Monday, April 30, 2012

Confronting Deism with the Realities of God

This post is part of our series on the cultural trend coined "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism". Check out the rest of the posts in the series here.

Avoidance.  We’re all pretty good at it, and we’ve got plenty of excuses in our toolbox which allow us to live in our own realities for a while.  But the God of Scripture is merciful; He breaks in and confronts us with realities bigger than ourselves (such as love and death), and the Man/God Himself asks us each, “Who do you say that I am?”

This is one of the most amazing blessings of the Christian faith: God confronts.  He breaks into humanity and ushers in a new reality- the Kingdom of God.  He upturns tables, defeats death, and brings a new way of life- The Way of life, Jesus.   “How offensive,” some may say.  “No one can tell me what’s right and good.  No one can claim that Jesus is the only way- or that Christianity is what’s right.”  

We think we know best.  And this is only magnified in the teen population we work with.  We want to be the ones in control of our lives.  We think that the world revolves around us, and no one else can or should tell us that there is one thing on which everything else hinges.  The cross is offensive.   But praise be to God, Jesus came to interrupt our cycles of self-righteousness and self-trust; He came to rescue us from ourselves.  As much as we really think that we want to be left alone in the mess of our own sin and others’, God breaks in.

The “deism” which has become the sort-of religion of youth culture today hinges on the belief that God remains at a distance.  He doesn’t confront anyone; He’s really nice, He’s really big, and He’s inaccessible.  He might be on-call for when someone needs something, and sometimes He helps us feel better about ourselves, but He certainly isn’t personal.  He’s so grand and powerful, even, that he “can’t fit into any one religion.”

Although many kids have other roadblocks when considering Jesus, the avoiding, wishy-washy, non-committal attitude of the “deism” which has consumed our teens can be more dangerous than the stances of some extremists: kids are left with nothing to stand on, nothing to hope in, and a real misunderstanding (or ignorance) of who God is.  They have painted their own image onto Him, making Him into a pleasant mirage, of sorts, and in the process have lost or missed the fierce love and goodness Jesus interrupts the world with.  

So, how can we help students confront the realities of who God is and uncover the pattern of avoidance? We must dive into those areas they see as ambiguous and those they are unsure/conflicted about and allow them to point to God’s power and sovereignty.  Why is it that fearing God is a good thing?  How can fear be right and helpful?  (It can help us remember that the goodness and love we have presently in Jesus are bigger than the worst, scariest, and most horrible things we face here on Earth, etc.)  How is it that God’s goodness can be seen in both creation and destruction in the Bible?  Let us sit in the mystery and tension with our kids in some of these issues, and let us ask the questions that force us to dig through Scripture and pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal.   He is our Rock; He does not change.  And He is a personal God who confronts each one of us with invitation unto Himself.  

Avoidance.  It’s easy to do.  But how can we avoid the One who offers His hands for Thomas to see and His wounds to touch if we have seen and touched them ourselves?  I pray that He would give us wisdom and courage in entering into the lukewarm atmosphere of deism in youth culture today.

Liz Edrington is a youth minister at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA and will begin pursuing her Master of Arts in Counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in July, 2012.  She is the author of 'Feast' - a quiet time book/small group devotional for teens.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Why Theology and Youth Ministry Seldom Mix

