Published: Fighting for the Joy of Our Students

For many of us there is the daily fight for joy, to find something to be joyful about in our day-to-day and week-by-week existence. As youth ministry leaders we also have the opportunity to fight for joy for those in our church and youth group. In fact, given the pressures on teenagers, and the ever-increasing stress and anxiety rising within the generations, we can play a part in fighting for their joy too.

With this in mind, I have written a piece that’s been published on Rooted Ministry. You can read the whole thing here.

“How often and how easy it is to lose heart. A dysfunction in the family. A relationship breakdown. A disagreement with friends. An unexpected medical result. Whatever it might be for us and our students, we are called to fix our eyes upon Jesus. Through stories of believers of long ago, we are given examples of faithful people persevering to the end. But in Jesus we find something greater, an everlasting joy that is gifted to us through the work of the cross. As we seek to take hold of this joy for ourselves we also call others to do the same. For our students, the teenagers in our churches and in our homes, we call them to come and take hold of this joy.”

Other pieces published elsewhere can be found here.

Screen Shot fight for joy for students

Christian Blogging And Social Media

For the last three months I’ve felt like I’ve been in a bit of a funk about this whole blogging and writing thing. And it’s not really the writing itself, it’s more about the way in which I should promote and share the things I write.

For a time I ended up deciding not to promote my writing on my personal Facebook profile because I felt it wasn’t who I wanted to become. I had noticed that in the previous few months nearly everything I shared was my own writing from my own blog. I didn’t want to be that guy. There’s a kind of arrogance to that, I think. There’s something not quite right only promoting and sharing the things I am doing.

Ironically (conveniently?), the last week or so has seen a few Christian bloggers commenting about the state of Christian blogs. It’s been an interesting conversation to follow.

Tim Challies’ kicked it off with a post about the kinds of blogs there are in the Christian blogosphere. He made the case that the decrease in Christian blogs is due to the rise of the rightfully named ‘ministry blog’, in amongst a brief point on the future of blogging. Samuel D. James at Letter & Liturgy then made some great points about the various effects of the ministry blog, but also raised concerns bloggers need to be aware of as they seek to have their content written. In the last few days Challies’ has again written about Christian blogging, this time encouraging more Christians to write and publish their own content on their own blog for the sake of the wider church. Again, he makes some great points and I certainly found it encouraging for my own blogging.

In this day and age of platform building through online presence, everyone being a brand, and the addictive nature of social media, it is worth thinking about the impact this has on Christian writing and blogging. For what it’s worth, here are a few more observations I believe worth consideration.

First, the temptation to stay perceptively relevant.

Years ago, when I started blogging myself, there was the belief that having your own blog helped you become a thought-leader in your field. This was, and still is, true. Sort of. The decrease in personal Christian blogs doesn’t mean there are less thought-leaders, it just means these leaders are more likely to be writing on larger ministry blogs. But for the Christian blogger who has a small audience the temptation is to try and impress others with their thoughts. To impress others usually means staying relevant and talking about topics that are ‘in the news’. In other words, writing what other big ministry sites are writing about (the irony of me making this commenting while referring to the ongoing Christian blogging conversation has not past me). I see this in the youth ministry sphere all the time. As posts comes through my RSS reader each day I find it amusing that 3-4 of the large youth ministry blogs are talking about similar things all within a few days of each other. In this way the big ministry sites are actually talking to themselves most of the time and the perception is that everyone is being relevant.

Second, the opportunity to share a message. 

Christian ministry is about the message not the man. The message is centred on the Good News, it’s not about the person who is delivering that message. Because of blogs and social media the opportunity to share this message is phenomenal.

Part of the difficulty in my wrestle to promote my own things isn’t the lack of opportunity to share whatever message I wrote about that week. It is the question of frequency and what other perceived. My own issue may have been solved if I only took time to share the writing of others. And while it is something I do, I don’t do it that often. I just don’t want to flood my own profile with my own articles, let alone other people. I also don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time curating content. Curating. It just sounds dirty. But, it is the reality of the blogger life.

