Sunday, January 25, 2009

Listening: The Best Advice One Can Give

The other day a young man and I started chatting on the computer. Though he does not attend our church, I have known him for many years and he attends a church in a nearby town. He had been going through some difficult times and had written some songs that expressed the pain he was feeling. When I read the lyrics, I knew that he needed to talk to someone about what he was feeling, so I engaged him in conversation. He had a lot to say, and my heart ached to know he was in such pain. There was a time when I would have quickly given him several words of advice about how he could "fix" his problem. But as I have come to understand young people more completely, I have come to the realization that sometimes the best "advice" you can give them is to simply stay quiet and listen. So I listened to what he had to say. At times I asked questions to clarify in my own mind what he meant. As the conversation unfolded, the questions I asked him also helped him clarify his own feelings. Toward the end of the conversation I did make a suggestion or two for him to think about, though I made it clear to him that he was the only one that really knew his own feelings, so ultimately he would have to sort out his own thoughts. I made sure he knew I was ready to listen more when he was ready to talk more. He seemed to really appreciate the exchange. I think the fact that I listened helped him a lot more than me giving him an hour long lecture about how he might deal with his problems. Listening; sometimes its the best advice you can give a young person.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Survey Says . . .

Church attendance by young people across the nation has plummeted in recent years. Though some churches are simply ignoring the reality of the situation, others are addressing the phenomenon and seeing positive results. Recently on my blog I asked my readers to respond to the question, “Why did you attend church as a teen?” Fifty eight percent of the responders indicated that they went to church as a teen because they had great friends at church. Thirty three percent said they went only because their parents made them attend. Sadly, a mere eight percent said they attended church because of the inspiring sermons. It was not a surprise to me that not a single person indicated they attended church because of the music, even though music is the language that teens communicate with most.

What can we learn about reaching the next generation from surveys such as this? First, we learn the importance of the “group.” Today’s young people think in more postmodern terms than their parents and grandparents. A hallmark of postmodern people is they like to “belong” before they believe. That means they want to feel like they are part of the group before they decide if they accept the beliefs of the group. If churches want to reach today’s young people, they are going to have to learn how to build a community of faith that accepts those who have not yet committed to the tenets of that’s faith’s belief system. This does not mean a church has to abandon their beliefs, it just means that you have to be willing to accept people for who they are and trust the Holy Spirit to help them believe. After all, the Bible does tell us that no one comes unless the Spirit leads, so maybe we should let Him lead instead of trying to manipulate young people into believing before they are welcome in the “group.”

The next thing we can learn is that parents do still have a significant impact on the life of their teens. According to my survey, one third of teens only went because their parents made them. But something happened to them during that time that changed their motivation. They are still in church years later, and that in large part is because their parents made them go. Parents, don’t give up trying to get your teens to attend church, because it does work.

Finally, those of us who plan and lead worship services need to think about how we might make our sermons and our music more appealing to young people. That does not mean that every service has to cater to their desires, but it does mean we have to be conscious that they have different needs. If we want to impact the next generation, we must make an effort to meet their spiritual needs. If we fail to meet their needs, they will find somewhere that does.

Let us be life-long learners. Let us learn from surveys such as this and use what we learn to be more effective in reaching the next generation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How Young People Are Responding to the First African American President

I watched the recent inauguration events with fascination with my co-workers. Though I am too young to actually remember the worst days of racial discrimination in our nation, I am old enough to have heard the many stories of things my parents witnessed. Though I did not personally vote for Obama because of his liberal views on certain moral issues, I do find his speeches inspirational and hope that he will be a great leader for our nation. It seems that on every news channel there is an interview with one more young adult fascinated with Obama being the first African American president. But to be honest, I am having a hard time finding any of those young people in my own circle of influence. It is not because my circle is filled with racists who don't like people of color. Quite the contrary, it is because my circle of friends have grown up in a color blind world and to them it seems normal that an African American has been elected president. Some of my friends are Obama supporters, some are not, but almost every one of them expressed confusion as to why it was such a big deal for an African American to be elected president. From their perspective, this is just the natural order of things. While some may find their attitude troubling, I take great comfort in it. To me it means they have truly moved beyond race. We often talk about living in a post modern era. Perhaps we are also living in a post racial era.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Young Church Planters

Today I attended the “chartering service” of a new church. Our church has been working in a nearby community for over two years, along with two other churches, to help establish this new mission. It was very exciting to be a part of their chartering experience. The core group of this new church is small, but stable. I was pleased to see four children present in the core group as well as two young adult ladies under 21 years old. It has been my experience in helping start new churches across our state that they often attract young people. Young people not only have the energy for such an adventure, but they don’t mind taking risks. That willingness to take risks is vital to establishing a new church.