Rooted is excited to continue our partnership with The Gospel Coalition blog for a series on the state of youth ministry during the month of April.  Thanks to Collin Hansen of TGC for permission in reprinting below (originally posted here).  Check out the other articles in this series here, here, and here.
Everyone knows the stereotype of the youth minister as a big kid with an expertise in games and an affinity for creative facial hair and body piercings. Despite the stereotype, many youth pastors are passionate and intelligent. Yet youth ministry has a reputation for not doing serious theology. In the bookThe Theological Turn in Youth Ministry,Andrew Root describes a discussion about a PhD program for youth ministry at his seminary. A biblical scholar asked, "Who is going to teach the seminar on group mixers?" Root goes on to describe the perception of youth ministers as theologically "lightweight." The National Study of Youth and Religion notes, "The vast majority of teens, who call themselves Christians, haven't been well educated in religious doctrine and, therefore, really don't know what they believe." Certainly, these results, at least to some degree, reflect the typically shallow theological culture of youth ministry. Why, then, does there seem to be a gap between youth ministry and theology?
People underestimate what students can comprehend.
We live in a society where we have relegated the teen years to something of a carefree vacation, protected from consequences and responsibilities. Alex and Brett Harris challenge this notion in their book Do Hard Things. When we don't expect teens to rise to challenges, we don't teach them doctrine. However, this lack of confidence in teens has left us with an ignorant generation (or several) with regard to what the church actually believes. It is strange that we teach young people complex calculus and physics but don't think they can handle or will be interested in understanding the significance of the Trinity or atonement. Brian Cosby, in his book Giving Up Gimmicksrecalls offering a basic biblical Greek overview class to teens. He expected a handful to respond but the room couldn't fit everyone who was interested.
Youth ministry has a popularity culture.
A veteran youth minister retired after 20 years citing exhaustion. Living a perpetual popularity contest finally wore him down. Well-meaning mentors assured (or cursed) him early in his career that if the kids like you, they will come to your programs, putting him on an approval treadmill. In reality, youth ministry seems to take on a cult of personality surrounding the student pastor, perhaps more than other sectors of the church. Consequently, when so much of success in ministry seems to depend on popularity among students, we're tempted to steer away from difficult theology. When one faithfully exegetes Scripture, difficult and complex topics arise.
Churches have different expectations of youth ministries.
Some pastors view youth ministry as a necessary bother. They see youth ministry as required yet do not want it to cause them problems or drain their time. Some churches view youth ministers as entertainers and buddies, not serious ministers of God's Word. Hence, they may hire energetic young adults without theological training (this varies between denominations) to run programs and do little to invest in their theological formation. The care with which we select youth pastors is not typically on par with the process we go through to call other clergy. Often the first question a church leader has for the youth pastor is, "How many came this week?" The second one may be, "Did they have fun?"
Youth pastors just love kids and want them to meet Jesus.
Evangelistic passion among some youth pastors has meant a neglect of theology---both studying it and teaching it. We can aim for "decisions for Christ" and overlook the spiritual formation that follows conversion. It is easy to get so wrapped up in doing evangelism and relationships that little time is spent deepening our own understanding of doctrine. Given that most people who come to faith do so before they complete their teen years, a youth minister can easily take on the attitude that "students don't need deep theology, they just need Jesus." Yet presenting the gospel without a solid theology is dangerous. A youth pastor with weak theology is more susceptible to developing a messiah complex, thinkingwe need to save these students. Students who don't grasp good theology cannot articulate a faith that will stand up in college or beyond.
The egg-and-armpit relay ruined youth ministry.
Mike Yaconelli, co-founder of Youth Specialties, used to joke about the egg-and-armpit relay as a central pillar of youth ministry. He was acknowledging that youth ministry had created a culture of fun. While we might have one of the most fun jobs on the planet, it becomes burdensome to manufacture fun all the time. Attending youth ministry conventions and conferences is a bit like a cross between Disney and Mardi Gras. Despite excellent training and inspiration, the atmosphere created by the sponsors reinforces a mentality that youth ministry is all about fun. In most youth ministry resources we find the emphasis on fun and games. The founder of Young Life was famous for saying, "It's sin to bore a kid with the gospel." When we look at photos of youth groups in our churches, we typically see lots of messy games and wacky skits. Given this perception, it becomes the expectation of parents, pastors, and church leaders to see youth ministry continue in that way. In truth, we don't want to bore the kids. Theology, on the other hand, is not usually perceived as fun. So does the typical youth pastor pour time into reading theology or planning more fun programs? The answer is not so difficult when we know a parent or student is going to ask if youth group will be fun this week.
How do we close the gap between youth ministry and theology? Perhaps we first need to change the perceptions of what youth ministry is all about and what students are capable of. Then we should insist that our youth pastors are lifelong learners trained in good theology. It may take a decade or two to get there, but in the end, it will have been worth the battle.
Cameron Cole is the director of youth ministries at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama. Dave Wright is the coordinator for youth ministries in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. He blogs at Fusion Musing. Together they serve on the advisory board of Rooted: A Theology Conference for Student Ministry.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why Do We Need Rooted?

Check out the 2012 Rooted Conference - "Adoption: The Beauty of Grace" - which will explore how the theological concept of Adoption speaks to this generation of teenagers.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Evidence of a Therapeutic View of Jesus in the Prayers of Teenagers

If you search through your church’s website, you probably won’t find this kind of language listed under “theological beliefs.” But listen closely to the prayer requests of students and evidence of a therapeutic view of God comes into focus.

