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.

Recently Read: January 2019

Here are some books I’ve read or listened to over the summer. And for what it’s worth there are some brief comments about them too.

1. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

This is the incredible story of Rosaria herself. At one point she was a tenured professor, thought of with high regard for her LGBT and feminist views. After conversion to the Christian faith she understood herself differently; giving up her lesbian lifestyle and in time marrying a Presbyterian minister. This is a great book and well worth the read. I listened to it with Rosaria narrating. An astounding and excellent memoir.

2. Why The Reformation Still Matters by Michael Reeves

Again, I listened to this via audio book. The final three chapters move the book up in any sort of rating. However, because the first nine chapters aren’t particularly practical, which I expected they would be, then I didn’t find this book appealing or interesting. Not really worth the read.

3. Wisdom in Leadership by Craig Hamilton

It may have taken me 2.5 years from opening to closing this book but it was still a good one. There is something like 78 chapters, each about five pages long. It provides great practical advice for Christian leaders. Anything from how to lead a team to how to lead a meeting to how to build trust to how to deal with conflict. There are good chapters for those who are main leaders or those who volunteer under other leadership. Again, worth the read but don’t expect to read it through in one hit. It’s also worth noting that the author is Australian.

4. Without Warning by David Rosenfelt

A novel based around a murderer and his son seeking to get revenge on the Chief of Police. It moves quickly, involves a good amount of mystery, and is a fun read/listen.

5. Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas

There are plenty of Martin Luther biographies to read. Some are dry and academic but Metaxas’ one certainly isn’t. Like all good Metaxas books it is reasonably fast-paced and with great little side stories about what is going on in wider culture. I tend to read quickly to the halfway point and then slow down when reading Metaxas and this happened here too. It could have been shorter but is still a valuable and fun read on the life of one of the more significant people in world history and church history. You’re in for a humorous treat on page 334 too.

6. Reset: Living a Grace-paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray

Easily the best book on this list. It may have been because of the time of year I read this one, or because I was feeling tired after 2018. Whatever it was, this book gives great theology that moves into great practice for rest, sleep, work, identity, sin and temptation, eating, exercise, and numerous other factors that can cause us to deplete our energy and lead us to burnout. Again, focused on Christian leaders but really gives good wisdom for a grace-paced life for all believers. I listened by audio, I’ll make sure I pick up a hard copy in due course. I think it’ll be useful for a small group study or course too.

7. Act of Treason by Vince Flynn

A fast-paced novel (ironic given the last book mentioned) about the attempt to take down the President and the US government. A typical thriller involving the CIA, the Russians, terrorists, and sleazy politicians.

8. How To Be A Christian: Your Comprehensive Growth to Flawless Spiritual Living by The Babylon Bee

The Babylon Bee. Enough said.

The whole book is satire. It’s mostly amusing but perhaps they do their best work in short blog posts, rather than 150-page books.

9. The Hand of Justice by Susanna Gregory

This is volume 10 in the Matthew Bartholomew series. I’ve grown to love the main characters of this series and the setting of medieval Cambridge is fascinating. There are always far too many murders to be anything realistic but it’s great fun when you’re into it. It is a holiday read as the writing is slow, nothing happens quickly. But, I liked this volume more than some of the recent ones I’d read.

10. The Prophet by Gibran Kahlil

A famous spiritualistic work by the admired Lebanese poet and writer Kahlil Gibran. I’ve known of this book since I lived in Lebanon over 10 years ago, he’s very famous and well regarded. The Prophet is about a prophet (obviously) who gives wisdom on the human condition and what it means to be human in relation to love, marriage, work, death, beauty, and other such topics. I was happy to have read this for the first time.

I hope you’ve had a good time reading so far in 2019 too.

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: Gospel of Mercy: Remembering Our Identity In Christ

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

Part of what I write is that…

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

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

You can read the whole thing here.

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.

My Top Posts of 2018

Each year I set a number of writing goals, some of which correspond to the regular writing on this blog. This year has been up and down.

I start off at the beginning of the year full of energy, but to sustain the goal of one post per week on this platform is often interrupted. Sometimes it is life that gets in the way, sometimes it is motivation, sometimes it is a lack of ideas, sometimes it is a lack of confidence, sometimes it is a perfectionism that I can’t get over for a while. Whatever it is and whenever it is I still try to push something out that I’m thinking or reading about. If you’re a regular reader of this site then I hope something has been helpful for you.

