Be Thou My Vision

Two (Faulty) Approaches to Youth Ministry

Posted on February 2, 2011 at 8:00am
Dan Wolgemuth

Dan Wolgemuth

Dan Wolgemuth, President and CEO for Youth For Christ, contributed last Friday to one of my favorite blogs, The Resurgence. Drawing on his experience with YFC, Wolgemuth offers some great insight about working with young people (The First Obstacle in Working with Young People is YOU). He has concluded that our perspective greatly affects the success of the interaction, and he outlines two common approaches to youth ministry:

An obligation: On one hand we find youth workers that feel as though they “must” work with young people. They engage with teeth gritted and resolve mustered… but their “will to work” far exceeds their “want to work.” They measure their success by how long they’ve been engaged with young people.

Just chillin’: At the other end of the spectrum there are youth workers who are just looking to hang out, to be a part of something fresh and new, exciting, and entertaining. These workers measure their success by whether they are included and accepted.

I struggle with the latter: I love working with young people, but I also love being liked. The trick to that, for me, is to remember what I’m really there for, and that any inclusion or acceptance I have is a gift from God, and a platform from which I can minister to young people with Christ-centered encouragement, guidance and teaching.

Both of the perspectives detailed above are equally hopeless, and Wolgemuth emphasizes the importance of approaching ministry with the proper heart and motivation. Youth ministry, and ministry in general, should follow the example of Jesus Christ, and be done with a heart of compassion. One of the most important things that we can pray for, then, is that God would instill in us an understanding of “authentic love” — the compassion exhibited by God Himself.


Rules and Freedom

Posted on January 19, 2011 at 8:00am

Freedom Requires Rules

On Monday, I wrote a bit about salvation, and this post continues along that theme. Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions about the Christian faith is that the defining characteristic of Christians is “being good” (and following, salvation depends on how “good” one is). A common objection to following Jesus Christ involves an unwillingness to follow the “rules” (some of which are merely rules that people popularly associate with the faith, and not a commandment actually found in the Bible). God's rules do serve a purpose, though, and we can see that if we can only manage to change our perception a little bit.

Think about it. Are there any among us who can truly say they’d be happy living in a world in which murder, theft, rape, infidelity, and lying were commonplace and accepted? Does any good ever come from dishonoring our parents? Do we get anywhere when we envy others, whether for their spouse or their possessions? Can anything but disaster come from cheating on one’s spouse? When we start to think about things in terms of their consequences—on both ourselves and others—we start to see that the rules establish an environment in which we are protected from certain things—being killed or having to constantly worry that someone will take our belongings, for example. Our happiness is protected in a marriage where fidelity is the rule. We can trust our friends when we know they won't lie to us.

I once read an analogy that sticks with me to this day (though, unfortunately, the author does not—it may be Brennan Manning). The illustration involves a youth soccer game without a coach; the father of one of the players steps in to fill the absence but, unfortunately, he has no knowledge of the rules of the game. As you might imagine, things quickly deteriorate into utter chaos. No longer was there a fun game that the young players could enjoy, because the lack of organization opened the door to injury and made the game a pointless—and potentially dangerous—free-for-all. In the same way, the rules established by God, starting with the Ten Commandments, give us a framework within which we have an opportunity to experience joy.

In itself, though, the Law is unable to bring that joy to us. Freedom requires rules, but those rules don't provide freedom.

The Law Does Not Justify Us; Christ Does

Following what the Law prescribes can not save us, because we can not follow the Law. No matter how hard we try, we will fail, because we are incapable of keeping the Law. That is why Paul taught the Galatians that, “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse” (Gal. 3:10): because “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Rom. 3:20).

There is, however, one man who was able to follow the Law, though he was subject to all of the same temptations, frustrations, and emotions that any of us might experience. Because Jesus Christ kept the Law, because he was the spotless and innocent Lamb of God, he—and only he—could take away the sins of the world: my sins and yours. If ever we lose sight of this fact, we start down a slippery slope; we must always remember that our sanctification is dependent on what Christ has done, not anything that we can—or ever could—do.  Mars Hill's Matt Johnson writes, “Rather than seeing sanctification as a linear progression from bad to better, the Christian life is more accurately described circularly; we return again and again to the cross.” (“Moralism's Cruel Stick and Carrot”). This is the key: rather than relying on ourselves, we must be humble enough to repeatedly go back to the Cross (because we are in constant need of the forgiveness that Jesus gives us there), in confession and repentance.

We are justified by Jesus Christ alone. It sounds so simple and easy, but it presents such a challenge...


Christians and Culture: “Receive, Reject, or Redeem”

Posted on January 5, 2011 at 8:00am

All Christians are called to be missionaries—to engage in evangelism (the communication of the Gospel of Jesus Christ) and acts of service—regardless of whether their mission field is their home, their workplace, their community, another country or another continent.  Though traveling to other areas for missions is important, we often forget how great an impact we can have right in our own backyard, in our everyday lives.

Wise missionaries understand that they must learn the culture of those whom they seek to reach, not only because it is important to know what others believe before we expect them to learn what we believe, but also because it affords a wonderful opportunity to meet people where they are, and communicate with them in an understandable way. In the same way that Jesus taught using parables, missionaries who know the history, customs and legends of a group of people can use this knowledge to analogize the story of the Gospel, presenting it in a meaningful way (St. Patrick, for example, left parts of Ireland's culture intact, while turning them toward Christ as the object of their worship).

