Life outside of the Ivory Tower

Sather-Tower-UC-Berkeley-by-brostad-on-flickrFor the first time in over 25 years I have a job that requires me to punch a time clock.  I have been a salaried employee since I graduated seminary in 1991.  It’s just the season of life that I am currently in, and in this short time it has be good for me to experience life outside the ivory tower of church life. So below is a few things related to ministry I am learning during this season on life.

 

  1. Spare time is precious. I think a lot of us that have been privileged to work full time in ministry for a living forget what it is like to punch a time clock. Trying to work a trip to the barbershop, the bank, the post office, and to the store to get stuff for Gina for Valentine’s Day became an adventure. Things I would normally due at lunch, or on my way home from work had to be planned around a 9 hour work day.  Then to get home and go back out for a meeting at church, or miss dinner with my family to go to a meeting at church gives me a whole new appreciation for the volunteers in our churches that do this everyday week in a week out.
  1. Bi-vocational ministers are the bomb. In addition to working at Lowe’s, I am also serving as the part time interim Education Minister at Parkland Baptist Church here in Louisville. I am enjoying this immensely and I am getting the opportunity to get involved in areas of ministry that I haven’t had the opportunity to as an interim pastor.  It has also given me a renewed appreciation for men and women like Chris Salyers, at FBC Myra or Michelle Paschall at Memorial Baptist in Murray, who work full time and do ministry out of a sense of call that is not necessarily tied to a paycheck.  Just trying to arrange my schedule at work to accommodate being off all day on Sundays, Wednesday nights and Monday afternoons (for staff meetings) took some doing, and a very understanding HR person.
  1. Lost people do exist. Don’t get me wrong, I knew this ahead of time, but working outside the walls of a church or denominational entity has put me working alongside non-believers. The opportunity to work closely with people who don’t share my beliefs, aren’t receptive to hearing the Gospel, don’t pray before they eat, and don’t have any scripture memorized, has been a reminder that a whole world of people exist that I haven’t had regular contact with in years.  There are a few key words and phrases used that I haven’t regularly heard in years and years. For some there has never been a time in their life where a church, of any flavor, has been relevant in their life and they don’t see it ever being, no matter how many catchy sayings we come up with.
  1. There are Christians living their faith in the workplace. It has been refreshing to see Christian workers talking about the faith to co-workers. They aren’t beating them over the head with the Gospel, sharing the 4 spiritual laws or the FAITH outline, or condemning them with a bullhorn, but they are engaging them in conversations about live and church and God, attempting to be salt and light in the world.  They are living a life worthy of their calling, and leaving room for the Spirit to work in the hearts of the co-workers.
  1. We need to do a better job or preparing our students. The need for discipleship is huge. But I wonder if we are preparing students for a world that doesn’t exist, because those of us that work in the ivory towers of churches don’t know the world that does exist. I remember thinking as a naive twenty-something that a minster ought to every seven to ten years have to go work a real job.  It will help remind those of us in ministry what the people in the pews go through day in and day out.

The world is definitely a different place than the church, and sometimes it is good to come out of the ivory tower and see what life is really like.  Maybe even follow the lead of Jesus and eat with the sinners and tax collectors.

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Turning the page to a new year

This time of year specifically we begin to get nostalgic about the year that is about to end and begin to look ahead to the year that is about to begin. It is annual turning of the page that becomes a natural event in our lives.

In a lot of ways 2015 was a tough year.  The funerals we were a part of were way too many.

In February, my dear friend Bill Houpt graduated to glory.  There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t think about him. The life experiences we shared are some of the most precious memories I have.  Even the NFL season is different this year, somehow it just doesn’t mean as much.   I have even found myself picking up my phone to call him on occasion.  The impact he had on a generation of youth ministers in Kentucky no one will know this side of heaven.

Also this year two other men that invested in me as a young minister, Dr Jerry Kibbons, a professor I had at Campbellsville, who also performed Gina and mines wedding, passed away, as did Dr Mike Watts, the pastor that brought us to Edgewood. Both of these men saw more in me than I saw in myself, put me in place to succeed, and took a chance (or two) on a young minister.

