Archive for November, 2010

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Advent: What Are We Really Getting Ready For?

November 29, 2010

http://www.youthworker.com/youth-lessons-bible-study/youth-bible-study/11642062/

There is something magical about the Christmas season. From Thanksgiving on, people spend a significant amount of their free time and extra money preparing for one day. There are cookies to bake, cards to send, music to listen to, houses to decorate, and gifts to buy. After a month of build up, Christmas finally comes. After a month of building expectations, it is next to impossible to have them met. If you are like me, I have grown tired of not having them met, so I have mastered the art of managing expectations. Don’t get wrong, I love Christmas and I love the cookies, but I am very careful to let my heart get all in, because having your expectations crushed can be one of the most painful things in the world.

It is so easy to be jaded when our expectations are dashed, that most of us don’t even realize that it has happened. Every year that goes buy you find your self saying more and more often that it just doesn’t seem to feel like the holidays. However, ever now and then you bump into someone, usually a kid, who could not be more excited for Christmas, or their birthday, or Disneyland, or summer, or whatever. It is usually through the eyes of kids that we get a picture of a life that is really great and worth living.

What has happened over the course of the years to make our heats numb? I think the answer has something to do with self preservation, with protecting our hearts at all cost, and in the process our hearts get even more damaged. I know I am not alone in experiences pain and heartbreak. I am not the first person to have their hopes built up high only to have them crushed. Because it is so painful to have our expectations not met, we gradually lower them until we expect very little if anything from anyone anymore, including God.

But this is not the way we were designed to live. It is our expectations that allow us to live life to the fullest. This Christmas season I highly recommend that you watch Christmas vacation starring Chevy Chase. The entire movie is a about a man who never lets go of his expectations. Every event, every moment is a high light and needs to be shared. Even the arrival of his brother in law adds to the narrative of hosting the best family Christmas ever. There is something naive about his character and it is easy to mock him for these expectations, but at the same time we are drawn to him as a person and impressed with his love towards his family. Even his apathetic teenaged kids know their dad loves them.

When we have expectations our hearts are quickened and we are on alert for things to happen, for things to be special. And the same is true in our walk with Jesus. Isn’t it amazing that kids always come back from camps and mission trips profoundly impacted by the Holy Spirit. Part of it is the trip, but the truth is our camps and trips are pretty average. But what isn’t average is that for the month or two leading up to these trips, we have special meetings, special fund raising, and special lessons all preparing for an amazing trip. And after several months of preparing for an amazing trip what happens, we have an amazing trip. Even the kids who threw up the entire week all talk about what an amazing trip it was.

It is one thing to be jaded by the Christmas season. But it is devastating when we become jaded in our faith. This last month I had the pleasure of being in a meeting with several youth pastors to plan our winter camp. For me, this is old hat. I was mostly enjoying an excuse to have coffee with friends. But a brand new youth worker at the table could not contain her excitement about winter camp. She shared stories from last year where kids gave their hearts to Jesus and how excited she was to be on the planning team for such an important event. On my drive home I came to a scary reality, I had become jaded. But thankfully, God used our time together to refresh my soul, and to build a new sense of expectation.

Expectations are not an accidental thing. God as an integral part of our faith development gives them to us. Expectations are what open our eyes and ears to the movement of God. The entire redemptive history found in scripture is filled with people expectant for God to provide children, free them, save them, bless them. And the culmination is the expectant coming of the messiah, and his return.

Advent is not really about preparing our houses for the Christmas season. Advent is about raising our expectations for the messiah to come. I think it is true that Jesus not only loves the world, but also loves you and me on an intimate level and desires to impact our lives. (At least this is what I teach our students) a jaded heart can never hear the still and small voice of God or see the subtle ways in which he seems to often move. An expectant heart is continually straining its eyes and ears for the movement of God, and even the slightest movement increases our faith and causes us to strain even more.

I am pretty tired of having such low expectations of Jesus. So, this advent I am going to add a rule of life to this season. It is pretty simple, but I am expectant for it to rock my world.

1) In the morning ask God to show up, and expect that he will.
2) And in the evening, reflect on the day and the places he did.

A poet in the 1850’s named Alfred Lord Tennyson penned the famous line, “it is better to have loved and lost, then to never have loved at all.” Tennyson got that life happens in the living of it, and this advent I want this to be true for me also. I so want God to show up and have at it with me, and I am going to expect that he will. For, I would rather expect that he would show up and wrestle with the awkwardness and disappointment of when it looks differently, then to be numb and jaded to working of the Holy Spirit and miss out on the coming of Jesus!

