Saturday, August 29, 2009
In my efforts to give them hope and point them to a God who cares, I find that many of them blame God for the pain in their lives. Some of them do it outright and boldly, expressing great anger at God for letting bad stuff happen to good people. Others of them are more subtle, but clearly they question why a God of love lets this stuff happen. God takes it on the chin for every painful moment and every painful action that has ever happened. Often I point out to them that it was a person who hurt them, not God. Often I remind them that if God controlled every aspect of our lives, we would simply be robots with no mind of our own. None of them seem to want that level of control in our lives.
I try to help them understand that God is not the only spiritual force at work in the world. Satan is roaming about the world with his legion of demons looking for whom he can destroy. It is Satan who has caused all this pain and hurt in the world. Satan is the one who kills people in car accidents and house fires. Satan is the one who causes a one person to violate another person sexually. Satan is the one who brings cancer, disease and pain into the world. Let’s put the blame where it belongs!
God is working very hard to bring about hope and change, but very few people seem to be on God’s side these days. Everyone wants God to “fix it” but no one wants to help God do any of the fixing. It seems that most people prefer to live like the Devil and then blame God for all the bad stuff that happens. But that is just not the way the real world works. There is hope and there is help from a God who is both powerful and loving. But we must reach out to Him and open our hearts and minds to His working in our lives. That does not mean that Satan will stop bothering us. Satan will continue to do his evil works because he is just pure evil and does not know how to do anything but cause pain and hurt in the world. But if enough people join God’s team and begin to follow God’s ways, we might be surprised how much joy, goodness, life, happiness and peace can come into the world.
So what will you do today? Will you continue to blame God while you do your own thing? Or will you get on God’s team and join Him in His work of fixing the mess Satan has made of this world?
Friday, August 21, 2009
Though the teenage years are supposed to be carefree and full of fun, all this brokenness has caused many teenagers to be filled with anxiety instead of joy. I have worked with teens for 18 years and it seems to me that it is harder for teens to discover happiness today than it has ever been. In all my years of youth ministry I have not yet found any easy answers to helping teenagers overcome the hardships of life. But one thing that I have found to be effective is to allow teenagers to spend time with my family. Something happens inside teenagers who are experiencing difficulty when they spend time with a healthy Christian family. Spending time in a home that is not filled with tension seems to lift teens out of their struggles and give them a new perspective on life.
Don’t misunderstand what I am saying; I have no misguided ideas that my family is perfect. Believe me, we are not. We are a normal family that experiences the normal stresses of life. But by the grace of God and to the glory of God, our home has been able to avoid many of the difficulties that some teens have experienced in their own homes. Our faith in Christ gives our family a sense of peace in a world filled with turmoil. Our faith in Christ makes our home a refuge of hope in a world that is often hopeless. Our faith in Christ makes our home a sanctuary of love in an increasingly unloving world. Our faith in Christ has helped our home become an oasis of calm in an ocean of chaos.
God has allowed us to use our home as a haven for many teens and college students over the years, and for that, we are grateful. It may have been just for the evening. It may have been overnight. It might have been for a couple of days and nights. Several have stayed for a week or more. A number of college students who wanted to do ministry with us have stayed for up to two months at a time. Though I am sure we have made mistakes during these times, for the most part, God has allowed us to model a home built on faith in Christ and anchored in the love of God.
A couple of years ago one young lady who stayed with us called our house a “happy bubble.” That term has stuck, and the teens that we have become friends with often refer to our home using that term. It is our prayer that the bubble remains happy and that it never bursts and that as teens enter into that happy bubble, they might find the true Source of happiness, which is Jesus Christ. As you consider how you might reach out to hurting teens and impact their lives, consider using your home as a happy bubble to which teens might escape for a period of time from an unhappy world and discover what real Christianity is.
Monday, August 17, 2009
This year our guest speaker was Adrian Despres who serves as the chaplain for the University of South Carolina football team. During this year’s Youth Explosion, at least twelve young people gave their lives to Christ. Dozens of teens also made other types of commitments about the need to repent of various sins and to make Christ the priority of their lives.
Events like this are always highly emotional and give those who participate a burst of energy regarding spiritual things. But often as time goes by, the excitement wanes and most of the participants tend to slip back to their old ways. In order to address this tendency, on the last night of the event, Adrian gave the group four things to do if they wanted to continue to grow in Christ after the conference was over. Adrian’s ideas are outlined below:
1. Use the Bible the way God wants you to.
-Realize it is a love letter from God to you.