In a day and age when people often think young people are just slackers and have little to offer, it is exciting to see them as a part of starting new churches. Just think about how those young people will grow and mature over the next twenty five years. They will be a vital part of reaching a community for Christ and watching a church go from infancy to maturity. It will be an exciting journey for them.

What can you do to encourage a young person to take a risk and help start a new church?

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Power of a Single Phone Call

I spent part of last week at a conference in a distant state. On the way out I flew through the New York airport, but on the way back my route took me through the Philadelphia airport. However, my parents did not know that, and when they saw that a plane flying out of the New York airport had crashed, they became scared for my safety. Of course I was never actually in danger, since I was in an airport hundreds of miles away, but they didn’t know that at the time. When I talked to my wife and she told me of their concern, I immediately called them and assured them I was okay. They were very relieved to get that single phone call.

Their reaction made me think how a single event, phone call, or piece of news can change a person’s life. How many people thought their marriage was great, only to come home and find a single note saying the marriage was over? How many people thought they were healthy only to go to their annual medical checkup and are told they have a serious problem? How many people thought their job was secure, only to have been told unexpectantly by the boss that they are being laid off? One conversation, one phone call, one email, or one note can change the nature of a person’s life.

But such single events need not always be negative. Think about how a single person showing care and concern for an at risk youth can make that youth feel important and give them the motivation to make something of themselves. Think about how one time of being there when a young person needs you most can make their entire life turn around. Think about how one church, or one youth worker, can change the life of a young person.

You can be an agent for change, with a single word, note or email to a young person looking for hope and direction in life. So go out and make a difference in the world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Gift of Free Will

If God loves me so much and is so powerful, then why does bad stuff keep happening to me? This is a question that I have been asked countless times by both adults and young people. I have asked myself this question on more than one occasion.

Because the current young generation is a generation in pain, they are asking questions like this more than ever. There are no easy answers to these hard questions, but one answer has to do with the free will that God has chosen to give people. Though God is indeed all powerful and could so control our lives that we would be free from all pain, that would render us mere robots or puppets. God loves us too much to give us such empty and meaningless lives. So He has chosen to give us free will as an expression of His love for us.

Unfortunately, our free will has been deeply tainted by our fall into sin. Much of the time when we think we are exercising our “free will” we are actually acting as slaves to our sin. This slavery to sin causes part of the pain we experience in our lives. Pain is often the natural consequence of our bad choices. Free will has a price, for with control comes responsibility. When we trust Christ as our Savior, we are freed from the trap of sin and receive the Holy Spirit to help us make better choices and use our free will as God intended it.

Sadly, even when we trust Christ and are freed from the grip of our own sin, we are still subject to the poor choices that others make who are still in slavery to their own sin. This means that we also experience pain when others make bad choices and their consequences spill over into our own lives.

If you think this idea through completely, you have no choice but to conclude that though God could free us from all the pain of life, that would be inconsistent with His gift of free will. So one reason life can be painful is because God has given mankind the ability to make choices and mankind has not used that ability very well.

The next time something bad happens, instead of getting angry at God, take a step back and thank Him for giving you, and those around you, the gift of free will. Then ask Him to help you, and those around you, use that free will in a way that helps instead of hurts.