We also lost a former student, Antonio Webb.  Tonio was a vital part of our youth group in Hopkinsville. He was much too young and his passing left a huge hole in a lot of lives.

There have been other things that will make me glad the pages of 2015 are coming to an end.  Dear friends have loss jobs, marriages have fallen apart, and terrorist are bombing innocent victims all across the globe.

But, so we are not all gloom and doom, 2015 had some great moments.  I got see hundreds of students cross over from death to life this summer at camp!!! I also got the opportunity to pour into both the Milton and Corn Creek Baptist churches in Trimble County as their interim/long term supply pastor. Our son Jordan and his wife Kaitlyn bought their first house and our daughter move into an apartment in Old Louisville (a place she has always wanted to live).

Friends and ministry partners have started new jobs, had or adopted new babies, gotten married or had kids get married.  It has been a year not a lot unlike other years.  Each year has its shares of joys and sorrow and all around us, every day, life happens.

As the page of 2015 turn and 2016 begins, let’s take time to look around, evaluate where we are in ministry, in our relationships, and our walk with God.

For some of us, we know that 2016 needs to bring a new ministry assignment.  If in your heart you know that is the case, begin now to be proactive, seek the face of God, good counsel from friends and trust God to take care of you.  Don’t be afraid to take the leap to a new place. Others I know of need to stay put.  Things are tough, the ministry/church you are serving at needs you there.  But most importantly God call to there is still on you. It may be easier to leave and start fresh, but I don’t ever remembering God calling us to easy.

For some it is time to spend the next season focusing on your family.  Your kids/spouse are starving for your attention, and you have sacrificed them on that altar of busyness.  Recruit volunteers, let some things go on your calendar, but make it a priority to be there for your family.  You family needs to know that they are just as important as those people at the church.

Finally take some time as the page turns and examine your spiritual walk.  It is easy to talk a good game.  But honestly where is your relationship with God.  If the only time you are reading scripture is to prepare a lesson sermon, and your only pray life is in front of a crowd or before a meal, changes need to be made and made immediately.

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Knowing when it’s time to go

It’s probably the question I have been ask the most over the last ten plus years, if it’s not number 1 it’s definitely top 3.  It goes something like this: “how do I know when it time to move on”? So in no particular order, here are some things to think through if you are in wondering, in the words of a song by The Clash, “should I stay of should I go now”?

Holy discontent- I would define that as, the thing that stirs your heart and motivates you to action.  Does what stirs your heart line up with the current ministry assignment you have.  If your soul is stirred by compassion for community students, and your current ministry assignment is not open to lost students that look and act different from the students in the church, it may be time to look elsewhere.  What is it that currently motivates you to action, if that isn’t going to be possible where you are, it may be time to consider a move.

Pressured out-As much as we’d like to think that churches don’t act like that this doesn’t happen in churches, I have seen it played out over and over.  Church staff are pressured out.  Sometime there is justification to it, but not all the time.  If you are having to fight to keep your job, if one or two people are “out to get you”, it is probably time to move on.  Not much good can come from staying, fighting, and causing the church membership to pick sides.

Spouse is done-I will never know the unique pressure of being a spouse of a minister.  There are a myriad of issues that could cause your spouse to be done: no friends in community, the way they are treated by church members, feeling like a single parent, pressure of finances, the list goes on and on and on.  And from what I noticed a lot of spouses are done with the ministry assignment long before the minister knows it.  Pay attention to your spouse and where their heart and soul is.  It is not healthy for anyone to suffer for the sake of their spouse’s job.

Moral failure-You would think this would be obvious.  But again I have seen it played out over and over where a minister has committed a moral failure and don’t see a need to take a season of repentance and restoration before returning to ministry.  If this is you, you need to step aside, get someone that will help you (and your family) through a restoration process and then look to see about returning to ministry.

