Monday, February 27, 2012

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: What Does the Gospel Say?

The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear, amongst most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward. It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.
          -Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, p.171

In 2005, after undertaking a study of 3,000 teenagers, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton introduced the term, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” through their book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. They deem MTD “the de facto dominant religion” among teens, and their findings are incredibly helpful for pointing out the understandings and mindsets many kids are bringing with them to our youth ministries.

Chapter 4 (“God, Religion, Whatever”) of their book describes well the three main components of MTD:

  1. MTD is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person.
  2. MTD is about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents
  3. MTD is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs- especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved
In order to summarize the observations they gained from in-depth interviews with the kids, Smith and Denton also created a MTD creed of sorts (p.162-163):
  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
In our proceeding series on MTD, Rooted hopes to explore the implications of this religious atmosphere amongst our teens and ask the question, “What does the gospel have to say about this?”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Give Up the Goldfish

The Rooted Blog's newest contributor, Brian Cosby, is the author of the new book, Give Up the Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry From the Entertainment Culture, which he promoted on The Gospel Coalition website this week.  Read the article here in which he implores youth ministers to "give up the goldfish", so to speak:

"With all my heart, I plead with you to not be tempted with "success," professionalism, or the fading fads of our entertainment-driven culture. Rather, pursue Jesus as the all-satisfying Treasure that he is and feed his young sheep with the means God has provided."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.  Welcome to the team, Brian!

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Busy Youth Minister: Living in the World of Doing

Student ministry in the church plunges you into the world of doing. You are constantly planning, preparing, writing talks, hanging out with students, doing busy office work, making endless attempts at communication (calls, Facebook posts, texts) with parents, leaders, etc. The work never ends. There is always more you can do at the end of the day. And you know it matters. Lives are at stake. You can work yourself to the bone and still feel haunted by Jesus’ call in Matthew 11 to come to him ... but you can’t see how his burden is light and easy when to you it seems so hard.

But let me assume that you want that life. You want a close fellowship with Christ in the midst of a busy life and work in church world. You see your need for the grace of Jesus for yourself and not just for your youth ministry and others.  Here are a few key elements, knowing that how you or I observe them must remain flexible and may often change.

Scripture and prayer. Indispensible.  We have to begin and end here, for both what fuels us and what we have to offer others flow from the same source.  My usual pattern has been to read, study and try to pray through a different gospel each month, plus taking some time in Psalms and other parts of God's word.  This year I want to read/pray the gospels again, particular seeking Jesus' leadership through the Spirit, and read through all of Scripture. To this end, we youth workers shouldn't hesitate to teach out of our personal learning OR let our teaching (if pre-determined) be an opportunity for our personal, prayerful learning. Calvin once said “prayer is the chief exercise of faith.” If kingdom-living is the with-God life, then prayer from a worshipping heart occupies the central place.  This is probably my #1 need and desire in 2012.

Read theology and read for fun. What? Read theology in a disciplined way? Isn't that soul-killing, straight-jacketing academic stuff? It can be, but it doesn't have to be. It's amazing the way some of the older writers (who started and ended their days on their knees in the church) fuse devotion and exposition and exploration. And if you don’t get what the Trinity has to do you with your life in the Spirit, you are missing out on the great resources of the gospel. Theology is essential to student ministry because in our actions with students, the very character, heart, and intention of God is meant to be on display! (If you don't believe me, be convinced by 2 Cor. 3-4 or reading Kenda Creasy Dean or Andrew Root or Christian Smith or Kara Powell.) The fundamental question we are facing now is "what is God really like - and what does that mean for me? For us? For our world?" You need heavy stuff to help you with that. And read for fun. Read genres outside of ministry: fiction, biography, culture - whether novels, magazines, websites, or hobby-related materials. It keeps your mind sharp and it widens the circle of stuff you know. Plus, you'd be amazed how it works into conversation and teaching.    