In a culture that offers a different form of therapy for “whatever ails you,” can we really be surprised when a teenager’s view of God is primarily therapeutic? If you’re physically injured, you need physical therapy. If you’re emotionally distraught, you get counseling from a therapist. When life gets really hard, it only makes sense to turn to a spiritual therapist – Jesus Christ. Unfortunately this attitude toward God fits into the all-ready-too-compartmentalized lives of most American teens. Jesus falls somewhere between A.P. European History class and soccer practice as the go-to therapist who is available to listen, sympathize, and offer guidance for life’s tough challenges. He’s always there when you need him.

“Lord, please help me find a summer job.”

“God, help me to overcome depression.”

“Jesus, tell me which college I should attend.”

“God, please help my parents stop fighting.”
“Jesus, I need help to do better in school.”
“Please let me get an A!”
Are any of these prayers sacrilegious? Of course not. However, it is troubling when 80-90% of student’s prayers are for personal struggles that, if answered positively from God, would result in increased happiness. This is the litmus test for therapeutic prayers. If God flat out gave the student what he or she wants, what would be the result? If the answer is that he or she would be instantly happier, than the prayer is therapeutic in nature.
The long-term fruit of such a view of God is, ultimately, a disregard for God’s authority. Our culture loves therapists because we come to them on our own terms, they offer suggestions, and then we walk out of their office with the ability to choose to either follow their advice or not. Therapists are not authority figures. We are not compelled to obey them. This explains one of the reasons why students and even most adults are offended at the idea that God is a judge who rules over humanity. We don’t want a judge, we want someone to talk to who will sympathize with us, make us feel better about ourselves, and ultimately give us the freedom to decide what is best for ourselves. 
This is what many church and para-church student ministries implicitly teach teenagers about God through prayer. Often, in our attempt to help students understand prayer in a relevant way, we remove the “reverence” aspect of talking to God (the creator of the universe, Lord of all, judge of everything) and only focus on the humanity and gentleness of Christ (Jesus is my best friend). Could it be that Christian youth workers, parents, pastors, elders, and deacons could play an important role in combating a therapeutic view of God simply by praying in light of our full relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? What if, instead of only focusing on God’s ability to fix our problems, we broadened our prayers to include His holiness, His righteousness, and His justice? Students are listening, watching, and learning from us. May the Lord give us the grace to pray in the fullness that He desires.

Dan Marotta is in his sixth year as the High School Youth Director at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, VA. He is a candidate for a Master of Divinity from Denver Seminary.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Youth Ministry's Tendency Toward Legalism