-When you read the Bible, try to imagine it happening by using all five of your senses
-Underline verses that mean a lot to you and put a question mark by verses you want to ask your pastor to explain to you.
-Quote a verse when you feel tempted to sin.
-Listen to the Bible on CD.
-If you have never read the Bible before, start with Matthew and read up to Revelation, but don’t actually read Revelation yet. Instead go back to Matthew and start over again and then read Revelation on your second time through.
-Take your Bible to school, read a verse or two at lunch or in the hallway so people can see you reading it and engage you in a conversation about it.
2. Use praise the way God wants you to.
-Carry a small rock in your backpack or in your pocket or your car. Every time you see the rock, say one thing to praise the Lord.
-Get 10 index cards and write “7X” on them. Put them in key places around the house or in your locker at school. Every time you see one of the cards, say one thing to praise the Lord. Try to praise God at least 7 times each day.
3. Use prayer the way God wants you to.
-Learn to pray short quick prayers frequently throughout the day.
-Get some plastic cups and write people’s names on them. Every time you use the cup, pray for that person.
-Every time you hear someone’s watch beep, say a prayer for that person.
-Every time you hear a bell ring, stop and pray for someone.
-Every time you hear a police or ambulance siren, stop and pray for whatever the crisis is that they are responding to.
-If you have not yet been baptized AFTER you trusted Christ as your Savior, you should be baptized!
-Tell your friends one thing the Lord has taught you each week.
-Look for one chore you can do around your house WITHOUT being asked, as a witness to your parents of your growing faith in Christ.
-Keep yourself sexually pure until marriage.
-Try to actually worship as a group during the music at church. Sing, lift your hands, clap, and try to feel the words in your heart. It’s not a time to text, talk or cut up. It is a time to focus on the Lord.
-Try to actually pay attention to the sermon or Bible lesson. Follow along with your Bible and encourage your friends to do the same thing. Take notes from the sermon and compare them with your friend’s notes after church. Post one thought that you learned from the sermon on your Facebook or MySpace page so that the group can comment on it and learn from it together.
-The more we worship and study the Bible together, the stronger we will be as a group.
-We tend to take church more seriously when we invite a friend to come with us.
-It becomes much easier to talk to our friends about faith once they have visited our church and seen us worship.
-When our friends see what a large youth group we have, they will want to be a part of the larger group and the group will keep growing both numerically and spiritually.
-Adults are energized for Christ when they see young people in love with Jesus. This means YOU can actually help the adults in our church become stronger believers. This is especially true when the teens function as a group.
-Gather a group of teens together and go on a mission trip.
-Gather a group of teens together to attend a men’s conference or ladies conference with the adults.
-If the church is having a work day, gather your friends and show up to volunteer to do something.
5. Encourage your Christians friends to pray together before you eat your lunch at school. If the entire youth group does it, just imagine the number of people praying in school. So much for the ban on school prayer!
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Some churches are doing a great job of reaching young people. Other churches are putting forth a lot of effort but not seeing much result. One observation that I have made as I sought to determine why some churches are doing so well in this area while other churches are not, is the difference in whether a church has a youth MINISTRY or a youth PROGRAM. Churches trying to reach young people in any fashion are to be commended. But in my travels I have found that churches with a youth program are not reaching many young people for Christ, while those with a youth ministry are much more effective. What is the difference between a youth program and youth ministry?
A youth program is something that the church sponsors once or twice a week. It begins and ends at a specific time and is very structured in the way it functions. Youth programs often have a small core, mostly of teenagers whose parents are part of the church. That core takes part in the youth program when their schedule permits, but it is not unusual for them to be absent from the program if they have something else going on. They seldom bring their friends to such a program. It is not unusual for teens in youth programs to not be very active in the overall life of the church. Many adults in the church often see the youth program as a drain on the budget but they invest the money anyway in hopes of keeping the parents of the youth from going to a nearby church. A significant number of teens who participate in youth programs will drop out of church during their college years. Many of them will never return.
A youth ministry on the other hand, is quite different than a youth program. A youth ministry emerges from a passion that a church has for reaching young people with the Gospel. While a youth ministry probably does include some structured times, it also includes a lot of impromptu events. Teens and their adult chaperons that are a part of a youth ministry spend a lot of time together. It might be over a hamburger at McDonald’s, or over ice cream at the local ice cream shop, or it might be playing cards or Wii, etc. They know each other, encourage each other and are involved in each other’s lives. Teens that are a part of a youth ministry often come from outside the church and may take part in church without any support from their families. Their adult chaperons look for ways to include these teens in the overall life of the church. The adults in the church see them as a little unruly, but are so excited about the changed lives they see in these teens, that they are committed to helping those teens despite the occasional frustrations the teens bring to the church.