But this lesson holds true not only for those who seek to evangelize in foreign lands; when we minister to people anywhere, we can provide a clearer presentation of the Gospel if we understand their culture.  In the U.S., that means understanding many aspects of pop culture:  music, movies, books, television, celebrities, fashion, etc.  As obnoxious as we may find Stephanie Meyer's wildly popular Twilight books, for example, we can use themes presented in those stories, such as sacrificial love, to communicate the grace of God and the love of Jesus Christ—who willingly died that we might be saved—to a teenage girl in a way that is perhaps more approachable than any presentation of the Gospel narrative that she has previously heard.  Even the Insane Clown Posse, a revolting rap duo with arguably no redeeming social value, recognize the awe and wonder of the Creation (though in much less intelligent and more offensive language) in their song “Miracles,” the lyrics of which could be the starting point of a discussion about the inadequacy of naturalistic explanations to explain the universe in which we live.

As Christians, we needn't fear culture, but we must exercise discernment in which parts of culture can stay, and which must go.  Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, recently wrote in his blog concerning this topic (“Why Christians Go Postal Over Facebook, Jay-Z, Yoga, Avatar, and Culture in General”).  Driscoll argues that culture should not be viewed passively (“merely as entertainment”); rather, he writes, we should “engage it actively as a sermon that is preaching a worldview.” He goes on to point out the dangers of going to either extreme:  Syncretists dilute the Gospel too much in favor of staying “relevant” (something all too common in the Emergent Church movement), while sectarians legalistically believe that being involved in culture at all is analogous to living in sin. To avoid going “too far” or “not far enough,” Driscoll offers this wise advice:

One helpful taxonomy I have used for years to help teach on missiology is as follows:

· Receive – There are things in culture that are part of God’s common grace to all people that a Christian can simply receive. This is why, for example, I am typing on a Mac and am going to post this blog on the Internet without searching for an expressly Christian computer or communication format.

· Reject – There are things in culture that are sinful and not beneficial. One example is pornography, which has no redeeming value and must be rejected by a Christian.

· Redeem – There are things in culture that are not bad in and of themselves, but can be used in a sinful manner and therefore need to be redeemed by God’s people. An example that has resulted in a great deal of media attention is sexual pleasure. God made our bodies for, among other purposes, sexual pleasure. And, although many have sinned sexually, as Christians we should redeem this great gift and all its joys in the context of marriage.

The key, then, is to use our discernment to decide which parts of culture we should receive, what we must reject, and those which can be redeemed.  Perhaps the reason that many Christians are hesitant to follow this taxonomy is that we don't trust others—or ourselves, for that matter—to make sound judgments regarding these things.  Surely, life as a Christian would be easier in some ways if we had more of a clear-cut set of rules to guide our behavior. Following Christ, though, is not about following rules; it's about having a relationship with Jesus Christ and about freely deciding to live our lives in a Christ-centered way—one which glorifies Him in all that we do.  If we replace that relationship with an attempt to follow a code of conduct—an effort that is doomed to fail—we miss the point completely.  God granted us the free will to decide for ourselves; we honor His gift when we use discernment—consulting the Word and with prayerful consideration—to make the right choice:  the choice that brings glory to God.

All aspects of culture offer us opportunities to reach a world that is desperately in need of Jesus.  We should graciously and gladly accept—and take advantage of—these occasions.


Family: Our Top Priority

Posted on January 3, 2011 at 8:00am

How I Pastor My Family | Justin HydeThis weekend, The Resurgence posted a recap of their Top 6 posts of 2010, and I deemed one to be especially worth sharing: Justin Hyde’s “How I Pastor My Family”.  Hyde, lead pastor of Christ Church in Brenham, Texas, lists ten guidelines for being a pastor to his family, which he accurately describes as “the most important part of [his] vocation.”

As I prepare to enter into a career in ministry, I’ve thought and prayed quite a bit for the discipline and wisdom to make sure that I follow the Biblical imperative to be able to “manage [my] own family well” (1 Tim. 3:4-5), which I interpret to include being a teacher and spiritual leader, as well as a source of support, leadership, and discipline. Hyde offers a lot of helpful and practical advice for being the kind of a Christ-like spiritual leader for one’s family that we are called to be (Eph. 5:23). An overarching “theme” of most of his advice is an attitude of selflessness, which is—not surprisingly—the single most defining characteristic of the way that Christ cares for the Church. The temptation to put myself first after a hard day of work is extremely strong, even though I have no children to worry about, only my wife.  But as a husband, Scripture simply doesn't grant me the luxury of putting my needs and desires above those of my wife. At the present time, I need to nurture good habits and increase my focus on being intentional about doing away with distractions, and making sure that I am the kind of husband—and father, at some point—who is managing my family well: being the kind of leader, teacher, shepherd, encourager, and exemplar who steers us—as a family unit—toward a life centered on Christ.

Hyde concludes by pointing out that this kind of family leadership can’t exist as a set of discrete planned events, but that these intentional elements must be part of an overall attitude of willingness—or perhaps I should say eagerness—to make Jesus a part of each and every aspect of our lives, no matter how mundane. As the leader of the family, a husband must take this responsibility very seriously; it is our charge to see that our family grows every day closer to Jesus Christ.