Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas is Happening! (An Advent Adventure)

I stumbled upon this website last week, and I've absolutely loved it.  It's an Advent calendar of sorts: a daily reflection on the coming of Jesus through a combination of visual art, music, poetry and scripture.  Word on the street is that it's done by the boys of Mumford & Sons.  Today's poem is too good not to be shared:

A stranger came to the shores of the world
that we might be strangers to follow Him home.
Divinity distilled in a human babe
with eternal hopes placed on His name.
So the righteous king laid down His rights
and took on flesh, born into the night.
So small the babe whom stars obeyed,
and lit the way for new songs of praise,
for shepherds and kings, the low and the high,
He came to unite, and He came to divide.
For one thing is clear, and one thing is new:
that those that find Him become strangers, too.
And into the land of the divided sea,
His time not yet come for his life's destiny.
For Christmas is joy and Christmas is peace,
but only He could pay for the price of release.
So anthems of angels still ring in our ears,
“Yeshua, the King, the Savior is here!”
So in the cold light of a dusty old church,
as we sing the same songs and hear the same words,
we think upon Him like generations of old,
He arrived and He lived and He died and He rose.
The stranger still from a different time zone,
He came to our hose to carry us home.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

What You Need To Know About Grace

Fuller Youth Institute just released this video for High School seniors - certainly relevant for all students.  A zinger by Steve Argue from Mars Hill Church:
"Tomorrow morning, you wake up, you open your eyes, and you take your first conscious breath.  In that moment, you remember that you are made in the image of God.  And you also remember that God loves you before you've experienced a success or a failure today.  And you've been invited by God to participate in making this world more beautiful.  That is grace."  
We're looking forward to FYI's Stick Faith college transition curriculum for High School seniors, set to release this summer - check it out here!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Preaching NOW for Instant Gratification Generation

“I want what I want, and I want it NOW!” could be the mantra of the instant-gratification generation that student ministers serve in the postmodern era. And, you know what, it’s not just that they want it now, in many ways, it's that they get it now.

Desires and things that our generation had to wait on, kids can have exactly as they want it, when they want it. Want to hear a song? No waiting on mom to take you to the Camelot Music store. Download it right now. Want to see your friends? No waiting until school tomorrow. Video I-Chat means you can see one another here and now. Want to see your favorite team play? No waiting until CBS picks up your favorite team. Cable packages and ESPN360 let you watch any game at anytime.

Teenagers have deep needs and desires like we all do: they’re just conditioned to believe that they can have it immediately, whereas previous generations were accustomed to waiting. Given the nature of the instant-gratification generation, students ministers need to preach to the immediacy of student’s need for the here and now.

With respect to teaching, though, the message that Jesus saves you from hell and ensures you eternal salvation when you die, has little sticking power with students. As a teenager in the 1990’s, this was the message I received. Jesus secures your soul for heaven. Now go try hard and be good. That message actually stuck with me, as I thought hell for eternity would not be so cool.

While the message of eternal salvation is essential and true, justification when you die will not resonate with kids with such an acute level of demandingness and expectation. Being rescued from eternal judgment needs to be preached, but students need to hear how the Gospel effects them right this second. They need to hear how it affects their life on this earth, because death is 10,000 years away.

The good, and often forgotten, news is that the Gospel promises freedom and life for this lifetime. Jesus says in John 5: 24, “Whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Jesus speaks in the present tense when saying a believer “has” eternal life. He is not speaking about the eternal life in heaven; he’s talking about eternal life right now. Beyond that, in Greek, verbs are either continuous or completed. Continuous verbs describe an action or state that goes on continuously for perpetuity. When Jesus speaks of eternal life, he consistently speaks in the present tense, demonstrating that He was offering life to his audience in their present state and in their life on this earth.

The caveat in this line of speaking is not to cultivate false expectations that Christ offers circumstantial happiness and pleasantness in this life. But the Gospel does offer freedom for believers here and now. The Gospel offers increasing (not absolute) freedom from fear, performance, and pressure. It offers the perfect love that man was made for and never finds outside of Jesus.

While the offer of eternal salvation has value, week in and week out, the proclamation of the freedom and love of the Gospel for this life, this week, this day, this minute needs to have urgent priority in our ministries to postmodern students.