In my experience, churches with youth programs never get much beyond the core group. Churches with youth ministries can hardly find places to put all the teens who respond. Churches with youth programs see these programs as a duty they should fulfill so they can have a church in the future. Churches with youth ministries see them as a natural expression of their faith as they build the church of today.
In my experience, churches with youth programs seldom see unchurched teens come to a life changing experience with Christ. They may see a lot of teens who pray the “sinner’s prayer” at a special function or youth event, but it seldom translates into an actual life change in the lives of teens. Churches with youth ministries see many unchurched teens completely transformed as they turn from the way they were living and find new life in Christ. Interestingly enough, churches with youth programs often have paid staff members and invest larger quantities of money in the programs run by those staff members. Churches with youth ministries may have a paid staff member responsible for reaching teens, but the bulk of the work is done by lots of volunteer workers who often operate on shoe string budgets.
As you consider your own church’s efforts to reach teens for Christ, which do you have, a youth program or a youth ministry? You may not be able to change what has been done in the past, but you can impact what type of youth ministry your church has in the future.
Learn more about reaching young people in Dr. Terry Dorsett's book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Though we may not be able to "solve" our cultural crisis, churches can provide leadership that will steer us out of the mire and back onto solid footing. If you want to become an effective leader in an increasingly ineffective culture, consider these important concepts.
1. An effective leader has an effective strategy.
A. Effective strategy includes strategic thinking that has a focus on achievable goals. Two to four goals are the maximum a leader can actually focus on at any one time.
B. Effective strategy includes strategic actions that are designed to fulfill the goals. Eliminate as many activities as possible that don’t fulfill the goals so that time, energy and resources can be used to effectively achieve the goals.
C. Effective strategy includes creating strategic partnerships that provide the resources necessary to accomplish the goals in ways that also benefit the partners. Resources include people, money, training events, scheduling priorities, facilities, etc. As effective leaders work with their partners, they find out what the partners’ goals are and focus their efforts on the particular goals that are mutually beneficial to both parties.
2. An effective leader utilizes effective communication of his or her strategy & how it is being fulfilled.
A. If leaders don’t communicate their strategy, people cannot help accomplish the goals that flow from it.
* Use print communication for older people.
* Use electronic media for younger people.
* Communicate frequently, but in a concise way.
B. Use communication to focus on people, not programs.
* Tell the audience what specific people are doing to meet the goals of the strategy.
* Explain why those people are taking those particular steps toward fulfilling the strategy.
* Tell the audience how they can help those people keep doing what they are doing to fulfill the strategy.
3. An effective leader knows how to do effective team building.
A. Effective leaders develop relationships with all the team members. The better a leader knows the team members as individuals, the stronger the team will be.
B. Effective leaders invest in all the team members. Remember their special days. Give credit when due. Praise them publicly. Invest in their training with both time and money.
C. Effective leaders empower all the team members to fulfill the strategies. Let team members do their job with as little interference as possible. Give team members authority to allocate resources to accomplish their part of the strategy.
D. Hold all the team members accountable to the strategy.
* Meet regularly as a team and ask for printed reports of how their actions have been meeting the goals of the strategy.
* If individual team members seem to be missing the target, meet with them privately to help them understand how to adjust their actions.
* If team members need additional skills or training to meet the goals, help them receive that training.
(This material was developed out of Terry Dorsett's studies for his Doctor of Ministry degree in Administration.)
Saturday, August 8, 2009
This is especially true for young people who are growing up in an increasingly postmodern world. For those who might not be familiar with the term “postmodern,” it basically refers to a way of thinking that says that each person decides for themselves what “truth” is and no one can “judge” another person’s version of the truth. Evangelical Christians know that there is a real TRUTH out there, and His name is Jesus! Christians face the challenge of trying to show people who do not believe in any objective truth that there are things that are actually true regardless of whether people believe in them or not.
This is why a number of popular witnessing plans from the past are less effective than they once were. Many of the past witnessing methods rely on learning a pre-written script and memorizing the verses that go along with that script. Most of these plans assume that the individual being witnessed to has a general belief in God, a general belief in heaven and/or hell, and accepts the Bible as being true. Few postmodern young people accept any of those assumptions. Witnessing to postmodern young people is complicated, but it can be successful.
