Gen Z age group, but for this to be the case in all age groups is interesting. These ‘switchers’, as the research defines them, are more common than newcomers (with no church background) and transfers (those that transfer from another Baptist church – which I expected to be the highest here).

This certainly highlights the challenge for churches and believers to think more specifically and intentionally in terms of evangelism. Growth by transfer and switch isn’t really Kingdom growth at all.

In reference to Gen Y and Gen Z, for us Baptist churches it looks like we would benefit in teaching and communicating Baptist distinctives and values to not only the switchers but also the newcomers.

The research also highlights that one in ten Baptist youth and young adults are newcomers without a church background. This means that nine out of ten of those who come along to church already have some form of church background.

2. Mission and discipleship in the age of unchurched newcomers.

Within the interviews conducted about this section of research there is mention of how generational ministries need to overcome the “internal-focussed inertia in order to meaningfully connect with youth without a church background.” I think this is very true and has become more prevalent over the last 20 years.

With the rise of youth groups in using their main gatherings as worship services the impact can be inaccessibility to those with no church background. I know there will be plenty of stories where unchurched young people have been to these worship-style youth groups and stuck around, but I’m still not convinced this is the way to go for youth ministries to reach those with no church background.

One aspect to overcome this, which is used as an example in this paper, is the rise of programs devoid of any Christian faith content. While I appreciate the need to build bridges and make connections it seems programs like this are a case of bait and switch. Slowly and surely the aim is to gain trust and relationship so that leaders can share Jesus with those who come along. I have found this makes it harder to do so because the group is focussed more on the program, and talk of faith or spirituality becomes extremely awkward and forced. If we are more honest about what we’re trying to achieve from the beginning, and understand that the foundation of our programs are build of Christ and his words, then soon enough conversations and topics about what the Bible says can be more open.

More conversation about how Baptist churches might structure their youth ministries to reach unchurched youth seems to be one takeaway from this research.

3. Retention of children of attendees in Baptist churches.

It would be of no surprise that there are children of church going parents who no longer attend church. This is simply confirmed in the research. As Cronshaw writes,

“In 2016 44% of the children of current Baptist church attenders no longer attended any church”.

That is a phenomenal fact. And what it means is that for every family of four, two parents and two kids, it is most likely that one of those kids won’t be attending church in the near or distant future.

When it comes to those children who are still in the home and under the roof of their parents “results show that younger children and early teens are largely included in the faith practices of their parents”. However, it is still the case that 30% of children aged 15 and over, who live at home, no longer attend any church. And in fact, this isn’t even a new issue. It is similar to figures in 2011 and 2006.

So, what does this mean. As one of the interviewees said,

“It maybe hard to get them (the children) there, it may take a wrestle, it may feel like a battle – but I say, die trying! Do what you can to give your young person every chance of thriving.”

The most important and most influential people in the lives of children are their parents, and this is the same when it comes to faith and church engagement. At the end of the day much of the onus is on parents, but this doesn’t start when they are teenagers, this has to start when they begin primary school.

This doesn’t negate the responsibility the church also needs to take upon itself. The increase in partnering with parents as a ministry strategy now becomes even more important. Operating out of a structure of seeking to engage the whole family rather than the individual kids has to become a priority. The resourcing of parents in order to be able to have faith conversations with their kids is also something that needs to be given intentionality and thought.

This is the kind of research that can make us feel guilty and fill us with despair, particularly as parents. But, we also know that it is God who gives the growth, and as we seek to obedient in bringing up our kids in the ways of faith, within the family unit, we continue to pray for our kids and for God to work his sovereign hand upon their hearts.

Of course, more could be said about all of this, and there is more in the research here. What it does highlight is both parents and churches need to continue to work at engaging their kids in faith, praying over them, and leading them. One of the big issues having read this now is trying to cave out time so that the church can help resources and equip parents in their role as faith-builders and influencers in the home. The resourcing of parents is now vital and a new shift we generational ministries need to be intentional about.

4. Intergenerational ministry, not siloed-ministry.

I know I speak about this quite often at the moment. You can read a few of my thoughts here. But intergenerational ministry, seeing the ministry to children and young people as something the whole church needs to be engaged in, not just the children’s or youth ministries, is important to help foster faith formation.

One of the ways churches are seeking to do this is to place more resources in ‘generational ministries’. Rather than hire staff for children’s or youth or young adults there is a focus on making roles larger so that they encompass those from birth to 30 years of age.

These roles then become more oversight and leadership development – an equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry approach. It is viewing these whole 30 years in one, rather than individuals coming up with their own things in each of the age segments. However, it also means there can be a more clearly unified approach and culture formed throughout the age groups.

I’ve got to be honest, if we’re not thinking about ministry in these terms then I don’t quite know what we’re trying to achieve. There needs to be intentionality across the whole spectrum, not just within the individual youth ministry or the individual children’s ministry. The effort is otherwise pretty futile. If you’re a youth leader in any capacity I’d begin by seeking a coffee with people in the children’s ministry. It’s time to start working more closely. This is a cultural shift, and one that needs to happen ASAP.