Community. I had an experience this fall that drove home to me the necessity of really living and loving and ministering in community. I cannot recommend enough the words of Henri Nouwen here: ministry is always communal and mutual. For me, that means four primary things. First, with Robin (my awesome wife). Second, with close friends - honest conversations, and (if not local) solid letters/email and seeing each other during the year. Third, community within your church. I am a strong advocate for finding real spiritual friendship and community among the people with whom you minister, whether leaders, parents, friends, or even a small group. Fourth, you must have a team of leaders who you equip for ministry. Nothing is as anti-Jesus and soul-killing in student ministry than to bear the burden and shoulder the work alone.

Body.  I am more and more convinced that we live in a gnostic culture (read theology for that) and how we practice life in the body is going to be more and more a part of our Christian witness. Now, the paradox is that our culture worships health and we obviously don't want to go that far. But working yourself to the bone and neglecting your body isn't healthy or God-honoring.  Our eating, our sleeping, and our physical exercise matter if we want to run the race of the ministry that God has entrusted to us. I cook a lot and try to eat well. I exercise most weeks.  Since you have to start somewhere, my minimum goals for this year are 6 hours of sleep a night and at least 10 miles of running each week.

Sabbath. Where to begin ... through a teaching series last spring I became convinced that we need to recover a practice of the sabbath. I'm no strict sabbatarian, but the practice matters and Jesus makes it clear that it was made for us. There's a negative/abstinent dimension to this (stuff you don't do) and a positive/engaging one (stuff you intentionally do). Figure out a way to take a day off of your work. For me that means a day off of technology, too - no Facebook, Twitter, phone, email, and laptop (as much as possible, they stay on the desk and powered off).  I like to read for fun, try to talk with friends, exercise, cook a lot, and spend as much time as possible with my family. The tough thing for me is that the only day I can really do this is Friday - and when you are youth worker, that doesn't always work.

The call of Jesus is clear: “Follow Me,” he says to us – not in addition to the work he has called us to as laborers in student ministry, but in its very midst. May God draw you deeply into Himself.

Andy Cornett is the Assistant Pastor and Director of Student Ministries at New Hope Presbyterian in Fort Myers, FL. Andy earned a Masters in Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA and has over ten years of experience in youth ministry.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Busy Youth Minister: Time Management

It seems like when you ask someone ‘how things are going’ everyone gives the same answer, ‘busy’. There is a quote that has been reeking havoc on my mind and in my heart for the last month. I tweeted and and wrote it down, but for the life of me I can not find it. The essence of the quote was, “Don’t mistake busyness for communion with God.” This simple statement has been challenging me to think through my busyness - and I would assume that each one of us is in the same place - with ‘way to much to do, not near enough time to do it.'

What Matters - I need to not only know what matters, I need to allow it to lead me. Above everything else, what really matters is the gospel of Jesus. After everything else is said and done, Jesus still stands. So my time needs to be doing gospel-intentional things. Meaning I might go to the movies, but I go to the glory of God seeking God and learning more about Him. I might take a walk, but I do this unto the glory of God, enjoying his beautiful creation. Everything we do needs to flow out of what it is that matters most. If I only have limited time to devote, I need to devote what time I have towards the things that really matter.

The core of what matters is going to look the same for each of us. Loving Jesus and others matters; teaching about Jesus matters; being in communion matters; being Jesus unto my children, wife and students matters. Although the core should look the same, there is going to be a vast difference in what matters for you and what matters for me as we start.

Making Time - There will never be enough time to do everything you want, so you are going to need to make time. This means that once you know what matters you need to make room for it. Good managers of time spend time thinking about what they will do with their time. If you don't, the time will do what it wants with you. So if I conclude that I need to take one day a month and spend it alone and dis-connected, I am going to have to make time to do this. This might mean I have to remove stuff, stuff that I might even feel is important, but if it does not matter in the grand scheme of things, then it is not where my time needs to be put.