Third, the meaning of humility. 

Humility is something we as Christians strive for because we recognise we’re not the centre of the universe. This is not to say we can’t say or do anything that will increase our own profile. This can naturally happen as our writing becomes more well-known and for the message that we proclaim. However, in seeking to be humble there is to be a constant checking of our own hearts as to where we’re leaning. The temptation to think that we are better than others somehow because we publish a blog post on a Monday and Thursday each week is real. It’s real because humility is difficult to cultivate when you’re seeking to write and publish and speak a message. Again, it’s not about the messenger, it’s about the message. But because they are intrinsically linked the temptation to redefine humility in our own minds becomes a reality.

Fourth, the slow-drip social media saturation. 

Again, my little break of self-promotion provided me with conversations with people who thought I was weird. And I say this because some people were almost angry at me for stopping the promotion of my own material. They just couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t promote it. It was unfathomable to them that I stop promoting my blog posts on my personal profile and instead suggest people subscribe via email or follow my sites FB page.

To me, this pointed out how many of us Christians have been sucked into the culture of social media, platforming, and self-promotion. It has come to the point where we have no problem with any of this kind of behaviour and thinking. We don’t stop to think just how much we think of ourselves as a brand, instead this is now natural, it is what makes up personhood. Thankfully, we are able to reset ourselves when we realise that we haven’t been created as brands but as people; people who are created by God and for his purposes in this world.

Fifth, the settling of the self. 

After prayer and reflection, conversation and writing myself clear, I’ve come to a sense of peace about how I am to write, where I seek to write, and what I will and won’t promote on social media. There are, of course, no particular rules about all this, just like there are no rules in what you can read. But there is most likely a wiser course of action to take. In the end each Christian blogger needs to wrestle with who they are, who they are in light of God, and what they are seeking to get out of their own blog.

Like Samuel D. James comments, there are plenty of temptations to get more involved in social media-land because of blogging. But, there is also plenty of opportunity to find more of your own heart and character in amongst it all. When I say the ‘settling of self’, I mean finding where you are comfortable with right now as you seek to write and share for the glory of God.

The whole point in all of this has been to figure out what exactly is God calling me to do about my writing and sharing of said message. Surely, as we seek to improve our blogs as Christians, and have Christian bloggers speaking into the wider church in their own ways, we are seeking the benefit of others, serving the Church, and trying as best we can to articulate and highlight the grace and glory of God.

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.

Published: The Servant Songs And The Greatest Service Of All

With Christmas only a few weeks away there are plenty of Advent readings and articles written. I had the opportunity to add to this through a little Christmas series Rooted Ministry are doing, focussing on how the OT prophets speak to Jesus’ birth. I planted myself in Isaiah, with particular attention on the four ‘Servant Songs’ (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-52:12), and took some time to reflect through Isaiah 42:1-4.

It will probably become the basis for my sermon on the weekend before Christmas.

You can read it here.

Through his birth Jesus comes as the great justice-giver. Jesus comes to bring justice to the nations, and establish justice upon the earth. Jesus achieves these words of justice through his life and ministry, ultimately turning that justice upon himself, making himself the conduit of justice by taking upon the sins of the world. Through the cross Jesus achieves and establishes justice for the nations, and for us personally. He serves as the Servant-King, reminding us of the words of Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Published: Faith Formation In A Secular Age by Andrew Root

I’ve recently read Andrew Root’s, Faith Formation In A Secular Age: Responding To The Church’s Obsession With Youthfulness.

It was a dense read. As a result, it has triggered numerous thoughts about how we engage students, helping them to form faith in the current cultural era. I think this book has been very helpful in thinking through the way we approach discipleship, particularly in youth ministry. But, at the same time, I found that it raises unsatisfactory answers in its conclusions.

