Published: Theological Reflection In Training For Youth Ministry

It was only a little over a week ago I wrote about the impact my Master of Divinity studies had on my training for youth ministry. I outlined four points about how my theological education has prepared and impacted my role as a youth and young adult pastor. However, there was really a fifth point. And that fifth point became a whole post, recently published on Tim Gough’s Youth Work Hacks as a follow-up piece

In this post I flesh out how the theological education I received has helped in applying theologically reflective practice into the ministry. This means, looking out for where God seems to be moving and asking the question of what He is doing amongst the local believers. Sometimes this may sound foreign to people, particularly in youth ministry, because it’s not taught or explored very often. But, I think it is actually the most important of the five points across the two articles.

“Theological reflection, the idea of being able to reflect on our experiences in life and ministry through the lens of faith, can often go missing in youth ministry. It takes effort to stop, think, and articulate what God might be doing within our own lives, let alone through the ministry we might be involved in. We can find ourselves more focused on ‘doing the program’, or ‘getting the task done’, than taking the time to reflect on the ways God seems to be working in our midst.”

You can read the whole thing here.

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The Holiness of God by RC Sproul

The Holiness of God by RC Sproul is a well known and highly regarded book. Like Packer’s ‘Knowing God’ and Piper’s ‘Desiring God’, my understanding is that this is Sproul’s flagship book. The one that put him on the map at least. I can see why.

Sproul is terrific, from start to finish, in outlining the holiness of God. He starts by talking about God’s holiness in relation to his creation. He leaves us with dealing with the mystery of God’s holiness. He speaks of how the Old Testament shows so clearly that holiness is a huge factor in the way he relates to his creatures. And, by through understanding holiness more we see just how patient, gracious, and merciful he is to each one of us.

I found his chapters in dealing the the justice of God and holiness, and also his approach to some tough passages of the Bible very helpful. For example, he deals with how Aaron’s sons die when they offer the wrong fire to God. This is because of God’s holiness. He also tackles the passage where one of the Ark bearers seems to stop the Ark of the Covenant from falling. In touching the Ark the man dies. This is again because of holiness. In each of these chapters it was highlighted to me just how holy God is and just how unholy I am. Hence, the greater appreciation for God’s patience, graciousness and mercy.

I don’t think holiness is a theme or characteristic of God spoken of much these days. Nor is it applied very well either. Perhaps the only time we hear of holiness is when we are told to obey God’s ways, yet this is often heard as rules and regulations. There’s always a danger in trying to encourage people toward holiness and godliness because it can often be heard as works-righteousness. Sadly, this distorts the gospel and is a poor witness. While our faith may impact our lives we don’t pursue the holiness God requires of us.

And when I say, ‘of what God requires of us’, I want to make sure that we are clear on what I mean.

This is not saying that we need to be holy in order to attain salvation, in order to be made right with God. No, Christianity is not a works-based faith. It is a faith built on the ‘rightness’ of Jesus Christ, and the work he has done on the cross. As Sproul articulates so in the final chapters of his book,

“That a saint [a believer] is a sinner is obvious. How then can he be just? The saint is just because he has been justified. In and of himself he is not just. He is made just in the sight of God by the righteousness of Christ. This is what justification by faith is about. When we put our personal trust for our salvation in Christ and in Him alone, then God transfers to our account all the righteousness of Jesus. His justness becomes ours when we believe in Him. It is a legal transaction. The transfer of righteousness is like an accounting transaction where no real property is exchanged. That is, God puts Jesus’ righteousness in my account while I am still a sinner.” (p212)

The calling we have as believers is to follow Jesus and become more like him. An aspect of this, and as Sproul strongly prioritises as number one, is that of holiness. We are to become more holy as believers. We are seeking to do away with sin in our lives and continue to live lives that are transforming us into the likeness of Jesus. The likeness of God. Holiness is then sought as a sinner-saint. We continue to examine our own lives in light of God’s holiness and know we have a lot of work to do.

Again, the trouble with talking this way is often we find ourselves slipping into a regulated or rules based faith. Yet, we must constantly remind ourselves that the heart of the holiness transformation is for the joy of being with God, knowing God, and being made right by God.

In reading this book, and thinking about it further, I have found myself appreciating the impact it has on my heart and mind. I have particularly found myself thinking about the undeserved grace God gives to us in light of his holiness. Furthermore, it is his holiness that impacts so many areas of the biblical storyline. In fact, from Genesis 3 right through to the end of the New Testament this theme of holiness plays a significant role.