When witnessing to postmodern young people, keep these points in mind:
1. See witnessing as a process. You may only be able to share small portions of the Gospel at any one time. It may take several witnessing encounters with a friend for you to present the entire Gospel. Learn to be patient and let God guide this process. Your job is to share what you believe; it is God’s job to call a person to repentance and faith in His Son Jesus Christ. If you keep sharing seeds of the Gospel, your sharing will eventually culminate in an opportunity to ask the person to make a decision. It is going to take a lot of work to get to that moment, but it will be worth it.
2. Use a version of the Bible that people can actually understand. We all have our favorite versions. But the goal is for us to communicate truth to the other person. Today’s young people have a very low understanding of the Bible and using a version they cannot understand only complicates the situation even more. Understand that even though they may not accept the Bible as true, there is power in the Word. But it takes time for that Word to sink into their hearts. Sometimes it is better to share only one or two verses than to share a large number of verses. This is because if they do not accept the Bible as truth, then simply giving a non-Christian additional verses is not going to convince them either. Share a verse or two and then let those verses sink into the person’s heart for a few days. Then continue the conversation.
3. Learn to ask open ended questions of the person you are sharing your faith with. Open ended questions are ones that cannot be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” Open ended questions invite discussion. When we ask questions that have a “yes” or “no” answer, we tend to lapse into our “presentation” mode, which is often perceived as non-authentic by our friends. When we fall into “presentation” mode, we tend to answer questions they are friends not asking and miss the questions they really want to ask.
4. Be prepared to admit that you don’t know all the answers. The person to whom you are witnessing may ask complex questions. These will often be based on a negative experience they have had or some evil they have seen in the world around them. You may not know the answer. There may not be an answer. It is better to admit that you are still looking for answers to those questions yourself, but that you are trusting Christ to show you those answers as you grow in your faith. As a matter of fact, sharing that you trust Christ even when you DON’T know the answer is a powerful testimony of your faith.
5. Share how you came to understand the truth of Christ in your own life. Share how Christ has changed your life. Share a story of how your faith in Christ helped you overcome a significant challenge or difficulty. Use one powerful Bible verse that helped you in your time of need so that they can see how the Bible impacts your daily life.
6. Realize that the results of our witnessing will depend on the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we push too hard because we think we are the one responsible for the other person’s soul. We are responsible for sharing the Gospel, not for the results. We need to do our job and let God do His!
Monday, August 3, 2009
How does a postmodern teen think?
A synopsis of postmodern thinking can be found in George Barna’s book, The Seven Faith Tribes, on page 209. Barna writes, “This is the most commonly held worldview in the United States today. It maintains that there is no “meta-narrative” or grand story that explains life and reality or gives it purpose. Each person makes decisions about how to live based on feelings and experience. Nobody has the right to dismiss any of those decisions as wrong or inappropriate. Morality is a private matter, and if a choice is deemed right by someone, it is therefore right for that person and others must be tolerant of that choice. Life is a random series of subjective experiences, and a person’s ultimate purposes are comfortable survival and personal expression. The things that matter most in life are having experiences and relationships. One may believe in the existence of God but cannot compel anyone else to do so.”
In light of this viewpoint, when teaching postmodern teens:
1. Be prepared to discuss deep and complex issues. Today’s teens are not interested in a light devotional. If they have made the effort to come to your Bible study or youth group, it means they want to wrestle with the tough questions about life and discover deep answers to life’s perplexing problems. They want to know why evil exists or why there is suffering in the world. They want to know why God lets bad stuff happen to good people if God really is so powerful.
2. Wrap the entire lesson around a single scripture passage if at all possible. Using a large number of additional verses that are not part of the main text is actually counter-productive. This is because most postmodern teens are illiterate when it comes to Bible knowledge. They don’t know all the Bible stories, nor where the books of the Bible can be found. Jumping around from passage to passage is very confusing to them. Most teens are not convinced that the Bible is without error. So giving them additional verses actually does not convince them any more than just giving them one passage on a subject. Postmodern teens are curious about spiritual things and they do want to know that the Bible says about various issues, it may just take awhile before they accept it as truth.
3. It is vitally important that interactive and experiential methods are used to teach today’s teens. Postmodern teens do not just want to sit and listen to someone else talk. They want to experience something. It is important to interact with them during a lesson. Interview one of them or ask questions for them to discuss. If music is going to be used, consider using a music video that will engage their eyes as well as their ears. If music is going to be sung by the group, make sure it allows the teens to talk TO God, not just ABOUT God. Let them clap, hold hands or dance. They want to interact with the leader and each other. They want to experience the lesson, not just listen to it.