Competing theology-If you find yourself in a situation where the pastor and/or the church has vastly different theological views than you do, it is probably time to move on.  Usually one of two things have happened to cause this to be the case, 1) a new pastor comes in and the church is following his preaching and beliefs, or 2) you didn’t ask enough questions in the interview process to learn where the leadership and the church membership is on theological issues that are non-negotiable for you.  The situation where competing theological ideologies can coexist are few and far between.

Battle with pastor/other staff-You would think that as ministers we would be able to live up to the biblical mandate found in Romans 12:18 ,“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (ESV).  But the truth is we are all sinners and sometimes the rift between fellow ministers is too great to mend.  In the best interest of the Kingdom, it may just be time to move on.

You’ve lost your vision-Hopefully you came with a vision for what the ministry should look like, what students should experience while they are a part of the ministry.  If that vision isn’t going to become reality where you are, or God hasn’t given you a new vision, it may be time to move on.

God calls-Honestly, there was a time in my life when I believed this was the only reason a person left one position for another.  But, I have seen people stay far too long because God has not released them from their current assignment and I have seen people go to places only because it was a stepping stone to a bigger church with a larger salary.  It is a fine line to walk, but if God is calling you somewhere else, honestly, what other choice do you have but to go?

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Preparing the preparer

By now the school year has gotten off to a good start.  Fall break is upon us and the holiday season is just around the corner.

For me that makes it a good time to ask this question.

How are we preparing the adults that are pouring into our students on a regular basis?

What plans do we have to train and equip those small group leaders, Sunday School teachers, bus drivers, chaperones, parents or any other adult for that matter that will be systematically pouring into our students?  I know training sounds boring, takes time to execute and the like.  But if we expect our adults to be at their best then we need to provide them with opportunities to improve their skills in whatever area of responsibilities they have.

So let’s look at some place we may need to consider offering training.

Curriculum usage– One of the biggest expenditures in most every youth budget is curriculum.  When we look at the dollars we spend on Sunday School literature, Wednesday night studies, Sunday night stuff, small group and Dnow resources, it can me mind-boggling.  In order for us to be good stewards of those resources we need to train our leaders in how the publisher puts it together and wants it to be used as well as the purpose it serves in our ministry and the desired outcome we hope to achieve by using it.  It could also be helpful to our leaders for us to give the reasons as to why we picked this particular line of curriculum to use, some information about the publisher, etc.  Providing teachers with teaching materials without providing adequate training on how to use it is like giving a guy a new set of golf clubs without teaching him how to use them.  Regardless of how good the clubs are, without good training and lessons on how to use them, he is still going to at best be a hacker on the course.

Out of class expectations-what expectations, if any do you place on your workers?  Do you want them to plan out of class experiences with their students (mission projects, social gatherings, and a social media presence)?  Have you trained them in how to best use their time and resources to do that?  Have you given them at least a general idea on what is expected and how they can expect you to provide support for their efforts? Have you trained them in ways to remain above reproach in these situations?

Praying for the students-Honestly I would hope you wouldn’t have to do a lot of training in this area, but if the abundance of research in this area is any indication, we need to train our adults, not only on the importance of prayer but also how to pray.  (A 2014 survey by The Washington Post concluded that people age 15 and over in Kentucky spend on average 9 minutes a day engaged in any religious activity). We need to train our workers that praying for our students and their lost friends is an expectation and then give them some practical ways in which to do so.

How to share the Gospel-another area that you would think would be a no-brainer.  But I am constantly amazed in the trainings I do how many youth workers (and some youth ministers) do not feel adequately trained to share the Gospel with their students.  When pressed on what they would do IF a Gospel conversation started, a lot say they would find the pastor, or the youth pastor to share the Gospel with the student. We need to share the Gospel story with our workers, train them with ways to share their faith story and to also share the Gospel story with the students they have been entrusted with.  Sharing the Gospel shouldn’t be a “well if that happens I’ll figure it out” expectation, but instead an intentional part of all that we do.

Good training helps prepare our adult workers who prepare our students that are daily on the front line of missions.