Dr. T

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Generation of Pain

Life can be painful. I recently spoke to a large group of teenagers who had gathered for a youth rally in our area. Though I did not know all the teenagers who were there, I knew enough of them to know it was a room full of pain. The “normal” painful things were represented, like broken homes and financial needs. But there were also five teenagers present who had lost at least one parent to death, two only 48 hours before the rally. There were teenagers present who had been physically abused as well as some who had been sexually abused. At least one I knew in the group bounces from house to house, never quite knowing where “home” is any particular week. A number have lost friends in car accidents and/or in a tragic house fire that took several lives three years ago. Several of those present were struggling with addictions in their own lives or in the lives of their parents. There were at least two “cutters” in the group and at least three who were struggling with their sexual identity. WOW, what a lot of pain for one room. Whatever happened to teenagers just hanging out and being kids!

My experience speaking to that group reinforced in my mind that the current generation is a generation of pain. They are a generation of broken families and emotional problems. They are the first generation that will most likely be less well off than their parents. They are inheriting an economy that is in shambles, morality that has collapsed and a nation that is not well liked around the world. With so much stacked against them, the last thing they need is a church that does not care about their pain or help them with their struggles. Yet, that is what most of them find.

Young people are leaving the church in large numbers. It is not that they don’t believe in God, statistics actually say that today’s teenagers are more likely to believe in God than their parents. It is just that they are not finding God in most churches. So they look for Him in other places. Yet the church has been called to hold the keys to the Kingdom of God. Too many churches have lost the keys they are supposed to be holding. Churches need to rediscover those keys before they lose a whole generation. One of the ways churches can rediscover the keys to the Kingdom and unlock spiritual truth for teenagers is to help them deal with the pain they have experienced. Fortunately, we have an Advocate who stays closer than a brother. Christ is the One who was wounded for our transgressions and by His stripes we can be healed. So we have a lot to offer to young people that can ease their pain, if we are willing to offer it. Encourage your church to be a voice of healing for a generation in pain.

Dr. T

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Problem with "I"

Have you ever noticed how the middle letter of the word "pride" is an I? It's that focus on "I" that often gets us in trouble.

I was chatting with a relatively new Christian the other day and he was sharing with me that one of his greatest struggles with his new found faith is the level of pride that exists in many long term Christians. As he has become more involved in his church, he has had more opportunities to interact with people who have been Christians for a very long time. Instead of setting an example for him in faith and godliness, they seem to ooze pride from their very pores.

My friend knows that Christians are still human, and surely does not want to stand in judgment of others, but you can imagine how frustrating it is when the ones he looks to for advice are more full of themselves than they are full of the Spirit.

Though my friend happens to be an adult, I have met many young people who have similar struggles. Many young people would turn to faith in Christ more easily if it were not for all the Christians they meet in the process!

I know that pride is an issue I have to deal with constantly in my own life. I have come to believe that the longer you are a Christian, the more prone to pride you become. This was the problem the Pharisees had in the New Testament, and not much has changed about the human condition since then.

So if you want to invest yourself in younger believers, learn to let go of the "I" and shed the pride.

Dr. T.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Church of Today

Nearly a hundred adults and their families worshiped on a recent Sunday to powerful worship music with hands raised and voices lifted in praise as the Youth Praise Band from our church led the weekly worship service. Three rows of teens were present in the worship service in their customary section near the back. As I reflect on why our church has been so effective at reaching the next generation, it occurs to me that one reason is because we allow God to use the teens in ministry. Most churches say that teens are the church of tomorrow. While church leaders mean well when they say such things, what they are actually communicating to the teens is that teens have no current value. They may have value in some future "tomorrow" but they have no value right now. Teens hear that message and decide that if they are not valued at church, they will go somewhere that does value them, which all too often ends up being places they shouldn’t be.

If churches want to attract teens, they have to begin to value them the way God does. Churches must begin to recognize that teens are gifted by God and can be used by Him in powerful ways. Our teens used to lead worship once every six weeks, then it became once a month. Now it is up to two or three times a month. They don’t just lead worship, they also help with children’s church, they are active raising money to pay off the mortgage and they even help clean the building. Three weeks ago I was nearly moved to tears as I watched one 17 year old young man put his offering in the offering box, it may have been small, but it was one more example of his growing spiritual maturity in Christ.

At Faith Community Church teens are full partners with the adults in leading the church and in sharing the Gospel with our community. If you find yourself in a place where teens have no real value, perhaps its time to come worship with us and watch what God can do in the life of your teen.

Dr. T

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