Redeeming Time – All too often we say we don’t have time, and this is partially true, but for many we are just bad at redeeming [using] our time. If you have a 30 minute commute to and from work, don’t just drive aimlessly listening to music. No, redeem this time. Download sermons or audio books onto your iPod or put them on a CD. Have list of prayers that you can crank through. Make phone calls that need to be made (use a hands free device please). Here is a short list of things to do to redeem your time.
  • Take a book wherever you go
  • Download free audio books to listen to in-place of music
  • Download sermons to listen to
  • If you have a long trip, take someone with you (Discipleship and community in one)
  • Read in the bathroom (I know it sounds strange, but it works. Just don’t loan out the book after...)
Passing off – To be a good leader, especially if your schedule is jam-packed, you need to learn to pass things off. What I mean by this is learn the things that God has called you to do - the things He has gifted you to do, the things that you know you’re to do, and no one else is to do them. Everything else needs to be passed off. It could be said do what matters, and have others do the rest. If you are called to study and preach then don’t waste your time updating the youth group facebook page or twitter account. Pass those things off to other people.

God is Sovereign & I am not – I am a type “A” guy. I like to work and I like to work hard. Many times at the end of the day I need to remember that God is sovereign, that He is the one who must work. This does not give me licenses to be lazy and do nothing of eternal worth with my time, but it frees me to know I can give it my all, my GTD list might not be completely done, I might have emails I need to send; yet Jesus gives me freedom to rest. Knowing that His work goes on. He will minister to the students, He will speak to their hearts. Even through we should work hard, manage our time well and be ubber-productive we must remember it is God who works, not us.
Josh Cousineau is a church planter at Redemption Hill in Auburn, Maine, coordinator of the Lead Conference, and a former youth minister. This piece is reposted with permission from

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

2012 Rooted Conference - Adopted: The Beauty of Grace- An Abandoned Generation

The theme for the upcoming 2012 Rooted Conference has been unveiled! “Adopted: The Beauty of Grace” taps into the mission of Rooted, which is to transform student ministry by fostering grace-driven and cross-centered student ministers through rich and contextual theological reflection. Consideration of the Gospel in the context of student ministry and youth culture comprises a large part of the Rooted vision.

Chap Clark, a psychologist and theologian who studies youth culture, aptly summarizes the emotional state of postmodern teens as the abandoned child. In his book, Hurt, Clark looks at research on concepts of parenting and child development from the past thirty years. Each of these models of child formation centers around the idea of “child competence,” a term which David Elkund of Tufts University popularized in his 1980’s book, The Hurried Child. Clark, however, writes that the situation has worsened and that the emotional and psychological damage inflicted on kids has intensified. Clark writes:

I agree with Elkind’s findings in the Hurried Child. However, I prefer to use the label abandoned rather than hurried. As Ron Powers and many other note, adolescents have a longing that parents, teacher, and other adults have ceased as a community to fulfill. The reasons are many and varied, but this concept of the systemic abandonment of adolescents as a people group seems to capture the widest range of descriptors used by careful observers of adolescents and adolescents themselves.
At the root of this generation of hurting, isolated teens is a culture which demands competence, autonomy, and production. Teenagers live in a world of intense performance. The only thing that truly heals teens—and all people—is a message that frees them from this performance. The salve for wounded hearts is the Gospel, whereby we gain a new identity in the performance of Jesus in his life and on the Cross. Through the Cross, God calls us all to rest and surrender from striving.
Ministries proclaiming the Gospel of grace offer real medicine for the abandoned teenage generation. They present a God who loves and accepts them independent of their performance. Sadly, student ministries pushing performance-based Christianity, driven by guilt and fear, only exacerbate the problem and further alienate students.
The 2012 Rooted Conference will focus on speaking the message of the grace to hurting youth and doing ministry in a manner that embodies the freedom of the Gospel.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Return of Reasons

Check out this piece from Christianity Today about the shifting trend in youth ministry toward an increased desire for apologetics.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Busy Youth Minister: Theology = Methodology

My mentor in my early days of youth ministry was a straight-talking, loud-walking, 6 foot, 9 inches, 280-pound man who had done student ministry for over twenty years. He had about eight maxims that he would repeat, reminding me they were the only things I needed to know.