4. Use technology (videos, power point, etc.) Most of today’s teens grew up surrounded by technology. It is the only way many of them know how to learn. Use this to your advantage and become good at utilizing these tools. Technology can also be used to encourage discussion and Bible study before or after the lesson. Facebook or MySpace are great tools for posting review questions or to start follow up discussions from lessons. If you don’t know how to use technology, invest some time in learning how.
5. Use stories from your own life, especially about your failures and weaknesses. Most postmodern teens grew up in a culture of brokenness. They relate well to your own journey toward wholeness. There is a good chance their parents are divorced. One out of three of the girls and one out of seven of the boys have been sexually abused. A large number of them have at least one parent who is suffering from some type of addiction. Life has been very hard on them even though they are still young. They need to know that there is hope. Sharing how your faith gave you hope is a very powerful teaching tool. By the way, sharing your own story is much more powerful than sharing an illustration you found in a book from someone else’s life.
6. Use “we” and “us” statements instead of “I” and “you” statements. Most postmodern teens want to “belong.” Use statements that help them feel part of the group instead of isolated from the group. Never create a “you” versus “them” atmosphere. They will perceive that as a judgmental attitude and it is unlikely that they will return. This desire to belong is also why they gravitate to larger groups. Three to five teens sitting in a circle staring at each other while a youth leader teaches is very uncomfortable for them. If you don’t have a big group, think of ways you can let your group interact with a larger group. Otherwise your group will eventually disintegrate.
7. Don’t ask them to make a commitment to something on the spot. Instead challenge them to think deeply for a period of time and then act on their reflective conclusion.
Teaching today’s teens is a greater challenge than ever before. But we must learn to overcome the obstacles and reach out to this vital section of our society. Research shows that only a small percentage of this age group has a relationship with Jesus Christ. Even worse, most of them simply are not going to come to a church until they have a relationship with someone already in the group. This means that we must build relationships with teens in order to be able to effectively teach them.
Learn more about how to reach the next generation in Dr. Dorsett's book:
Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church
Saturday, August 1, 2009
This has become even more evident to me in the past nine months. During this time I have been recognized for three major awards by three different institutions. The regional body of my denomination honored me with an evangelism award for leading my church to excel in the areas of outreach and evangelism. The seminary that I recently graduated from with a doctor’s degree in administration gave me a leadership award, which is the highest award they give to students. Just last week I received yet another award from the national mission board of my denomination for excelling in rural church planting. While I was deeply honored by all three of these awards and I am keenly aware that there are many other equally deserving people, somehow these awards don’t hold the fascination that they once did. I realize that such awards are fleeting. Next year each of those institutions will give those awards to another hard working pastor or student and my name will fade from their institutional memories.
This has caused me to reflect on what the awards are that I am really looking for in life. The day after returning from Atlanta, where I received the third award, I stood in the back of a room filled with over 50 teenagers. The vast majority come from unchurched families. They listened intently for nearly an hour as a speaker explained how God has a plan for our lives and everything we experience happens for a reason. Since that time I have had the opportunity to interact with several of those young adults about what they heard and how it affected them. I had the honor of baptizing six of those teens this past Sunday. I cannot help but think that the greatest award in life is to help a young person discover a meaningful faith in Christ. A plaque or a trophy looks nice on a shelf but has no real long term importance. But touching the life of a young person and helping them make peace with God; this is an award that lasts for eternity. While I am touched to have been honored with various awards over the past nine months, my real awards are the teens the Lord has let me impact for Him.
You can come to my office and gaze at the three awards if you want to, but when you get there, you will most likely find me at my kneeling bench praying for my greatest trophies, which are: Taylor, Jonas, Brian, Leo, Lucas, Tucker, Emma, Zack D., Angel, Alex, Gabe, Matt, Tawny, Trey, Mara, Rose, Marshall, Brett, Chrissie, Jesse, Shane, Jayla, Becca, Kelsey, Philip H., Cameo, Kate R, Nick D, Jon C., Faith, Logan, Tayvia, Virgil, Brock, Matt, Jasmine, Andrew, Phil L, Zack L, Katelyn, Ashley, Kyle, Matty, Leah, Hogan, David K, Cody, Lizzy, Mindy, Michaela, Heather, Alex D, Trevor, Bridgett, Justin B, Jared, Brea, Calvin, Katrina, Carolyn, Brittany R, Marissa, Chris L, Bree, Aubre, and Alyssa. And every week the Lord adds more names to the list, for the fields are white unto the harvest. O Lord, may I be faithful in shepherding these young hearts toward You! May my focus be on winning them and not on winning earthly awards.