I think this book inspires a greater understanding of God. A deeper appreciation for his grace and mercy, a real understanding of our sin and sinful nature and the impact of that on our relationship with God and this world. And then, the way God’s justice plays out because of his holiness. There are so many aspects to our faith and theology that this book speaks into. And is so helpful in our personal walk with Jesus, and our own transformation toward holiness.

I couldn’t recommend it more.

Recently Read: April 2018

Here are some brief summaries of the books I’ve finished recently. There aren’t as many as last time, but range from bible commentaries to biography to sport.

Recently Read - April 2018

Ruth: The King Is Coming by Daniel I. Block

I preached through the book of Ruth in February and March. This was the main commentary I used, which was simply excellent.

Ruth: The King Is Coming by Daniel Block is part of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament series. This particular commentary gives a good outline of all the textual, cultural, and literary issues of the book. It walks the reader through the text and its structure in a helpful way. It raises the theological issues and conclusions of the book too. It was very helpful in thinking through the book of Ruth and and a useful preaching tool.

The Message of Ruth by David J. Atkinson

This commentary is in the Bible Speaks Today series. It’s not a new commentary nor is it particularly academic. It raises some helpful thoughts regarding the book of Ruth, particularly focussed on applying the text to the reader. However, I found the application reasonably poor, and various theological aspects of the text are not dealt with at length or in needed depth.

The Blueprint: LeBron Jame, Cleveland’s Deliverance, and the Making of the modern NBA by Jason Lloyd

The writer, Jason Lloyd, has been an NBA beat journalist for years. He was the Cleveland beat writer during the time of LeBron’s coming, going, and return to the Cavs. He gives a fascinating insight into the way the club operated during this time and how the club dealt with the superstar.

While there is biographical material of LeBron himself, the real insight of the book comes in the form of team strategy. That is, the management of an NBA team and what strategic moves the back office uses to build a winning team.

This was a great book, worth reading, and great sports writing.

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

This is one of the best modern Christian books you’ll ever read.

I rate it highly. So highly that I’ve made it the first book in our church internship program.

The Prodigal God is a short book that takes the reader through the parable of The Prodigal Son. Each chapter not only reveals the content of the parable in a fresh way but is powerfully mind-blowing and heart-convicting for your soul.

If you’re looking for a great read and something that will encourage you in your Christian faith then this is well worth getting your hands on.

Packer on The Christian Life by Sam Storms

J.I. Packer is essential reading for any Christian and has been highly influential for millions of believers around the world. His best known work is Knowing God, one of his 25+ books written or contributed to. Now at over 90 years old he is no longer writing and teaching theology has he has done, but continues to impact many in the Christian faith because of his writings.

Sam Storms has written a great biography of the man, which focusses more on the way he has thought about the Christian life than about his life itself. In this way The Christian Life series is a unique contribution and well worth reading.

Storms gives one chapter to the life of the man but then spends 11 chapters on working through his Christian thought on topics like the atonement, the role of the bible, holiness, sanctification, the battle with sin, the Holy Spirit, prayer, suffering, and discerning the will of God. Each chapter is excellent and I found the chapters on the bible, sanctification, and prayer most beneficial for myself.

One interesting element of this book was reading Sam Storms articulate and reflect upon Packer’s cessationism while being a contiunationist himself. This was helpful and encouraging to see, particularly the attempt to understand Packer’s position while disagreeing with it.

Another book worth reading.

Day 9 – You Are Chosen

“Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ. For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)

When I was in school I fondly remember the lunch time sports I used to play. In summer, it was often cricket, and in winter, it was often football or basketball. The way the teams were chosen were through two captains, usually the most out-going, bossy, and controlling classmates, picking person after person to be on their side. The way the players were chosen was based on perceived ability. The best players chosen first, then the mid-range players, and finally, those who weren’t that great but allowed to play were chosen last. Those chosen last were usually the same every time. And soon enough there would be two teams and off we went.

In the bible, we read that we have been chosen by God.

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We read in Ephesians 1 that before the foundation of the world God has chosen us to be part of his holy family. That even before he created the world, and before we were created and knitted together in our mother’s womb, God had chosen us. And being chosen by him in order for us to be holy and faultless in love. That we would be part of his family and he would give us grace and more grace, and love and more love because of who he is. Because of his great love for us he has chosen us and given gift after gift through his Son Jesus.