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Help wanted?

Where can I find help?  It may be the number one question I have been asked over the past 10 or so years.  Pastors from small churches looking for someone, anyone to come and help them begin a student ministry ask it.   Personnel committees looking to fill a youth ministry position ask it. Full time youth ministers looking for volunteers ask it.  Sometimes I think if I could just figure out how to develop a youth leader/worker in a box, where all you had to do was open the package and add water and a vibrant youth worker would emerge that I could retire a wealthy man.  Unfortunately it isn’t that easy.

My heart hurts for these churches and ministries, and as I have wrestled with an answer to this question I seem to have found at least a modicum of an answer.

Pray.  I know that this seems to be the go to answer with any concern we have and at times it may seem passé, but I am convinced now more than ever that this is the place we need to start.

Jesus tells us specifically to pray for workers. Matthew 9:37-38 – Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.

 Have we prayed, honestly prayed, diligently prayed, continuously prayed for workers, or have we just flippantly ask God for help.  The world our students live in is vastly different from the world anyone over the age of 35 grew up in.  As a society we have prolonged adolescences, made everything tolerable and it has had long-term impact on our society. Praying for workers in this harvest field ought to be at the top of our priority list.

Look Around: Who in your congregation/community are the students all ready in a relationship with?  Who do they talk to, go to for advice? Who is the Kool-aid mom in your congregation? What adult do they seek out?  It may better serve your need to pour into the life of and disciple a volunteer or a group of volunteers to be the leaders you need than to spend a lot of time trying to find just the right fit.

In this culture of teens I have become more and more convinced that we need to pay attention to the “who” they all ready have built relationships with.  I tell adults all the time if for some reason a student has decided that you are important to them and want to spend time with you, value your opinion and talk to you on a regular basis that that truly is a gift from God and they are you assignment from God.  Teens today a fickle at best with who they trust and confide in.  Why not take advantage of those relationships.

One of the caveats of this is that these adults- along with any adult we put in front of our students- need to be adults that are growing in the faith and modeling the lifestyle we want our students to emulate.  Students have enough people in their lives that want to be their buddy, we need adults who want to be adults and help disciple students into fully devoted followers of God.

ASK: other youth ministries in your area to “borrow” some of their volunteers or volunteer to be a training ground for some of their students that have been called to ministry.  You get the advantage of volunteers with a solid base and a built in mentor.  It also helps students and churches see that we are all in this together and that youth ministry is best done within the context of a healthy network of youth ministers.

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Managing Transitions

This time of year brings two natural transitions in youth ministry.  First, we gain a new crop of 6th or 7th graders depending on your ministry setting. That in itself brings tons of enthusiasm in those wide-eyed, naïve students. There is nothing quite like that first summer trip for a student.  The first time at camp, or helping with the “little kids” in Bible School, or being able to play on the church softball team can make major impact on a student.

Secondly, we also lose seniors that we have poured six or seven years of our lives into. Questions constantly run through our minds about these students that are moving on:

  • did they really get this Jesus thing
  • will they still be involved with the church when they leave the safety of the youth group, OR
  • will they be a part of the large percentage of students that graduate church when they graduate the youth ministry
  • did we teach them enough how to feed themselves spiritually or have we spoon fed them the Bible

So what can we do to help students in our ministry in these points of transitions in their lives?

New students– be they sixth or seventh graders need specific attention.  I remember one year talking to our graduating seniors and asking when they felt like they were apart of the youth group.  It was humbling and eye opening when one of them said “during my freshman year”.  She had been on youth council, was there for every event we did and was a leader in our group.  After that conversation we change our structure. We assigned a junior or senior to every incoming middle school student.  Part of their job was to make sure the new students were personally invited to every event, included in the group conversations, and made to feel apart of the group.

Six years later when that group of sixth graders graduated we had the best retention rate of any group we had ever had.  They even helped to integrate the students that came in after them (without having to be prompted).  It was the model they knew and practiced.