Interestingly enough though, the research seems to suggest that,

“Baptist attenders are more likely to value age-related ministry compared to all attenders. Youth, young adults, and mid-life adults were more likely than older adults to value these ministries. Baptist attenders were more likely to be satisfied with what was offered for children than for youth or for their own age.”

When I read this it highlights how much work we’ve got to do to change the culture of churches from a silo-generational into an inter-generational culture.

5. Other comments.

A few others comments worth more reflection than I can be bothered right now:

  • There is an undercurrent of fear in much of this research. And I don’t mean specifically this paper but in all the research that speaks of keeping people in church. With cultural Christianity gone, if it was ever there, why would we be surprised that people are opting out of something they didn’t believe in the first place? This isn’t new. Surely.
  • Furthermore, when we begin to despair about all this we begin to question God’s sovereignty and faithfulness. We know God is building his church, and while there are concerns and things we need to improve on, worrying about many things that are out of our hands doesn’t seem to help.
  • The final aspect of this paper is in terms of investing in generational ministry. There are stories of what churches and denominations are doing about this. Each state Baptist union allocates staff and resources in these areas. I have seen over the last 20 years how this has grown and adapted in various ways. However, it has been going on for 20 years and I’m not sure whether that says something or not. I’m probably going to shoot myself in the foot if I say anything further so I’ll leave it there. Although, I have been involved at the denominational level regarding this for a period of time too so I include myself.

In conclusion it seems Baptist churches need to look at how they can share their distinctives with those of non-Baptist background, and begin looking at how an intergenerational approach to ministry can occur. One of the most important takeaways from this paper that I can see is that of resourcing parents.

There is much to pray for and much work to do.

This is far too long, I apologise.

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: Youth Ministry Is Not Just A Stepping Stone

Yeah, so I’m pretty excited and encouraged to have had a piece about why youth ministry isn’t just a stepping stone to becoming a lead pastor published on The Gospel Coalition. I have known for a little while it was going to happen, it has just been a matter of waiting patiently. It was published a few days ago and can now be found here.

“A common misunderstanding about youth pastors is that they’re training for the higher ranking position of lead pastor. While it’s true many pastors once worked with youth, the two roles are distinct. Senior pastors who’ve previously served as youth pastors can provide encouragement and understanding. They can also channel their experience into unrealistic expectations, perhaps beginning with the refrain, “Back when I was a youth pastor . . .””

As an aside I was encouraged even further to find my piece, Redeeming Love For Run-Down Parents, was also being promoted at TGC. Unbelievable.

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You can read other articles I’ve had published elsewhere here.

Martin Luther On Complete Forgiveness In Christ

In recent weeks I’ve found myself reading more about Martin Luther, the great reformer of the sixteenth century.

I began reading more of Luther, again, because I picked up Eric Metaxas’ recent biography of the man. My understanding is that Metaxas isn’t looked upon too fondly within the scholarship world because of his writings and perceived errors. But I have to say he does tell a good biography. I’m about 200 pages in right now and the way he writes keeps you in the story. While some of his inaccuracies are something I’ll search out a little more later on; for the moment I’m enjoying his mix of personal interpretation and the life of Luther quite evocative.

In reading this biography though I’ve now moved into reading Luther for himself. This, of course, if the best way to read anyone. So in going to the man himself I’m working through his commentary on the Letter to the Galatians as part of my devotions (for a PDF version of this go here). And let’s be honest, reading Luther is even more evocative than reading Metaxas. The language, the criticism, the insight, the forthrightness of Luther’s writings. Wow. How great.

Martin Luther on The Complete Forgiveness of Christ

But lest this simply be an exercise in reading and analysing his writing there are particular aspects to Luther’s writing that are extremely helpful for the Christian. In particular, this early reflections on chapter one, with the focus on sin being dealt with by the cross is simply stunning.

I’m sure I’m not the only one that battles with sin.

And I don’t just mean the battle with daily sin, behaviour or attitudes that we fall into. I mean the realisation my sin is so great that it raises the question of assurance of true forgiveness. How can God truly forgive the attitudes and behaviours I have acted upon for myself, let alone those things toward others!?

I’m sure I’m not the only person that knows the depths of their own heart, the depths of their own sinfulness, and the holding on of sin of the past, the sin that isn’t easily forgotten.

O how great a sinner we recognise ourselves to be in light of knowing the glorious nature and holiness of God! And how regretful, unassured, and doubtful we find ourselves when these things are brought to light through the Spirit.

And then at the same time we find ourselves neglecting the true grace that is given by the Lord Jesus. In our pursuit for holiness, and our disgust at sin, we become so self-centred about it that we hold on to it; just so we can feel bad and guilty about such sin. This could be for days or weeks or months or years. How many of us are holding on to sin that has been forgiven? How many of us are holding on to sin that grace has already dealt with!?