This choosing was not like choosing a sport team at school. God didn’t choose you to be part of his family based upon how good a person you are. He didn’t line you up and then look at all the good things you would do in your life and pick you because of that. No, God simply wanted to show his love to you, he wanted to know you, he wanted to be with you and you with him. And so, God chose you.

We have been chosen by God!

God himself cherishes and loves us and has chosen us to be with him.

This idea can also raise some questions. Is God playing favourites? Is he choosing some people and then decisively not choosing others? Is this fair?

These are good questions to ask. It can seem like God is playing favourites.

Yet, no one knows whether they are chosen until they know him. From a human perspective God’s grace is open to all. Everyone is called to come and believe. Everyone is called to come and follow. Everyone is called to come and know. In this way, God’s grace and love and choosing is open to all people.

At the end of the day none of us are actually in a position to earn our acceptance by God anyway. No one deserves to be part of God’s family, that’s why it is such a glorious thing to know we are part of his family. Through Jesus, and his death and resurrection, we are able to believe and follow. To know and be known. To trust and be accepted. To cherish and be chosen.

God is God, and we being chosen into his family is such a great and almighty gift to us. Who he has chosen to be our brothers and sisters we don’t always know. But what we do know is that he has called us, and he calls us to call others, into his loving family.

Every few years we undertake local, state, and national elections. The election process can take some time and depending on how certain members of parliament and political parties are doing in their roles will depend on whether they continue to be elected as our representatives. In recent years voting seems to have turned very populist. That is, whoever can market themselves and galvanise people the most will likely tip the votes in their favour. Yet, how long an MP stays in politics and in government is indefinite. Some may spend only one term, 3-4 years representing their constituents. Others may last for over 20 years in office.

For those of us who follow Jesus and know Jesus we can rest assured that we have been adopted into God’s family forever. There is no need to doubt that we are part of his family because God has chosen us to be in it. We don’t simply stay in the family for a short period of time before leaving. We don’t get chosen on the basis of our performance or the basis of popularity. God has chosen us, he has chosen you, because of his great and glorious love for you.

Because of this we can say we have been chosen.

FOR REFLECTION

  • What effect does knowing that God has chosen you have upon you?
  • What kind of questions does this raise for you? Make a list of them.
  • How can you help others realise God’s love for them and his delight to have them in his family 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

Recently Read: June 2017

I’ve been holiday and managed to finish a couple of books. Here’s some thoughts about them.

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Killing Calvinism: How To Kill A Perfectly Good Theology From The Inside by Greg Dutcher

Now here is a book for Calvinists.

If you’re wanting to explore what Calvinism is then go elsewhere, just as the author says in his introduction. But, if you’re a Calvinist who doesn’t want to be a tool then please read this book. It will be very beneficial for you.

It’s a short book, around 100 pages. There are 8 chapters, each outlining how to ruin Calvinism and its appeal. Implied in each chapter is a call to gracious humility, calling Calvinists to be more generous and winsome in communicating and teaching biblical doctrine. At the end of each chapter there is an appropriate prayer to pray as well.

It’s part biographical, which adds to its readability.

I thought is was worth the read.

“The sovereignty of God is truly awesome in its power to put new life into the sinner’s soul. But God saved us to “see and savor” much more than just his sovereignty. While relishing the sovereignty of God in salvation is good and healthy, relishing only God’s sovereignty is unhealthy and lopsided…This world desperately needs to see a robust, healthy Calvinism that celebrates the fullness of God’s ways and works – not a lopsided Christian who cannot get off the hobbyhorse of God’s sovereignty.” (p42-43)

Changing The World: Through Effective Youth Ministry by Ken Moser

I was gifted this book at Christmas off the back of a fellow Youth Minister’s recommendation. I finally got around to reading it and I would recommend it to others.

This is really a foundational youth ministry textbook. You could use it in the classroom, with an intern, or with a group of youth leaders.

There’s 15 chapters, making up 150-odd pages.

The author’s contention is that all youth ministry should be focussed on discipleship. The focus of any church-based youth ministry should be targeting those who are part of the church, such as teenagers of church families. This begins with developing a group, no matter how large or small, that grows through the teaching of God’s Word and community together. From this foundation the youth ministry grows organically through the evangelism and mission of those within the youth ministry itself.

I tend to agree with the majority of what Ken Moser, the author, writes. He goes hard against an entertainment model of youth ministry that essentially means the church is running a baby-sitting club on Friday nights. However, he goes so hard against it that at times it feels like this model of youth ministry would be the most boring thing ever. I’m not convinced that youth ministry is solely bible studies with light refreshments and the odd social tacked on once every few months.