Monday, November 29, 2010

2010 Rooted Conference - Discussion Groups

The following links are the final recordings from The Rooted Conference in August.  Enjoy!

"Practical Theology in a Fallen World:  Guiding Teens Through Unexplainable Hardship or Disappointment" - Drawing from the book of Job, Gordon Bals does an exceptional job of providing a practical model for guiding teens through the brokenness of their lives in a redemptive, grace-filled way.
       Gordon Bals is the founder of Daymark Counseling in Birmingham, AL.

"Teenagers Can Handle the Truth: The Significance of Biblical and Theological Teaching for Today’s Youth" - Mark Gignilliat discusses the importance of basing our teaching for youth strongly in Scripture in a culture which .
       Mark is currently a professor of Hebrew, Old Testament Exegesis, and Biblical Theology at Beeson Divinity School.  Before coming to Beeson, he taught at Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford.  

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Law Does Not Stick

I attended the Youth Specialties conference in Nashville this past weekend - it was my first time to attend the conference, and there was a lot to take in.  Some good stuff, some not-so-good stuff.  I'll likely continue to post some thoughts from the conference in the weeks to come, but for now, I'll direct you to one of the more exciting discoveries I made.  

Fuller Youth Institute is doing some pretty cutting-edge sociological research that is of special interest to this blog.  Their research especially pertains to what helps kids' faith "stick" into college and beyond, and why our youth ministries are currently failing to give students "sticky faith".  Although the entirety of their research won't be released until 2011, their preliminary studies show that about 30-50% of students involved in their youth groups in high school struggle to maintain that faith beyond high school graduation - that is 2 out of every 5 students in your ministry you'd classify as "involved".  It's not those kids who you see once a year, but the ones who you have a deep relationship with - the ones who appear to "get it".  This is deeply discouraging. 

Kara Powell, Director of the Fuller Youth Institute, spoke at YS this weekend and pointed to some of the conclusions from the yet-to-be-released research.  What is the cause of non-sticky faith?  The law.  She claims that the vast majority of youth across the country are being fed "empty calories" - like caffeine, we feed them something that will produce quick, visible results and likely get them across the graduation "finish line" as good, moral, upstanding kids.  But then the caffeine high wears off, the behavior expectations change or they fail to live up to their own expectations, and they crash.
When we allow our students to believe - or, worse, teach them - that their faith is a sum of their behaviors, that obedience is a precursor to righteousness before the Lord, we feed them empty calories.  It won't be long before they realize that their behavior can't sustain them for the long-haul, and they give up.  But the gospel of grace, the Truth of the Scriptures, tells us something very different:  

"But the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it--the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith." -Romans 3:21-25

This is a faith which can absorb a student's pitfalls, as it absorbs our own.  This is a faith which can give a student an identity apart from their failed performance.  This is a faith which sticks.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

2010 Rooted Conference - More Recordings

The following are the remaining keynote addresses from the Rooted Conference in August.  Check back as we release the Discussion Group sessions by Gordon Bals and Mark Gignalliat.  

"Good News, Not Good Advice" - Dean Limehouse opens the Conference by discussing how the Good News that we are loved when we don't deserve it is what will ultimately change lives.
      The Very Rev. Frank Limehouse currently serves as Dean of Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL.

"Transforming Student Ministry" - Dave Wright discusses how his personal journey in ministry has influenced his views of ministry.
      Dave is Coordinator for Youth Ministries in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and author of Fusion Musing.

"Rooted Discipleship" - Speaking from her vast experience ministering to High School girls, Sand Price discusses how expository Bible teaching must be the root of small group discipleship.   
      Sand is a wife and mother who has taught community Bible Studies to girls for many years in Birmingham, AL.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Grace, Numbers and Value

This year, many youth positions will open up across the nation. Many of those positions will be filled with very similar people. Why does student ministry have such a rate of attrition?

If you are in student ministry, you probably have an idea why there are so many transitions. The number one reason for dissatisfaction in a minister is the number of people affected by their ministry. If the number of people attending goes down, then the magnifying glass comes out.

I was once told by a pastor, “I know we talk a lot about grace, but when it comes to your job, it’s performance.” I was stunned. Why is it that grace is a major tenet of the church and Christianity in itself, but not a practice among the leadership of the church?