Well, for anyone that is dealing with sin, in dealing with a conscience of guilt because of sin, then I think Luther helps us tremendously. In fact, I don’t know whether I’ve read a better few pages that]n his reflections on this.

Below I copy much of what he says while reflecting on the phrase, “Who gave himself for our sins” in Galatians 1:4. I hope you are as edified as I was in reading this. It speaks to the person dealing wracked with guilt because of their continual stumbles into sin and temptation. And it provides great encouragement to get up off the mat and endure in the Christian life assured of every single sin, no matter how great or small, has been dealt with.

Enjoy.

Verse 4. ‘Who gave himself for our sins’.

Paul sticks to his theme. He never loses sight of the purpose of his epistle. He does not say, “Who received our works,” but “who gave.” Gave what? Not gold, or silver, or paschal lambs, or an angel, but Himself. What for? Not for a crown, or a kingdom, or our goodness, but for our sins. These words are like so many thunderclaps of protest from heaven against every kind and type of self-merit. Underscore these words, for they are full of comfort for sore consciences.

How may we obtain remission of our sins? Paul answers: “The man who is named Jesus Christ and the Son of God gave himself for our sins.” The heavy artillery of these words explodes papacy, works, merits, superstitions. For if our sins could be removed by our own efforts, what need was there for the Son of God to be given for them? Since Christ was given for our sins it stands to reason that they cannot be put away by our own efforts.

This sentence also defines our sins as great, so great, in fact, that the whole world could not make amends for a single sin. The greatness of the ransom, Christ, the Son of God, indicates this. The vicious character of sin is brought out by the words “who gave himself for our sins.” So vicious is sin that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for sin. When we reflect that the one little word “sin” embraces the whole kingdom of Satan, and that it includes everything that is horrible, we have reason to tremble. But we are careless. We make light of sin. We think that by some little work or merit we can dismiss sin.

This passage, then, bears out the fact that all men are sold under sin. Sin is an exacting despot who can be vanquished by no created power, but by the sovereign power of Jesus Christ alone.

All this is of wonderful comfort to a conscience troubled by the enormity of sin. Sin cannot harm those who believe in Christ, because He has overcome sin by His death. Armed with this conviction, we are enlightened and may pass judgment upon the papists, monks, nuns, priests, Mohammedans, Anabaptists, and all who trust in their own merits, as wicked and destructive sects that rob God and Christ of the honour that belongs to them alone.

Note especially the pronoun “our” and its significance. You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun “our,” and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds.

This attitude springs from a false conception of sin, the conception that sin is a small matter, easily taken care of by good works; that we must present ourselves unto God with a good conscience; that we must feel no sin before we may feel that Christ was given for our sins.

This attitude is universal and particularly developed in those who consider themselves better than others. Such readily confess that they are frequent sinners, but they regard their sins as of no such importance that they cannot easily be dissolved by some good action, or that they may not appear before the tribunal of Christ and demand the reward of eternal life for their righteousness. Meantime they pretend great humility and acknowledge a certain degree of sinfulness for which they soulfully join in the publican’s prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But the real significance and comfort of the words “for our sins” is lost upon them.

The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul “who gave himself for our sins” as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained.

Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table, unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, etc.; and sins against the second table, dishonour of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another’s possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in the heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.

“Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into death for my sins.” To believe this is to have eternal life.

Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages of Holy Scripture. If he says, “Thou shalt be damned,” you tell him: “No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure.” With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil’s craft and put from us the memory of sin.

St. Paul also presents a true picture of Christ as the virgin-born Son of God, delivered into death for our sins. To entertain a true conception of Christ is important, for the devil describes Christ as an exacting and cruel judge who condemns and punishes men. Tell him that his definition of Christ is wrong, that Christ has given Himself for our sins, that by His sacrifice He has taken away the sins of the whole world.

Make ample use of this pronoun “our.” Be assured that Christ has canceled the sins, not of certain persons only, but your sins. Do not permit yourself to be robbed of this lovely conception of Christ. Christ is no Moses, no law-giver, no tyrant, but the Mediator for sins, the Giver of grace and life.

We know this. Yet in the actual conflict with the devil, when he scares us with the Law, when he frightens us with the very person of the Mediator, when he misquotes the words of Christ, and distorts for us our Saviour, we so easily lose sight of our sweet High-Priest.

For this reason I am so anxious for you to gain a true picture of Christ out of the words of Paul “who gave himself for our sins.” Obviously, Christ is no judge to condemn us, for He gave Himself for our sins. He does not trample the fallen but raises them. He comforts the broken-hearted. Otherwise Paul should lie when he writes “who gave himself for our sins.”

I do not bother my head with speculations about the nature of God. I simply attach myself to the human Christ, and I find joy and peace, and the wisdom of God in Him. These are not new truths. I am repeating what the apostles and all teachers of God have taught long ago. Would to God we could impregnate our hearts with these truths.

Wow. What a great word.

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.