In case I’m being too unfair, I do think it lays out a good foundation for discipleship and rightly highlights the need for strategic youth ministry. There are also a few resources provided in the latter chapters to help someone fresh in running a youth ministry.

It would make my top 5 books on youth ministry.

“As I reflect on youth ministry, I am absolutely convinced that ministry to young people is about grabbing hold of this world with the gospel of Christ, shaking it alive and placing it on the road toward eternal life. In short, youth ministry is about changing the world for Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. There is an urgency to our job, be clear on this.” (pXII)

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller

I’m blown away by this book and I haven’t even finished it yet. In fact, I don’t think I’m even a third of the way through it.

This book is simply making the case that speaking and acting for justice in our world is a natural part of what it means to be a Christian. Whether it is an international cause or simply caring for your neighbour, the bible speaks constantly of the need to care for others and help meet their needs.

Already I am heavily convicted by this book. It is deeply biblical and provides an excellent case for compassion ministry, particularly through the church.

I look forward to finishing this one and seeing what happens in my own life in response to it.

“A lack of justice is a sign that the worshippers’ hearts are not right with God at all, that their prayers and all their religious observance are just filled with self and pride.” (p50)

“The disposition of one’s possessions signifies the disposition of one’s heart.” (p51)

“Anyone who has truly been touched by the grace of God will be vigorous in helping the poor.” (p54)

“The Biblical perspective sees sexual immorality and material selfishness as both flowing from self-centredness rather than God-centredness.” (p55)

This has now gone on longer than I had hoped. Anyway, I also attempted to read The Messiah Code, a novel written by Michael Cordy. I tried. I really did. I made it to page 80 and gave it back to the op shop. It wasn’t great.

Have you read anything interesting lately?

The Laughing Theologian

It’s not often that the topic of humour is discussed in evangelical circles. I find, because I enjoy having a laugh and making others laugh, that I can be taken to be ‘anti-serious’. After reading this gem from Trueman I’m going to make sure I keep on laughing…!

Tony Reinke

truemanCarl Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Crossway, 2015), 198–199:

In general terms, of course, Protestant theologians have not been renowned for their wit, and Protestant theology has not been distinguished by its laughter. Yet Luther laughed all the time, whether poking fun at himself, at Katie, at his colleagues, or indeed at his countless and ever increasing number of enemies. Humor was a large part of what helped to make him so human and accessible. And in a world where everyone always seems to be “hurt” by something someone has said or offended by this or that, Luther’s robust mockery of pretension and pomposity is a remarkable theological contribution in and of itself.

Humor, of course, has numerous functions. It is in part a survival mechanism. Mocking danger and laughing in the face of tragedy are proven ways of coping with hard and difficult situations. Undoubtedly…

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A DIY Discipleship Plan

We are in the fortunate position of living in a Christian resource-rich period of time. No other generation has had such access to the teaching of the Bible and other resources that come with it. Only a few years ago it was impossible to hear any sermon other than the one you heard while attending your local church. Now, I can listen to one sermon on the way to work and another on the way home. That’s crazy.

The amount of books, podcasts, music, articles and blog posts, devotionals, and different versions of the Bible give a plethora of options in helping us to understand and know God better. But, it can also cause a tremendous amount of confusion because there is so much choice.

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Therefore, I find it helpful to think about how I’m going to grow in my understanding of God and develop as a follower of Jesus by having a plan. In previous years I’ve attempted to read the Bible through in a year. There are many good plans to help with this and I find committing to reading four chapters a day the most consistent method. Having said this, I haven’t been overly successful lately.

Because I enjoy learning, particularly through reading and listening, I’ve decided to approach my discipleship development in a different way for 2015. Rather than have broad goals of reading the Bible through in a year and praying regularly I’ve sought to make them a bit more specific.

In structuring this plan I’ve broken my development into four areas; biblical theology, historical theology, systematic theology, and practical theology. Within these four areas I then have specific resources I’d like to read or listen to at different times throughout the year. See below as an example:

Biblical Theology

  • Read the book of Jeremiah 5 times
  • Read a commentary on Jeremiah
  • Reach the book of Hebrews 5 times
  • Read a commentary on Hebrews

Historical Theology

Systematic Theology

  • Read 3-4 books on the topic of ‘Salvation’ (Do you have anything to recommend in this area?)

