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.