Some churches have started a separate 5th and 6th grade ministry to help with the transition from the children’s ministry to the youth ministry.  For some of these churches this is a year round arrangements, others is one service/program a week just for them, for others is just some selected special events throughout the year.

Graduating seniors- Studies have told us that a huge percentage of the students that graduate our youth ministries graduate church.  That is disheartening, unacceptable, disgusting, and a thousand other adjectives.  It would be easy to blame our churches as being boring, non-relevant, out of touch etc.  And while some of that may be true we cannot allow our churches to be our scapegoat.  We need to ask ourselves as student ministers if we have done all we can to help in this transition.  Have we helped our students to develop significant relationships with adults in “big church”?  Have we made much of Jesus or just provided years of games and food? Have we taken our students to the colleges they we attend and introduced them the campus ministers or do we send them off and hope for the best?  Have they been given opportunities to lead events outside the student ministry or have we kept our best and out brightest all to ourselves?  Students should be involved in leading worship on more than special events. They can lead in prayer; serve as ushers, decision counselors, greeters, musicians etc.

Nothing will guarantee a student will stay connected after graduation, ultimately it is a matter of the heart.  But by having a plan to help them transition into the next phase of their discipleship journey we can reduce the rate of their departure.

Let us not miss prime opportunities to connect with and minister to students as they transition through life and our ministries.

 

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Being Prepared

As a young boy and I learned the scout motto: Be Prepared.  When asked what the meaning of the motto was, Lord Baden Powell the founding of Scouting in America, said “that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on an emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.” I have spent the last 40+ years trying to live up to that motto.

In addition to being registered for over 40 years as a scouter, I have spent the past 30+ years working with teenagers and/or the adults that work with them.  Trying to introduce them to Jesus and to prepare them to as it says in Ephesians 4:1, “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (NIV).

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We have been reading through The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken at work. It is a challenging read on stories of Christians in the front lines of persecution. Nik, (not his real name) tells of his family’s adventures in Africa and other stories of believers and their modern day persecution around the globe.

When I read the following passage as it related to his time in Somalia, it rocked my thinking.  In fact it has been about all I have thought about in the weeks since I read it.

In our local church upbringing, we had never experienced anything that had prepared us for Somaliland. The way we learned and grew and matured in our faith would not have prepared anyone for Somaliland. It was no comfort for us to realize we weren’t the only ones so unprepared.    (The Insanity of God, B & H Publishing 2013, p 139)

 So, some thought that have been stirring around in my brain on how we may be able to better prepare our students to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, or just around the corner.

Bible Study-We have to get serious about teaching students Scripture.  Not in bite sized snippets, but serious study in matters of apologetics and theology. We need encourage them to memorize scriptures.  Not just random verses but chapters and books.

Practical Experience-Saturday morning the Jehovah Witnesses hit my street.  I listened respectfully (like I would want anyone to do for me) as the trainee stumbled his way through his presentation.  He did okay, and should have gotten a good evaluation from his trainer that stood silently behind him. But I cannot remember the last time someone from one of the evangelical churches in my neighborhood came to my door, must less one with a teenager with them.  We have gotten good at classroom work in the church, but lack heavily a practicum to do with it.

Location-It should be our goal to get every student in our ministry to experience life, if even for a short while, outside of their neighborhood context.  We should take them to a different part of the city, the state and if at all possible to a different country.  We need them to experience what it is like in a non-Christian culture.  We can no longer settle for them to be “good kids” that graduate and move down the street.  We need to prepare them to take the Gospel to the hard to reach places.

Vocation-We need to encourage them as they are making preparation for life’s vocation to consider something that they could use as an entry point into a closed country or an unreached section of the world. We have had some success with education and health care, but what else can we do? Villages in Alaska are in great need of small engine mechanics.  A man or women that can repair snowmobiles can manage a living and have a platform to share the Gospel.  Google is using balloons to bring cheap internet to the remotest regions on the planet, how are we equipping our students to think outside the box in order to take the Gospel to those places as well?