He used to love to say, “Big C, baby, what you gotta know is that theology equals methodology. What you do tells you everything you need to know about what you believe.” His words stand as 100% pure gold.

With about 90 hours of work under my belt one week – between mission trips, Sunday school, small groups, administrative work, contact work, etc. – I was strung-out and tired. I felt immense stress, and when I examined my methodology, as my mentor had taught me to do, looking to see what it revealed about my theology at a heart level, I realized that my work schedule included no prayer.

The busy lifestyle and absence of prayer clearly showed what I believed: that I had sole responsibility for moving the Kingdom forward and bringing kids to Christ. Even worse, this methodology uncovered an arrogant attitude that not only did I have to save the kids, but that I could. Sadly, it suggested that God could not.

Even while I was a preaching a Gospel of grace, teaching students that the Cross frees you from a life of performance, I was living as if the Cross had accomplished very little and as if God could not be trusted to fulfill His promises.

Ministry requires urgency; it truly is life-and-death business. But the nature of our sinfulness – constantly desiring to be “little gods,” as Martin Luther phrased it – requires frequent reality checks, daily repentance, and renewed trust in Christ.

When we are caught in the all-too-common lifestyle of the “busy” youth minister, we must ask ourselves: who, in fact, is the Messiah? When we feel overwhelming responsibility, we must examine: are we forgetting whose role it is to bring forward the Kingdom? When we are inconsistent or infrequent in our prayer life, we must question: do we really believe God can and will act? If we feel immense weight, we must remember: Jesus has already relieved our burden on the Cross; why should we feel compelled to pick it up again?

Cameron Cole is the chairman of Rooted: A Theology Conference for Student Ministry and the Director 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.

Monday, February 06, 2012

A Preacher's Decalogue

Have you ever noticed that, although student ministers typically lack any formal training in theology or schooling, they are often required to preach and teach more than the head pastors of their church?  

A large part of Rooted's mission being to equip student pastors for grace-driven ministry, we see a huge need for education and training among student ministers in the skills of theologically informed, cross-centered preaching and teaching.

Along those lines, we'd like to point you to Sinclair Ferguson's "Ten Commandments" of preaching over at The Gospel Coalition.  We found #3 ("Don't Lose Sight of Christ") and #6 ("Speak Much of Sin and Grace") particularly helpful!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Busy Youth Minister: Grace Enough to Rest

Mark Howard is the Youth Director and Assistant to Pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Covington, GA. Mark has a Masters in Theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. 

Maybe it’s because right now in our Bible study we’re looking at the book of Acts, but when I stopped this morning (on my day off: hypocrite) to put down some thoughts for this blog, my mind went to Acts 20 where Paul gathers the Ephesian elders.

In this passage, Paul says goodbye to these friends, and in doing so, he exonerates himself by claiming that he is “innocent of the blood of all.” (Acts 20:26)

And I thought to myself, “How would I go about defending my innocence before those to whom I minister?”

Sadly, my first thought wasn’t the answer Paul gave: “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27)  It was something more like, “Well, I stayed busy and worked really hard and met with the kids and their parents...and...and...and...”

...And I started to realize that in that moment I had forgotten the gospel of grace.  Paul understood that it was the whole counsel of God that changed lives - it wasn’t his impressively full calendar or how long his appointment book was that gave him hope.

Grace comes through faith by the Spirit’s work, and faith comes by hearing the whole counsel of God.  My job isn’t to be busy, but to be available to speak the truth in love when opportunity arrives.

Our call, then, isn’t to be busy, but to be alert and ready to preach the truth in love.  Our hope is in the power of the gospel.

Paul’s claim to absolution was that he “did not shrink from declaring...anything that was profitable.” (Acts 20:20)  I need to remember that God’s Word is the agent of change; I am just a vessel (and a broken one at that).  

There is freedom to rest in knowing that it’s the whole counsel of God that has the power to change lives, for it means that salvation isn’t up to us.  It makes sense: it is the gospel of grace, after all.  Praise be to God!