Top Posts of 2018

In assessing 2018, in terms of my writing and blogging, there are some encouraging things I’m pleased with and others that I’m not.

In terms of raw statistics, in the last 12 months, I’ve managed to:

In many ways this is pleasing to see. Things have improved and been on the increase year by year. There is slow growth, nothing viral, but growing nonetheless.

In terms of what people actually read when visiting this site, here are the posts written in 2018 that were the most popular:

1// Make The Bible Project Your Bible Reading Plan For 2018

By far and away this post was the most popular. I think it was helped by Google, who pointed people here when they search for ‘Bible Project reading plan’. It’s an excellent plan and one that I was following for some of the year.

2// Chair of Deacons Postpones Meeting To Confirm Identity of Youth Pastor

I was playing around with my writing a little at times and had a go at writing a satirical piece for the Babylon Bee. It wasn’t accepted but fun to write at least.

3// Billy Graham and Gramps

When Billy Graham passed away early in the year I interviewed my grandfather, who helped run some of the crusades in New Zealand back in the day. It ended up being republished on TGCA and on the NZ Baptists site.

4// 5 Learnings From Being ‘Acting Senior Pastor’

The Lead Pastor was away on leave for a few weeks. I was the only other person on staff. Here are some reflections from that time. It’s happening again after Christmas too.

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

Another post about reading Scripture. This one looked at how we can take the guilt out of doing so, like skipping days or beginning to find ourselves behind in reading programs and guides.

So, those were the posts written in 2018. Overall, the top five posts that were most read, written at anytime in the last 9 years, were:

Thanks for reading!

For those interested in stats from previous years you can read about 2015, 2016, and 2017.

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.”

On Keeping A Journal

Over the years, probably on and off since high-school, I’ve kept a journal.

On Keeping A Journal

At times I’ve been consistent with this practice. I’ve taken dedicated time and discipline to write what I’ve experienced or felt about certain moments. Whether by typing or whether by handwriting I’ve dedicated time, notebooks, and files to exploring what is going on within. During certain seasons I’ve been able to write daily, expressing thoughts about the days just gone and reflect on how I’m understanding those experiences.

At other times, usually when the season is a hard one, I feel compelled to write. I feel compelled to make sense of what is going on. I feel compelled to discern what my mind and my heart is really saying.

You see, often through the exercise of writing, whether it be in list form or a more comprehensive essay, life can be made clearer. As I work through an issue, an experience, or a particular emotion, the ‘thinking on paper’ provides clarity.

Another aspect to journaling that I find helpful is the way it can become a spiritual exercise. A spiritual exercise centred around writing out my prayer for the day, the day coming or the day past, where I can be entirely honest with God.

Even within ourselves, we rarely take the time to really explore what is going on within our own hearts and minds. Through a journal we are able to explore those ideas, concepts, emotions, seasons, thoughts, issues, and pressures by patiently writing or typing our inner most thoughts. Between the pen and the page we are able to discern our own hearts and seek wisdom from above.

After more than 15 years of this practice, with a few breaks in-between, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong way to journal. In high school we may have been taught some form of formalised writing, and for some reason we carry over to our personal lives those structured ‘rules’ around how we are to express ourselves. There aren’t any rules for writing a journal, it is yours and you can do with it what you like.

As to reading old journals, it probably depends on purpose. I’m always nervous about re-reading something I wrote years ago. It’s like reading the ‘old me’, or at least taking a step backwards, realising how stupid and immature I was. I’m certainly nervous about it. But, for some of those more diary-entry journals it is worth being reminded of what I’ve experienced and gives perspective on the now. For example, I always find it interesting reading portions of my journals from my time in Lebanon, now over 10 years ago. Those entries can be a reminder of what I did, who I met, and what I was thinking at the time.

A little while ago I came across this post, talking about journaling as a pathway to joy. It highlights, for those of us who have a faith, that journaling can be a beneficial spiritual exercise, keeping our hearts and mind on the things of God. It talks about some of the similar things I’ve outlined here, but provides some good ways journaling intersects with our relationship with God. As the author points out,

“…journaling is a way of slowing life down for just a few moments, and trying to process at least a sliver of it for the glory of God, our own growth and development, and our enjoyment of the details”.

What about you? Do you journal? What have you learnt through it? 

Published: The Public Progress of a (Youth) Pastor

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

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

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

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.