I learned something about grace and measuring performance that day. Grace is something that can’t be measured and can’t be contained. Performance is something that is always measured and acts as a ceiling on our self-worth. The astonishing things is that the church hasn’t figured this out. Grace is something that is freely given to people who accept it. It doesn't increase your self worth, and it doesn’t make anyone arrogant.  Performance, on the other hand, is what you use to measure yourself and gain self worth. It is demanding, giving you equal measures of self-contempt when you aren’t fulfilling expectations and contempt for others when you are exceeding expectations.  Most importantly, performance in ministry is the opposite of the kingdom.

The Bible is clear about what you can do and what He does. The things that happen in ministry - people being drawn to God, transformed lives, etc. - are not things that you can do. Those are in God’s power alone. Measuring those things for self-worth is pointless, since they are not things that are possible for us. In fact, you could make a case for measuring those things being blasphemy, since to take credit for them, you would be sinning against God.

That’s why you need grace. It doesn't make you responsible for the outcomes, but it sure has an impact on what you have to live with going forward. Grace frees us from needing to prove ourselves daily. It is the opposite of self-worth.  Instead of showing you how much you mean to yourself and your peers, it shows you how much you mean to God.

Paul Martin currently serves as Youth Minister at St. Peter's Anglican Church in Birmingham, AL, and is the author of Like a fire.

A Tale of Rejection and Perfection in Youth Ministry...

“In every contest, there must be a loser.  La-hoo-sa-her.” –Ace Ventura, Pet Detective.

Rejection.  We've all faced it.  As a matter of fact, we're all probably facing it in one way or another right now.  Rejection has to be one of the most common experiences of mankind, and recently I've been struck by the way God has been using it in relation to youth ministry. 
What happens when you relate to a kid through a weakness or an experience of suffering or failure?  Often, walls are broken and God shows up in some really neat (and sometimes unexpected) ways.  It can be easy to fall into a pattern of thinking you need to have everything together in order to be a minister- thinking you need to reflect your faith perfectly all the time, and you need to have all the right answers.   At least that is what I thought when I became a youth minister a little over four years ago.  My perfectionism (which is reflected in my faith) came through in my ministry, and my actions were never good enough for the impossible standards I set.  I wanted the kids I worked with to be good ‘do-ers’ of Christianity too, (even though I never felt like a good ‘do-er’ of it myself) and I constantly evaluated my relationship with Jesus based on what I was or wasn’t doing.
Somewhere in that first year, I began to be crushed by all of my evaluating and never doing enough (because there is ALWAYS more to do in youth ministry), and someone brought to my attention that I was called to be perfect, and I couldn’t be.  That’s why our perfect God plopped some flesh on and died for me.  He alone is perfect, and only He could be the perfect atoning sacrifice for my mess.   In Him, I am set free from the law of perfection laid on me, and I get to live in response to His ridiculous love for me (Romans 8:1-2).   Jesus draws our eyes away from ourself and to Himself, to Love.  
There are so many things that draw our eyes to ourselves, and the real freedom I have experienced has come through the Lord’s merciful drawing of them to Himself.  Perhaps that is why people often meet, see, or experience Him in their times of weakness, pain, or struggle; they are finally done looking at themselves and begin looking for or toward Him.   And He is always there!  
This same idea plays out in how we relate to kids; sharing the reality of our places of rejection (and need for the Lord in a bigger sense) can be an unexpected conduit for Jesus to be seen.  Kids sometime can’t believe that you (yes, you, Oh Wonderful Youth Leader, you) have gone through rejection like they have, and God’s love in light of that rejection can be a powerful, powerful thing.  He’s been there too (Jesus), and He literally died for we who rejected Him.  His love extends into rejection and meets us in the depths.  This is not to say we should use youth group as a counseling session for ourselves, but man, God might have something awesome in-store for your places of pain, failure, and rejection.  Pray about it, I say.  I think Paul’s on to something in 2 Corinthians (12:9-11): 
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   

Liz Edrington is in her fifth year as Youth Minister at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

2010 Rooted Conference - Recordings

Dr. Ashley Null served as Chaplain for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, is a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, and is one of the world's leading experts on Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation. We were thrilled to have him as a keynote speaker at the Rooted Conference in August.

Keynote 1: "Perfection as Protection" - Speaking from his experience ministering to Olympic athletes, Dr. Null addresses our tendency to seek perfection as a defense against our insecurities.

