Monday, March 30, 2009

A Clear Choice for God, or Not????

Recently I was teaching a Bible study to teenagers on the importance of making a clear choice to follow the Lord. The students come from a variety of religious backgrounds and they engaged in meaningful conversation about this subject during the lesson. They seemed to understand the Bible story and the practical implications it had on their daily lives. At the end of the lesson I passed out a response sheet for the teens to fill out to help me know where they were at spiritually. It had a number of possible responses from “I have made a clear choice to follow God” to “I have made a clear choice NOT to follow God.” The form also had some other answers for those who felt they were somewhere in the middle of those two positions.

Interestingly, of the 43 teens present, only five of did not put their names on the form. This indicated to me that most of them did not mind telling me where they stood spiritually. Many of them wrote notes about the difficulties they were having following God. A dozen teens indicated on the form that they wanted one of the youth workers to contact them to talk specifically about some of their spiritual struggles. Clearly they trusted us enough to share this information with us.

I rejoiced that a larger number than I had expected indicated that they had made a clear choice to follow the Lord. But what I found most interesting was that two of the young people indicated that they had made a clear choice to NOT follow God. While such a statement might be shocking to comprehend for people who grew up in church, I truly appreciated those two teens' honesty. Obviously, I pray that in time they will change their minds and make a different choice. But I appreciate their openness and honesty in stating their position so clearly.

I believe they were willing to make their positions so clear because they know that our church loves and cares for them regardless of where they are at on their spiritual journey. We demonstrate our love for them not just by teaching them the Word of God, but also through spending time with them, hosting programs to meet their needs, and by being there for them when they go through difficult times. We are convinced that if we keep demonstrating love to them, that one day they will come to know the One who demonstrated His love for them by giving His life for them while they were still sinners. Join us in praying for that day to come!

If your church is struggling in your efforts to reach young people, ask might yourself if you have created a safe and loving environment in which teens can feel comfortable sharing their feelings with you. You don’t have to always agree to their feelings, but you do need to listen. Only by listening can you create the relationship that allows for open and honest sharing. And only through openness and honesty can we see lives changed by the love of Christ. So relax a little, let your young people talk, even those who do not yet believe in Christ. You may learn something. And even those who seem hard toward Christ may yet change their minds.

Dr. T

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ministry is Messy

Our church has a large group of teens that we are working with, well over 100 in the program. They are a spiritually mixed group, with a few coming from strong Evangelical Christian homes, a few coming from religious non-evangelical homes and a large group coming from non-religious homes. Pretty much every major religious denomination is represented in the group and there are at least two that come from Buddhist families and one from a Jewish home. It makes for very interesting discussion during our Bible studies.

The group also comes from a mixture of economic backgrounds. A few are from upper middle class homes and are relatively affluent. A large number come from single parents homes and have the accompanying financial pressure such a situation naturally creates. A small group comes from families that are living on the edge of poverty. At least one has been homeless at one point in her life, living for a time in the family automobile.

The group has the full range of family issues that any group of teens that size would have naturally. Some come from stable homes and have all the support that such a home offers. Some live with their grandparents. Some live in foster care. Some live in homes that are less stable. Some live in homes that have little or no stability at all. Each of these situations imparts in that particular young person a skill set for how to deal with issues and situations in life. They learn how to survive in whatever their situation is. Some of those “survival skills” will help them become healthy adults; some of them are warping their sense of how the world really works, depending on what they have learned from their family situation.

It is a challenge working with teens from such a wide variety of backgrounds. But for the most part, the group moves past those issues and gets along well. However, recently we had a disagreement that quickly escalated into a physical confrontation between a small group of boys. Sadly, the police had to be called and one young man ended up arrested. Though he was released later that evening, it was an emotional situation for all involved.

It would be easy to just shut the whole program down to avoid the possibility of such events happening in the future. But that would punish a lot of young people who did nothing wrong. It would be easy to just limit the program just to those youth that had “good” behavior. But who would decide what the definition of “good” was and who would “police” the door to only let the chosen few in? And how would such a decision impact the church’s mission to the community? After all, haven't we all done some things we regret in our lives? Didn't we hope someone would give us another chance?

In the end, we decided to suspend the young men involved for three weeks, to increase our adult supervision of the group, and talk openly and honestly about the situation both to the teens involved and to the group as a whole. And so the ministry continues and life goes on.

The reality is that ministry is messy. This is especially true if you are focusing on those who did not grow up attending church every Sunday. Churches must be willing to get their hands dirty. Churches must be willing to reach into the culture and literally snatch the perishing from the hands of Satan. If churches are not willing to do this, then why exist at all? So go get your hands dirty this week and rejoice that God gives you the opportunity to be engaged in such wonderful work!

Dr. T.

Learn more about reaching young people in Dr. Terry Dorsett's book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Teens Can Do Missions

Recently I had the privilege of going with a group of nine men on a mission project to help a small church near the Canadian border. The project was to hang sheetrock in four bedrooms and a bathroom of a church parsonage in expectation of the new pastor arriving. The small church could not do the project on their own and so these men had decided to go help out.

Included in the group were three teenagers from our youth group. To be honest, I expected them to lose interest in the project about half way through the day. To my pleasant surprise, they worked just as hard as the adults and were a significant help to the overall completion of the project. In a day and time in which many people think of teenagers as slackers, it was a wonderful experience to work with some that are very focused on helping others and serving Christ through mission involvement.