Practical Theology

There are many resources to read, watch, and listen to. There are conferences to go to and church to attend. There are small groups to join and other community activities to be part of. There is no doubt that discipleship is communal. I don’t want to negate this. But on a personal level I also want to continue to grow in my knowledge of God through his Word, what He’s done in history, through the teaching of others and then seek to apply it.

It’s at least a plan, and I like plans, even if they don’t always get achieved the way I think they should be. So next year I’m going in with a plan to develop as a disciple. What about you?

My Theological Library

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By: Pouya sh

A month ago we moved house. It’s not really the most enjoyable of experiences but it’s something that has to be done when the time comes. The process of moving house meant that I had to move all the books that i have. I’m an avid reader and aim to read a book each fortnight (on average over the course of a year). The “industry” I’m in also lends itself to be around books. Ministry requires reading, preaching requires reading, studying requires reading. This means I’ve a growing collecting of around 700 books on the shelves and when the library reaches this point it’s probably time to get it sorted out.

I did toy with the idea of working the Dewey system or using the Library of Congress numbers but decided that might be a bit extreme. In the end the best advice came from Andy Naselli’s post on “Why you should organise your theological library and a way how”. I’ve adjusted some of what he’s suggested but used the main categories to organise mine. My library is obviously not as big as his so it doesn’t need as much detail as what he has laid out. But here it is:

1. Biblical Theology

  • Languages (NT Greek)
  • Hermenuetics (how to interpret the Bible etc.)
  • Commentaries (on each book of the Bible)
  • OT & NT introductions, theologies, and overviews

2. Historical Theology

  • Biographies
  • Church & Christian History
  • “Works” by old dead guys

3. Systematic Theology

  • Bible doctrine (the sort of topics in a general systematic theology book)
  • Apologetics
  • Philosophy

4. Practical Theology

  • Christian Living (all those great books people pick up at the front of Christian bookstores ;))
  • Preaching
  • Leadership
  • Youth Ministry
  • Church
  • Pastoral Ministry
  • Missions

At this stage all sub-categories are mixed in together in the broad categories. I’m not convinced this works for the Practical Theology section but it’ll take too much time sorting it out at the moment.

Comments? Suggestions? How do you sort yours?

Evangelical Truth by John Stott

evangelicaltruth stottJohn Stott and his ministry is well known and well respected throughout the world. He has written numerous books and articles, and up until his death in 2011 he was considered a worldwide Christian leader.

In this little book of 149 pages Stott explains the essentials of the Christian faith and makes a strong plea for unity. Here, toward the end of his life, Stott continues to write with great insight, making you think about the primary and secondary issues within the Christian faith. There is constant debate between Christians, now more than ever it seems, over all sorts of theological and social issues. Stott believes these issues should be discussed, but at times there is a need to lessen the vigour and closed-handedness of these debates.

Evangelical Truth has five chapters, including the introduction and conclusion. The three main chapters cover the following areas: the revelation of God, the cross of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In the introduction Stott gives a brief rundown of his definition of evangelicalism. He pitches this definition against that of fundamentalism and liberalism. Within this chapter he also gives information about evangelicalism has evolved and its main historical turning points within the church.

The chapter on revelation, as expected, is based on the revelation of God through the bible. Stott speaks of general and specific revelation, progressive and personal revelation, inspiration, authorship, biblical authority. He touches on the debate between the sufficiency of scripture and also the inerrancy of scripture. Here Stott makes his stand against using the term ‘inerrancy’.

Chapter three is essentially the gospel. It is the message of the cross well explained. He gives a helpful explanation of ‘justification by faith’, and grapples with what disciples and mission are. It is the shortest chapter in the book but also the most concise and straight-forward. It was good to hear the gospel again.

A final chapter on the ministry of the Holy Spirit makes Evangelical Truth truly trinitarian. The topics of assurance, holiness, purity, community, mission, and hope are all covered. Stott is really telling the reading of how the Holy Spirit works; in the New Testament and his continuing work today. This is a good chapter and well explained.

To conclude, Stott summarises his point and pleads with the reader to be united with Christian brothers and sisters around the globe. He calls for Christians to endure hardship and wants to be an encouraging voice within that. You can really see in the writing that Stott has a wealth of experience and knowledge of the gospel, is passionate about the things of God, and wants Christians around the world to be united under the gospel. He encourages all believers to lead with humility and to love one-another with Christian love.

A great primer of the Christian faith. Get on it.

John Stott, Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea For Unity, Integrity and Faithfulness (149 pages; Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press), 2003.