Keynote 2: "Preaching Morality Leads to Immorality" - Dr. Null addresses the importance of preaching a gospel of grace, and distinguishes between grace as unconditional affirmation and grace as unconditional love.

Keynote 3: "Love Changes Lives" - Dr. Null argues that it is the love of Jesus Christ which produces change in our lives and the lives of our students rather than condemnation and shame.

Check back in the coming weeks as we release the remaining talks from the 2010 Rooted Conference.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

What Is Grace-Driven Ministry?

Just about everyone in student ministry has the same aim: to see lives transformed for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom. We want to see students walking in new life, loving God and their neighbor, and bearing the fruit of the Spirit. However, different ministries have different ideas on how we arrive at the end of changed lives.
The opposite of grace-driven ministry is law-driven ministry. By this we mean ministry that focuses on the following:
1.) Providing students with moral education about how to act in a godly manner
2.) Motivating students to live for God and act in accordance with God’s laws
3.) Measuring the effectiveness of the ministry by the apparent moral and spiritual behavior of its students
Grace-driven ministry concentrates on these tenets:
1.) Maintaining a view of long-term spiritual formation that comes about by cultivating a worldview in students, rooted in biblical theology and the message of God’s grace
2.) Proclaiming repeatedly the Gospel: Christ deeply loves desperate sinners
3.) Believing that students embracing the love of Jesus will lead ultimately to them submitting their life more and more to God
4.) Believing that the fruit of a changed life will come as a product of surrendering to God and allowing Him to do His work on, to, and through students
In sum, law-driven ministry points students towards performance for Jesus, while grace-driven ministry points students towards rest in Jesus.
The backbone of grace-driven ministry is the belief that the message of the grace of Jesus and the unconditional love of the Father is the most powerful message in the Universe. Jesus Himself and His amazing grace is The Thing that will redeem the world. Believing that, in the message of grace, we have the ultimate medicine for broken people and this fallen world, we at Rooted seek to consider how all of us in student ministry can root our ministries more deeply in the proclamation and practice of grace.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why All Teen Devotionals Stink!

Every student minister knows that frustrating moment when a parent or godparent calls to ask for your recommendation of a teen devotional to encourage spiritually the teen, who they wish to see grow in Christ.

Then, comes that awkward confession: I really don’t know of any good devotionals for teens.

You expect that on the other end that the person thinks you’re utterly incompetent. If they knew the reality: all teen devotionals stink! Not some, not many, ALL of them.

Here are some reasons teen devotionals are generally terrible:

1.) Teen devotionals talk down to kids- Devotionals intended for students ages 13-18 usually address these students as if they are 3-8 years old. These devo’s challenge teens very little and can come across as patronizing and almost insulting to the majority of teenagers, because of how....bab
yish they sound.

2.) Teen devotionals underestimate the pain and suffering of adolescents- In the application section of most devo’s, the writers will provide examples of struggles and sins young people often encounter. These struggles include conflict with friends, telling a lie, disobeying parents, feeling anxious about not getting invited to the school dance, etc. While these difficulties are legitimate and common to most teens, rarely are some of the more painful, shameful challenges teens face included. Though not all students face these problems, sin struggles like addiction, pre-marital sex, pornography, cutting, and eating disorders and experiences like abuse, divorce, financial crisis, and bullying are more the norm. If teen devos hit on hard problems, it almost always centers around underaged-drinking, reinforcing the teen myth that Christ died so that we will wait until we’re 21 to drink. Students who struggle with these deeper sins and experiences can often feel alienated when their issues are not identified. The false message can be sent that their problems are rare and too big for Christ and Christianity.

3.) The bottom line of most teen devotionals is often, “Now, go be nice and good for Jesus.” The application section of most devotionals always goes down the road of moralism and the law. While we certainly want spending time with Jesus and engaging God’s Word to influence the life of the students, the answer is not simply telling kids to go be good for God out of their own power. Encountering Jesus via a devotional should encourage students to surrender their heart to the work of the Spirit and to trust God to transform their heart. The”moral behavior” should be the fruit of a life submitted to Jesus and in response to God’s amazing grace, not a directive for kids to take into their own hands.

I will say that Engage and Discover from The Good Book Company are the devotionals that have come most highly recommend to me.