Rooted is excited to continue our partnership with The Gospel Coalition blog for a series on the state of youth ministry during the month of April.  Thanks to Collin Hansen of TGC for permission in reprinting below (originally posted here).  Check out the other articles in this series here and here.
I have walked for ten years with Allen, who was my closest Christian friend in high school. During our senior year we were "on fire" for God and set out to walk with Christ throughout college. After our freshman year, I watched my poor friend weep often about why he did not experience Christ in a real way. His youth ministry had sold him a message that faithful obedience before God would yield an experiential intimacy and spiritual euphoria, which he failed to encounter. In spite of tireless religious striving, Allen felt as if his pursuits resulted in a tumbling spiral into a deep, dark void.
Not surprisingly, Allen became disenchanted with Christianity and the church. Only after ten years of courageous waiting and honest reflection has he been able to re-engage church without resentment and wounding. He synopsizes his youth ministry's message with a story, which his youth pastor used to tell kids. The story basically involved a sad man, sitting in a corner, disappointed and hurt by his children, who he wished would come pay attention to him. The youth pastor explained that the man in the corner was Jesus, who remained displeased with his children when they failed to spend time with him or when we disobeyed his commands. In sum, we are a disappointment to God unless we perform spiritually.
Based on my experience in youth ministry, if I had to identify the greatest theological problem in the field, it would be the absence of the gospel in teaching on sanctification. Most youth ministries faithfully preach justification by faith in Christ alone. In fact, I may even credit youth ministers with being more faithful than senior pastors in helping their flock understand Christianity as saving relationship rather than cultural religion. However, in the space of sanctification, youth ministry often focuses on emotional exhortation and moral performance. A legalistic tone frequently characterizes the theology of sanctification in youth ministry.
So why does youth ministry tend to be legalistic?
1. We want to see results.
Mark Upton, a former youth worker and current pastor at Hope Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, offered these wise words to me when I started youth ministry: "If anyone asks you about your ministry, tell them you will let them know in ten years." Like any ministry profession, youth pastors want to see changed lives. At the same time, youth pastors need to view themselves as sowers, planting gospel seeds for harvest down the road. (I know this personally as in times of despair I just want to see the kids "do something" to affirm that my ministry has worth.) Wanting validation for their tireless labor, youth ministers occasionally focus on behavior modification as a means of providing tangible proof of the efficacy of their ministry. A kid carrying his or her Bible to school, signing a chastity pledge, or sporting a WWJD bracelet may appear like signs of spiritual progress---the fruit of ministry labor for a youth pastor---but if these actions come out of a student misunderstanding Christianity as a code of behavior rather than heart transformation through the Holy Spirit, then they do not necessarily reflect lasting life change.
2. Kids are as destructive as nuclear warheads.
All kidding aside, kids have skewed filters for risk management and make destructive decisions. Very few youth pastors go through a year without the death of a teenager in the community where they serve. Many youth pastors preach moralism over the gospel in order to protect students from self-destruction. Unfortunately, law-driven ministry often yields the opposite of its intention; law and pressure often inflame rebellion.
3. Parents want moral children.
A gospel-centered youth pastor in South Carolina once told me that parents were his biggest opponents to him fully preaching the gospel. After several years of teaching the radical grace of the gospel, parents complained about a lack of concentration on drinking, sexual abstinence, obedience to parents, and "being nice." They viewed the message of grace as antinomian and as a license for kids to pursue hedonism. Parents rightly want moral children, as do youth pastors. Sometimes, families view the church exclusively as a vehicle for moral education, rather than spiritually forming them in Christ, and put pressure on youth and senior pastors to moralize their children. Many parents view the law alone as the catalyst for holy living, rather than law and grace, and want the youth ministry to embrace this same theology.
4. Many pastors are young in their faith and theology.
When I first started leading Bible studies as a volunteer, my messages usually included a reminder that we needed Jesus for salvation and then a list of moral directives. Over time, as I started to grow in scriptural and theological knowledge, I started to see the gospel of grace and the Holy Spirit as the drivers of sanctification. Tremendous mentoring from all of the pastors at my church and their encouraging and funding my seminary classes played the most influential role in this maturation.
Many youth ministers are young, both in age and in their faith. Given all of the other responsibilities that adult pastors must juggle, nurturing the theological and spiritual development of the youth pastor can be overlooked. Furthermore, churches often view the youth department as entertainment and relationships but not a serious teaching ministry. If churches fail to take seriously the theological development of their youth pastor and to view youth ministry as a teaching and discipleship ministry above all things, then the message likely will lack biblical or doctrinal depth and contain a law-driven message.
Cameron Cole is the chairman of Rooted: A Theology Conference for Student Ministry and the chairman of Student Ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL. He is a candidate for a Masters in Religion from Reformed Theological Seminary. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rooted: Youth Ministry and Grace

Check out the 2012 Rooted Conference - "Adoption: The Beauty of Grace" - which will explore how the theological concept of Adoption speaks to this generation of teenagers.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Magic Bullet

Every week, I receive another postcard for a new youth ministry conference pledging to have the magic bullet for today’s youth. Nearly all of these ministries and conferences have much value for this field - I wish I could go to a dozen per year. Amidst the many options, I still feel passionately that Rooted has an important place in youth ministry.

When I was a junior in high school, our varsity football team played Central-Tuscaloosa in the quarter-finals of the state playoffs. Central had the #4 team in America and had not lost in two years. They had three players who would start at Alabama as freshmen and nine players who went on to earn Division 1 scholarships. My Spartans were slow and small and lacked a single D1 player. Among Central’s cadre of studs stood Alabama’s Mr. Football, Antonio Williams, the top running back in the South. In the first half, Central ran Williams to a ten-point halftime lead; we looked virtually helpless against him.

However, in the second half, Central seemed never to give Williams the ball. We all were dumbfounded. It was obvious that the Spartans had no chance of stopping Williams. He was virtually invincible. Unfortunately for Central, their coaches did not realize this fact, and he carried the ball only a handful of times. Eventually, the Spartans marched back, shut down Central, and we toppled the national powerhouse.

In the full Gospel of grace, we have The Magic Bullet. The message that God perfectly loves desperate sinners is The Message that will redeem the world. It is not instructions to help us live better or some padding for our self-esteem. The Gospel rescues people from judgment, heals ultimate wounds, and brings dead people to life right now and forever.