 

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A gathering of friends

I have been writing for Western Recorder, the Baptist state newspaper in Kentucky, for a little over 10 years.  My first column all those years ago began this way: “No one understands youth ministry like another youth minister. That is one of the guiding principles that under girds the group of friends that make up the Hopkinsville Youth Ministry Network.”

In the years since I have learned the uniqueness of what we had there.  We were not only youth ministers in the same community we became friends, not just your everyday run of the mill friends, but the kind of friends described in Proverbs 18:24 when it says, “But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother”. (NKJV)  We were honestly a band of brothers.

Later in that column I described it this way:

 If I have learned anything is youth ministry it is I don’t know it all and that ministry is never done in a vacuum. The network here in Hopkinsville is not just a network of ministers but a group of friends. I can honestly say that some of the guys in this area are the best friends I have on earth. We laugh, cry, pray and minister together. We challenge each other and serve as accountability partners. (Proverbs 27:17) We take our wives out to eat together. We plan events with our students together. It is a rare place indeed and we all know that. The beauty is that we also present a unified front to the local churches, local schools, and community organizations. We truly speak as a united group. 

Since that time most of the guys in that group have either left Hopkinsville or are no longer in ministry.  I moved on to the KBC and then to Crossings, Steve left to become the youth minister at FBC Richmond, Nathan left to minister in churches in Paducah and Las Vegas only to return to Hopkinsville to teach high school.   There were others who were there that left for a variety of reasons. Several more have passed through the area in the ten years I have been gone.

Last week, most of us gathered again. We told stories, we laughed, we cried, we prayed and we ministered. But last week it was different.  Last week we gathered to pay our last respects to Bill.  He was the youth pastor at Hillcrest, the life of the party, the retired Army guy who was rough around the edges, but he loved students and they loved him.  He had the largest student group in the area.  He was doing multi-cultural ministry before it was a thing.  He developed leaders. He spoke the truth in no uncertain terms.  His false teeth were more likely to be in your glass of tea than in his mouth, and his backflip was legendary. He was an innovator, a learner, a mentor, a husband, a dad, an avid Chicago Bears fan, a friend and a frequent source of information for this column. But most importantly a follower of Jesus.

Youth ministry is a lonely job and as we said in the beginning no one understands youth ministry like another youth minister. I have lost count of the youth ministers from across the state that have told me in the last few days that the reason they are still in the trenches in ministry is because of Bill.

His death leaves a terrible void in the life of many, one I am not sure that anyone can fill. I count it an honor to have been his friend.

I’ll miss you greatly my friend. I already do.

In the words of Vince Gill, “Go rest high on that mountain, Son, your work on earth is done, go to heaven a shoutin’…”

Praise God and Go Bears.

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When the ABC’s are not enough

Articulate: The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as being “able to express ideas clearly and effectively in speech or writing” or as being “clearly expressed and easily understood”. This should be easy to do with those things that are important to us. We should be able to be clear and concise and our conversations should flow easily when talking about what matters the most to us.

Talk to a University of Kentucky basketball fan, and they are usually clear and concise as to why they believe that the Big Blue is the best team in the land: More wins than any other team in the history of college basketball, more SEC championships than the rest of the SEC school combined, years and years of continually being in the top five in home attendance-while not playing in the largest venue, more players taken in the first round of any one draft than any other school has ever had, and on and on and on they will go.

Ask any new grandparent about their grandchild, and they are very articulate about why that child is better than any child that has ever been or will ever be born (at least until the next grandchild is born). They can show you scores of pictures of the new born baby and regale you with minute details of body functions, who the child favors, and how much they ate last night. There is no end it what they can talk about.

We are able on a daily basis to be articulate in a myriad of areas, from our favorite restaurants to our favorite app for our phone or to the best place to stop for gas on the way to Florida. Most of us know when we are right and aren’t afraid to speak our minds.

That is why Roger Palmer (Director of the Crossing Center for Youth Ministry) and I were so amazed this year in what we both experienced while interviewing potential summer staff. We were at different locations, interviewing different students, but the one thing that jumped out at both of us was the consistent lack of ability for college age young adults to articulate the Gospel.