Having read the book, and thought through some of Root’s ideas I have written a fairly comprehensive review. It was accepted by The Gospel Coalition Australia editors and published on their site.

You can read the whole thing here.

“This has resulted with churches increasingly viewing youth ministry as a “saviour” for their church. While the church youth movement has historically been there, it is really only in the last fifty years that this area of the church has risen to the level it is today. There was actually a time when churches didn’t have a youth pastor and where the work toward the young people was driven by a group of volunteers. The striving after a pastoral staff position specifically for youth ministry is something new, relatively speaking.

A by-product of this is churches increasing their value for and commitment to keeping young people in the church. This increase in attention has also created youth ministry and youth focussed para-church organisations that seek to hold a young person in the orbit of faith. This kind of thinking hopes to see more kids, and particularly kids of church families, stay in church life instead of walking away and becoming one of the ‘Nones’ who are now self-identifying in surveys and census data. As Root remarks, “Even today, study after study in youth ministry seems to define faith primarily through institutional participation.” (p30)”

Andrew Root has also been doing the rounds on various podcast episodes. If you’d like to have a listen to what he says then head to one of these:

Youthscape are a youth work organisation in the UK and interviewed Root about his book in episode 41.

Homebrewed Christianity interviews Andrew Root about Faith Formation In A Secular Age. I haven’t listened to this but will do in coming days or weeks.

The Distillery Podcast is an initiative by Princeton Theological Seminary. They interviewed Root about this book and I found it to be a good insight into his thoughts.

When You Gonna Be A Real Pastor is a fun podcast by two youth pastors in the USA. Here they interview Andrew Root before the book was released, partly on his previous book and partly on this one.

Published: Billy Graham and Gramps

I’ve been fortunate enough to have my original post about my grandfather and Billy Graham posted on The Gospel Coalition Australia website and in the ‘Baptist’ Magazine of The Baptist Churches of New Zealand. It was a such joy to research and write that I’m really pleased to have it spread a little wider than my own family and circles.

“For the churches there were new people joining congregations all over the city. There was an increased vigour in evangelism and almost a mini-revival.”

You can read it on TGCA here.

You can read it on the NZ ‘Baptist’ here.

Billy Graham Quote

Published: The Book of Ruth, Critical to God’s Narrative of Redemption

I’ve recently been preaching through the book of Ruth. It’s been really exciting and energising to do so. For one thing, I’ve been fascinated by the various levels of meaning the author uses throughout the narrative. Anyway, in reading and re-reading the story of Ruth I put together a post, which has been published on Rooted Ministry.

I imagine in the work you do as a youth minister – the people you have conversations with, and the crises you get called into – there are similarly tragic moments you’re involved in.

The student who loses her best friend to suicide and didn’t know she needed help. The young man in high school whose father passes away suddenly. The family who is effected by a car accident, or by cancer, or by an illicit liaison.

As youth ministers, we often have the privilege of being part of people’s lives at the worst of times. And often we ourselves don’t know what to say or how to handle such events and experiences. But we sit there, we listen, and we show our love and care for them.

You can read the whole thing here.

Published: What are the Top 5 Books of The Bible You Want Your Students to Read?

So, I’m in a few Facebook groups full of youth pastors and youth ministry practitioners. Someone asked this question of the group and numerous responses came through. I thought about it for a few minutes and jumped in myself. I then made a blog post out of it. It was then published on Rooted Ministry.

“Keep in mind, these aren’t necessarily my five favourite books of the bible. These are what I see as the most helpful pieces of scripture for my students, when it comes to communicating the gospel. It’s an interesting question. You may love Jeremiah, and Amos, and Revelation. Great. Are they in the top five for helping your students understand more of the grace of God and seeking to love and follow Him? Maybe they are.

Of course, no answer is a right answer, but let me outline why I think these are the top five for my students.”

You can read the whole post here.