Doing ministry without centering all things on the Gospel is like having LeBron James on your team in a pick-up game at the YMCA and never passing him the ball. We need to pass the Gospel the ball at every turn, in every relationship, and in all circumstances.

With Rooted, our mission is to reflect on how everything we do in ministry- missions, relationships, measures, discipline, lessons, messages, counseling, recruiting, volunteers, etc.- can be more deeply anchored in the message of Cross and God’s grace. Hopefully, engaging in this consideration will yield deeper, more vibrant ministries that offer life and that foster life-long disciples of Jesus Christ.

Consider joining us at this year’s Rooted Conference in Birmingham, August 9-11, as we take an in-depth look at how the theological doctrine of adoption offers hope to a desperate generation.

Friday, April 13, 2012

MTD: Not Just a Problem with Youth Ministry

Rooted is excited to continue our partnership with The Gospel Coalition blog for a series on the state of youth ministry during the month of April.  Thanks to Brian Cosby for the following article, reprinted with permission below (originally posted here).  Check out the first article in this series here.
That a youth ministry "teaches the Bible" does not necessarily mean it teaches the gospel. Many mistake the gospel with moralism---being a good person, reading your Bible, or opening the door for the elderly in order to earn God's favor. But the gospel is altogether different.
This is a problem across the youth ministry landscape. It's not because teenagers and youth leaders have misunderstood the church's teaching of historical-confessional, gospel-infused Christianity. It's a problem in youth ministry wherever the American church has not preached Christ crucified and has catered to a pragmatic, entertainment-driven, and numbers-oriented model of church growth.
According to sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, most American teenagers believe in something dubbed "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" (MTD). [1] Within this MTD "religion," God is a cosmic therapist and divine butler, ready to help out when needed. He exists but really isn't a part of our lives. We are supposed to be "good people," but each person must find what's right for him or her. Good people will go to heaven, and we shouldn't be stifled by organized religion where somebody tells us what we should do or what we should believe. [2]
MTD isn't a religion like Islam or Buddhism, but rather a melting-pot belief among American teenagers. Historic distinctions between denominations like Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists are not as important to teens because they see their Christian faith as just one aspect of their lives like anything else---be it sports, friends, school, or family. Its preacher is American entitlement and its sermon is a me-centered message about a distant, therapeutic god who wants teens to be good and happy.

Alternative to Entertainment

I sat in a Waffle House one early morning, talking with a dad who had caught his son looking at pornography. His family had just transferred from a nearby church that spent through the roof creating the most spectacular show in church---complete with fog machines, strobe lights, and professional musicians writing Christian lyrics to Lady Gaga songs. In between the dueling DJs, this family was starved for the Bread of Life. But despite their burnout over endless entertainment, they didn't know an alternative.
"I just think you need more games," the dad told me across a very syrupy waffle. "If you had more games and funny skits, then my son would have been at church, not looking at porn." I was shocked! Here was a man who had left a church over too much entertainment and now wanted it back. I realized that MTD wasn't just a problem in the culture of American teenagers, but in the culture of the American church. The larger influence of a success-over-faithfulness model of American Christianity is having devastating effects on youth ministry.
Kenda Creasy Dean, in Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, argues that American teenagers have bought into MTD, not because they have misunderstood what the church has taught them, but precisely because it is what the church has taught them. She writes,
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has little to do with God or a sense of divine mission in the world. It offers comfort, bolsters self-esteem, helps solve problems, and lubricates interpersonal relationships by encouraging people to do good, feel good, and keep God at arm's length. [3]
When this self-help theology is combined with a sola-boot-strapia sermon from TBN, we start having teens singing, "God Is Watching Us from a Distance" while---at the same time---wondering why Jesus isn't fixing their parents' marriage or their problems with cutting.
MTD isn't just the problem of youth ministry; it's the problem of the church. And American Christianity has become a "generous host" to this low-commitment, entertainment-driven model of youth ministry.

Counter to the Gospel

Think about those three words, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. They run counter to the gospel of Jesus Christ in every way. We are not saved by earning our way up the good-works ladder, nor is God the divine genie dispensing wishes at command. He's not a distant "clock-maker," sitting back to watch it all play out, but the personal Immanuel who became man to seek and save his bride. The gospel says that Jesus has accomplished for you---through his life, death, and resurrection---everything that God has required of you; thereby, securing eternal life for all God's people, and received by faith alone.
This is where the importance of method comes to the forefront, which (unfortunately) is often disassociated with theology. While our theology of the gospel should inform our method, the American church---to a large extent---has practiced just the reverse. The question on many youth leaders' minds is, "How do we get bored teenagers into the church?" The question should be, "How are we to faithfully plant and water the gospel of Jesus Christ for his glory and our joy in him?"
Many youth ministries have engaged in direct competition with the world to woo and attract students by all sorts of gimmicks and giveaways. In fact, a large church in the Atlanta area recently gave away iPods to the first 100 youth at a lock-in! But is that the methodGod has given us to draw young people into a deeper, richer, more meaningful relationship with Christ?