We had NO doubt that they were believers and most were in a growing relationship with Christ, but they couldn’t articulate the Gospel. They knew it, believed it, lived their lives by it, but struggled with how to share it. Most of these students were the best of the best, the cream of the crop. They had come from stalwart churches all across the southeast United States and were leaders in their BCM, CRU, and CSF groups on the college campus. But struggled when ask to share the Gospel.

I was taken aback and was starting to be disappointed in them and in this entire generation. But then it hit me. It wasn’t entirely their fault.

If they are, and I believe they are, the best of the best THEN WE AS CHURCH LEADERS HAVE FAILED THEM. We have taught them how to study scripture, how to worship God, exposed them to unreached people groups, put them in leadership positions all the while failed to prepare them for the most important task we have been called to do: Share the Gospel.

The strange thing was most of them knew the ABC of becoming a Christian. They had learned in VBS to Admit, Believe and Confess. But when asked to admit what, believe what or confess what, some got that deer in the headlight look. Others would mumble something about believing in God or admitting this or that, very few got it all succinct and clear.

Rest assured, we will teach them the Gospel, and equip them to articulate it well. 

My prayer is that in 2015 we as leaders of youth ministries across the state will all do a better job of equipping our students to articulate the Gospel.

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Go tell it on the mountain…or at least around the dinner table

The Holidays are coming, the holidays are coming!   That is the message that is being sent loud and clear over every media site imaginable. It’s as if retailers think that somehow the holidays are going to sneak up on us and that somehow we are going to forget the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are just around the corner.  Lifetime TV has been showing Christmas movies for weeks, every other commercial is an ad for toys, and the black Friday circulars for several national chains have been “leaked” to the internet.  We have gone holiday crazy. I even saw an ad today wishing me a Happy Chrismahanukwanzikah !  What in the world is that?

As crazy as this time of year drives me, it does offer us ample opportunities to tell our story, the story of our encounter with the Gospel and how that has forever changed who I am.

One of the times of the year that I miss being on a local church staff the most is this time of year. The time between Thanksgiving and the New Year Holidays is a special time in the life of the church.  Sunday School classes are having fellowships, choirs have been working hard on a cantata, children’s programs bring grandparents, aunts and uncles to the church, and the school bands and choirs all have performances. There is something to do almost every night.

It is also the one time of year that it is okay to honor long standing traditions: Christmas Eve candlelight services, Christmas caroling to the home of the senior adults in the church, the Hanging of the Greens, collecting the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and hosting a Grinch themed Christmas Party to name a few.

But this year, in the midst of all the tradition and hecticness this time of year brings, let’s not forget to take time to tell the story of why Jesus’ came to earth. The apostle Paul, in 1 Timothy 1:15 writes, “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’—and I am the worst of them.” (HCSB)  Tell that story, and tell your story of how and when the truth of that story became a reality for you.

This time of year also brings, for most of us, time with family that we may not see at any other time of the year. It’s the busiest time of the year for travel.  Plane flights are the most expensive because they are in the highest demand.  Gas prices go up as families travel “over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house”.

Take some time this holiday season to be intentional about sharing your Gospel story.  After the turkey has been put away and before the Cowboys or Lions game kicks off Thanksgiving afternoon, take some time to share about how you are thankful for a Savior who came and died in your place.  Have placards at the table with scripture verses for people to read around meal time.  Place the Gospel narrative in a picture frame on your wall so those visiting your house can see it.

While it is true that “Jesus is the reason for the Season”, it is more true that Jesus is the reason for everything. We get so consumed at times with making sure we say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, that I think we miss the point.  The point isn’t to get everyone to acknowledge that Christmas is about Jesus, the point should be to help people be confronted with the fact that we are all sinners in need of a Savior.  That we are all hopeless without the Gospel, and that the baby born in a manager was the greatest gift ever given mankind.

The holiday season gives us a myriad of opportunities to share the gift of the Gospel.

 

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