Advent: be expectant, because Jesus is coming!

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student minstry is a stepping-stone!

November 13, 2010

Don’t you just hate it when people look at student ministry as a stepping-stone? How dare someone take our calling and belittle it to a mere hoop to jump through. I have had heated and passionate conversations with many colleagues around this topic, and as I write this today, most of those people have done just that. They used to be in student ministry and have stepped into another calling. The problem is, at the core of our being, we fear that it might actually be true, student ministry really is a stepping-stone.

For many young people who sense a call into ministry, student ministry is the only real place for someone to work out their call. As a recent college graduate there is only one option to explore vocational ministry, and it is with students. I have yet to see a church hire a 22 year old pastor of spiritual formation, or teaching pastor, or small groups pastor. But many churches would love to hire a 22 year old to work with their students.

And the truth is that student ministry is a great place to explore a calling into ministry. In this job you realize that ministry is complex and challenging. You begin to understand the emotional and spiritual weight of walking through life and working out issues of faith with people. You also begin to realize that a call into ministry involves paperwork, politics, budgets, and bosses. And through the graciousness of God, if you can make it through the church’s version of hell week, then you might be called into vocational ministry.

The greatest gift about vocational ministry is that whatever your unique passion is, whatever context gets you the most excited, and whatever unique gifts and talents you bring to the table, there is a place for you to serve in the Church. Student ministry is only one, very small slice of what this call to vocational ministry could look like.

It makes sense that so many people view student ministry as a stepping stone, because that is what is happening. Many people are using student ministry as a place to being exploring this call. And as God clarifies their call, many people move on to be faithful to the new place where God leads. Many of my colleagues have left student ministry to be church planters, associate pastors, heads of non prophets, teachers, and even a mailman.

For me, it wasn’t until I had turned 30 and completed my M.Div. that I actually felt called to student ministry. It was the first time in my life that I had many doors open to me in the ministry world, and of all the options, student ministry was the place where God wanted me to stay. But for me, and I would guess even for you, student ministry still is just a stepping-stone. Will I be doing this when I am 40, 50, 60? Only Steve Pace can say yes to this, and I bet that even Steve would see his role in student ministry dramatically different than he did in his 30’s and even his 40’s.

The fundamental issues is not whether or not student ministry is a stepping-stone, but it is rather, are we being faithful to listen to God and obey his calling. The psalmist says that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. I am pretty sure that we are only supposed to see one or two stones at a time and we walk along this path of calling. If we get too hung up on this stepping-stone business then we will miss out on opportunities that God might have for us, and worse, crush the calling God may have on our colleagues.

May we fully live out our calling to students while we are on this stone. And when the voice of God calls us, or our fellow youth workers, into an another area of service, we will gladly and faithfully go wherever that is. For the glory and honor of Jesus Christ. (Today, I am glad that it is still on the student ministry stone!)

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your students are not developmentally ready to live missionaly.

November 9, 2010

I think baseball is an amazing sport. On the surface, it is a simple game, hitting and fielding. But the more you dive into the game, the more you see the deep strategy, pitch selection, and the never ending statistics. Since my dream of becoming a professional baseball player didn’t pan out, I am now putting that pressure on my son. So, this last spring we signed him up for his first season of T-ball. It is quite an entertaining sight to watch a group of 5 year olds learning the game of baseball. The first season of T-ball is just that, learning the very basics. By the end of the season, this kids mostly know their positions, the direction to run around the bases, how to hit a ball off a T, and that is about it. But the foundation has been laid and a trajectory set for these kids to become legitimate baseball players and for my son to fulfill my dream of playing in the Bigs!

But, even more than my son playing professional baseball, my dream for him is to be a godly man who loves Jesus. And as he loves Jesus, to live a life that reflects that love in his personal life. As his personal life reflects his love for Jesus to live “within the culture as a missionary who is as faithful to the Father an his gospel as Jesus was in his own time and place.”

My dream is that my son would mature in his faith and live a life that is missional.

Missional Living is truly advanced Christianity. It is advanced because it assumes the foundations of the faith are firmly established. It assumes that we have our identity firmly set in Christ. It assumes a biblical world view, which means that we have a base understanding of scripture. It assumes that our lives reflect the hope and transformation that happens when we grow in Christ. With this foundation of faith firmly set, we can then differentiate ourselves from our culture, we can think abstractly and wrestle with issues of contextualization so we can be faithful to the gospel message in our time and place, just like Jesus was in his time and place. With this abstract thinking we are ready to take our personal faith and our cultural understanding and live as missionaries to our context where we can communicate the good news of Jesus with both our words and deeds.