There Is Hope

There is hope, however, because Jesus will build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. There is hope because God is in the business of saving and sanctifying teenagers through the ministry of Word, prayer, and sacrament. God has given us means of grace---not just to reap the benefits of their content and application---but as the way in which we plant and water the gospel, looking to God to provide the growth. These means of grace should inform how young men and women are drawn into the church---youth who are disillusioned by the gimmicks and fog of an entertainment-driven world of empty pleasure.
Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias has said, "The loneliest moment in life is when you have just experienced the ultimate, and it has let you down." Like a political pendulum, the experienced "high" from self-centered experience and rampant consumerism fails to provide rest for the restless soul. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can call the prodigal out of the trough and satisfy his longing heart.
MTD remains a problem in youth ministry because it remains a problem in the American church. It channels the method of ministry from gospel to gimmick. But the later English Puritan John Flavel points to God's far better plan: "The intent of the Redeemer's undertaking was not to purchase for his people riches, ease, and pleasures on earth; but to mortify their lusts, heal their natures, and spiritualize their affections; and thereby to fit them for the eternal fruition of God." [4]
[1] Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 163.
[2] Ibid., 163-71.
[3] Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 29.
[4] John Flavel, The Works of John Flavel, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), 6:84.
Brian H. Cosby, the Rooted blog's newest contributor, is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, Associate Pastor of Youth and Families at Carriage Lane Presbyterian Church in Peachtree City, Georgia, and author of Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture (P&R Publishing, 2012).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Youth Ministry Is More Than a Feeling

Check out the 2012 Rooted Conference - "Adoption: The Beauty of Grace" - which will explore how the theological concept of Adoption speaks to this generation of teenagers.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Jesus the Great Guidance Counselor?

For many students today, Jesus has become a cosmic guidance counselor - in their minds, all He does is give advice, help them think through life, and perform other such tasks. Much of this mentality is a direct result of the ways we as youth ministers have taught who God is. As we think through the idea of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, we need to be aware of teachings which may create the perception that God is simply or only there for our therapy. For me, thinking about the traits of a guidance counselor helps me see where I am pointing students to this false image of god.  

Don't get me wrong, school guidance counselors are great. They have insight into what school a student should look into. They have the inside track on where to get student loans. And they help students think through problems, their future, their grades, and other school related issues/concerns. All of these things are helpful and much needed in students’ lives; but there is an important issue to consider when we start to look at Jesus this way.

When the picture we paint of Jesus looks more like a guidance counselor than the only sovereign ruler He is, we will tend to look unto Him differently than He was intended to be looked upon. Here are some of the ways we will look upon Jesus, when we simply dilute Him to a therapeutic god. 

  • We only look to Him when we have need.
  • We only seek out advice on the different options we have come up with. 
  • We still make the final decision, we only want Him to help us think through our options.
  • When someone is struggling, we simply point out that God can help them; we don't unpack the gospel as to how He can help them. 
  • We tend to make lists of how God will work.
  • Our messages tend to look at what we can get from God, not what we can give unto God.

When this is our teaching, the result is that students begin to believe and live this way. Students may believe in God, but they will have no clue what that means for them in real life. They will not be able to understand how God fits into their dating life, their sports activities, and the fights the experience with parents and teachers. When they are rejected by a boyfriend/girlfriend, or a teacher/parent, they can not even fathom going to God with this, for what would he care? He is simply there to give advice, not to actually help bring them joy or comfort in the midst of suffering. 

It is no wonder students leave the church. With a god preached who seems only like a guidance counselor, I would too. Students do not have a clue as to the real, present, sovereign God they are missing. When we convey only this image of a soft, removed, therapeutic figure-in-the-sky, we miss the point. We miss that He is the Savior, the King and the One who leads and directs us- we do not lead and direct Him. He is the conqueror of death for all of us, not simply a kind face in the chair across from us.

What type of God are you preaching? One who will simply offer good advice, or one who has come and redeemed those who are listening.