I have to wonder if more teens would be involved in such projects if we just asked them. The next time your church heads out on some kind of mission effort, why not invite the teens to come along. They may be more help than you realize.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Irony of Our Post-Modern Culture

Our post-modern culture has been struggling with the issue of human sexuality for the last decade. The state of Vermont, where I live, has been at the forefront of this debate. Nine years ago we were the first state to allow a legal "marriage-like" civil union for gays and lesbians. Now there is growing pressure in our state to make civil unions into actual marriages. There has been much in our local paper about this issue. I sent this letter to the editor of my local paper this morning and thought my blog readers might appreciate this unique twist on the subject.

Dear Editor,
I found great irony in the articles on the front page of yesterday’s Times Argus. The main headline said “Gay-marriage hearing fills House” while a smaller headline at the bottom of the page said “Vermont’s birth rate still lowest in the nation.” Regardless of what one may believe about the moral and religious issues concerning gay marriage, should gay marriage become the law in Vermont, it will only compound the low birth rate problem.

Gay marriages will never produce children. They may acquire children from other sources, but they will never produce them on their own. It simply can’t happen. I learned this in 7th grade biology class, and even with all the advancements in technology, biology is still biology.

For those who do not think that low birth rates are a problem, then consider the impact of low birth rates on local schools, on the work force and on long term tax revenue. Low birth rates are a problem. Gay marriage may not have caused the low birth rates, but they cannot help reverse the trend either. We should consider carefully the full impact of this proposed legislation on Vermont’s long term future.

Terry Dorsett, Director
Green Mountain Baptist Association
30 Jones Brothers Way, Suite B
Barre VT 05641

Thursday, March 19, 2009

California City, Rural Vermont, Not that Different

Recently I was in California for the oral defense of my doctoral dissertation. As I sat on a hillside overlooking the city of San Francisco, I could not help but think of both the contrasts and the similarities between the “big city” in California and the “rural” area where I live in Vermont.

The differences are many. For example, the greater San Francisco metro area has nearly ten times as many people as the entire state of Vermont. The average house price is 3 and ½ times the average price in my area. Clearly the people in California are much more interested in style, fashion and fancy hair than most people in Vermont. There was a wide range of races represented in California, where as Vermont is one of the “whitest” states in America.

But for all the differences between the two, there were many similarities as well. The area in which I stayed in California has one of the lowest populations of evangelical Christians in America, and Vermont has the absolute lowest, according to the most recent Gallup poll. The people in California seemed to attempt to fill the emptiness in their lives with recreation and possessions, which is not that much different from how people in Vermont try to fill the void in their lives.

In the end, it does not matter where you live, people still need Jesus. Rich or poor, young or old, city or rural, people need the Lord. What can we do this week to share Jesus with the people around us?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Open Minded or Closed Minded

I have noticed an interesting trend the last few years, which seems to have intensified in more recent months. The trend concerns people who consider themselves open minded but actually are quite close minded. Normally it begins with a conversation I initiate with someone about faith. The person I am trying to share with will indicate that they are not a Christian. Though they are not Christians, they do think of themselves as experts on how Christians think and feel. In each conversation they feel quite comfortable telling me how judgmental and narrow minded Christians are. In each case, I listened patiently to these people, in the hopes that they would see that I was an open minded Christian.

But the trend I have noticed is that when they finally quit telling me how they perceive the world, and I assume it is my turn to share my perspective; they quickly cut the conversation off. I find it interesting how these people who consider themselves to be so open minded are actually so close minded about hearing any view other than their own. They are happy to share their views. They are happy to tell me how they think I feel. But they are not willing to hear my own views. It is sad that these people not only are missing the joy of the Christian life, but they are so close minded about hearing others talk about that joy , that they have deceived themselves into believing they are something that they are not.

This is the world in which we live in. This is a world in which people talk about being open minded and tolerant, but in reality they are close minded and intolerant. This is the world we have created for our young people. I can’t help believing that it might not be too late to change that world and leave our kids something better.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Touching Eternity

The other day I was sitting with my father in law in a rocking chair on his porch. Mr. Jonas has been a committed Christian for many years, though by his own admission there was a period of time during his younger days when he didn't walk with the Lord as much as he would have liked. Since retiring, he has become involved in a number of local ministries and has also been able to participate in several mission trips to Haiti. During our conversation he said that he realized his time to serve the Lord was growing short as he advanced in age and that from this point forward he "didn't want his hands to touch anything that would not touch eternity."

Since our conversation I have been thinking a lot about that statement. I have been asking myself how many things do MY hands touch that actually have eternal value. I think it is so easy to get busy doing things that may be okay to do, but which have no actual eternal significance. I rejoice that my father in law came to learn this valuable truth and has been able to apply it to his life even if it was not until he retired.

I have been wondering what would happen if Christians could learn this truth at age 55, or 45, or 25 instead of at age 65. Imagine learning this truth at age 15! Imagine having an entire life ahead to touch eternal things. Wow, what a life that would be!

The only way to have that kind of life, is to start living it today!


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett is a pastor, husband, father and author who has been serving small churches in New England since 1993. He often finds heavenly truths in everyday experiences and writes about them in his blog.