This advanced form of Christianity is a needed direction for the Church to go. I have been so encouraged by the books and blogs that I have read, the conversations I have had with my colleagues, and even by the conversations among our church’s leadership. Living a missional life, getting outside ourselves and the walls of the church, is exactly what we need to be doing to reach our communities for Christ. While I agree with that this is the trajectory of the church, and the needed direction for our churches, the issue is how much of this our students can digest.

Everyone from Chap Clark to Time Magazine has been saying with a unified voice that adolescents is taking decades longer then the generations that preceded them. What is taking so long is the ability to answer three significant questions regarding their identity. In the book Starting Right, the author says that these key questions are; Who am I? Do I matter? How do I relate to others?

At the very same time that it is taking longer and longer for students to mature, many youth workers are wrestling with how to give this advanced form of Christianity to people who can’t even answer with any certainty question one about who they are, let alone even begin to answer the final question about how they relate to others. While the church needs to have these conversations, it is vital that those of us who work with students don’t put our spiritual journey onto our students. What we are learning and they ways we are working out our faith has to be different than that of the 15 year old boy in our student ministry.

In the student ministry world “milk” has gotten a bad rap. It is true that in Hebrews the author lays into the congregation for still drinking milk. But for real babies, that is what they need to drink. The rub comes when they should be eating solid food and are still drinking milk. I think high school, and certainly middle school students, are not at all ready for steak. This isn’t a put down. If we are honest and take a look at our average student in our ministry we would also agree that our students are not ready for this advanced form of Christianity. They have no idea who they are, or if they matter, or even how to relate to others because of their identity.

Our students are fragmented in their thinking and in their living. At church and with their church friends they live one way, and at school with their school friends they live another. And for some of our students who are blessed to have overlap with these worlds, it appears that they are ready for more, but really they just have a great community while they continue to work out their identity. Working out their identity is the key. And their identity has to be differentiated from their parents’ identity, their peers’ identity, and even their youth group’s identity. This means that who they are and the faith they have and are going to live out is all formed and worked out during this middle season of adolescents.

This brings us back to the original point that students, mid-adolescents, are not ready to live missionaly. They need to work out the fundamentals of their identity and faith by differentiating it from others. It is only after this is done that they are ready to engage their culture in any sort of meaningfully missional way.

My son’s T-ball season is more similar to student ministry then I thought. You see, T-ball is teaching the fundamentals, it is painting the picture of what real baseball will be like. His coaches don’t just give them the age appropriate version of baseball mechanics, they give them age appropriate version of baseball. And this is the delicate balance we need to give our students. We don’t make them have a faith they aren’t ready for, and we don’t baby them with giving them a faith for just where they are at. We give them an age appropriate faith that points to what a mature faith should look like.

Here are a couple of thoughts as we move forward to allowing space for our students to be where they are developmentally, while painting a picture of what healthy mature faith looks like:

  1. We model steak eating Christianity in our own lives. This means that, as adult leaders, we live lives of purpose. Lives where we have a personal and social righteousness, lives where we love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly with our God. And these lives are lived out missionaly, firmly planted in our cultural context.
  2. We communicate a Christianity that is missional in our words and deeds. This means that even though our students aren’t developmentally ready to do this, we help them develop the habits of missional living. Just like my son practicing running bases and throwing the ball to first base doesn’t fully matter in T-ball, but it is vital in baseball. In the same way we do these fundamentals with our students. We take them on mission trips, we do acts of service and compassion, and we partner with organizations who work for justice.
  3. We do this in an age appropriate manner. And for this age, our focus should be on identity formation, not identity application. We have to help students figure out who they are and how they matter before we put them to work. If they are just doing the motions without a clear identity, they will struggle with how their faith is any different than the Lions Club or Rotary or Habitat for Humanity. We live missionaly because we have been redeemed and transformed by the power of Jesus Christ, and this is the hope that is the foundation for any sort of missional living.

Let us not put our developmental issues on our students. We need to be missional, we need to push our churches to be missional, but our students need to understand who they are and who they are in Christ before we push them to be missinal. May Jesus, who is so faithful and uses all our feeble attempts, continue to woo, redeem and transform our students so that He may use them to missionaries in their context.