Archive for the ‘youth ministry’ Category

This video says, pretty succinctly, some key things to understanding the world of teens looks like.  Especially from the perspective of parents and the church, this should be some pretty good motivation to renew our efforts of living out and articulating our faith in a meaningful way.


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Is Gandhi in hell?  What’s more, what is hell?  Or heaven, for that matter?

These are some of the questions that have sparked a bit of a firestorm around Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins: a book about heaven hell and the fate of everyone who ever lived.  This first came across my radar screen when I read a post on Tony Jones’s blog late last week about the growing attention and criticism about this book.  Then I did some searching and saw that it has even made a splash on the national news scene from CNN to ABC.

Controversy in and of itself isn’t surprising with Rob Bell.  That’s happened before.  What is striking is that judgment has been leveled by a number of people who haven’t even read the book yet because it has not yet been released!

Ultimately the controversy stems from the fact that Bell is raising core questions about issues that are central to the Christian faith.  He has posed the questions in ways that have led some to conclude that Bell is promoting something called Universalism; a doctrine where everyone gets saved, no matter what.  Again, these are all assumptions because none of his critics have actually read the book yet.  The only worthwhile critique I’ve read so far is Greg Boyd’s, namely because he actually has read the book.  (As a side note, as an Anabaptist, it’s worth paying attention to Boyd partly because he’s grown very close to Mennonites in recent years, even flirting with the idea of joining MCUSA.)

What is most intriguing and frustrating to me is not the discussion about universalism, but rather the controversy itself and the way this has been discussed and argued about in the last couple of weeks.

It has been astounding to see the speed with which he has been denounced as a heretic and the forceful unwillingness to even raise the questions he poses.  For me this is a red flag.  Why are so many vigorously defending a relatively specific doctrine of hell?

When you look at the Bible, there is no one consistent understanding of hell.  For that matter, the concept of an afterlife in much of the Old Testament was non-existent.  God blesses and curses you through your descendants, not in an afterlife (See the 10 commandments).  There is no consistent version of hell in the Bible, and what is there most certainly doesn’t look like what most people today envision.  The image of a red guy with a pitchfork and horns comes from Dante’s Inferno, not the Bible.

I think that the reason that many have had such a knee jerk reaction is because the doctrine of hell is a powerful weapon.  Hell scares the…well..hell out of people.  Combined with a select few leaders who determine who’s in and who’s out, this fear fuels enormous power and control.  Even raising the question, as Bell has done, challenges the enormous power that many have enjoyed for centuries.

To be clear, I’m not defending Bell.  I haven’t read his book so I can’t say one way or another.  What I do know is that these questions are deeply important to an enormous number of people, both inside and outside the church.  It is critical for the church to pay attention to this.  It’s time that we learned to have these discussions, openly and honestly and in front of the watching eyes of the world.  Because as Bell says “what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.”

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Last night we took the youth group to big Christian rock concert in Wichita called Winter Jam.  After a very long day I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the event.

It was really quite a spectacle to behold.  The day started by camping out in line for about 3 hours, and then being in the arena for another 6.  There were 7 different bands that were very good and polished.  The theatrics of the event was impressive.  Everything was produced and orchestrated to an unbelievably high degree.  The set design was top notch, creating impressive and unique visuals for each band.  I was also impressed at the variety of bands that they had.  There were hard rock, pop, indi, and even the David Crowder band which is mainly a worship band but even threw in a bit of bluegrass.  Overall, the music was enjoyable and the show was breathtaking.

That being said, I was fairly overwhelmed by many other elements of the show.  And I do mean “show”.  The fact that it most certainly was a show including all of the “ministry times”, might be my first issue.  What’s more, I don’t go to many rock concerts, mainly because they exist to sell me stuff.  From minute one, it was obvious that the reason they were there was to sell me stuff at Winter Jam.  The only difference was that they heaped on Jesus-guilt along with the product pitch.  These things however, were relatively superficial issues.

After the warm up band, the next sequence of events begins to describe where my difficulties really began.  After the warm up band, one of the artists came out and promoted a cruise where there would be a whole number of Christian musicians performing.  Next, he brought up people from the three local Christian radio stations to promote them.  Then he brought up the tour pastor.  The pastor began by saying,  “Before we start by reading some scripture I want to recognize that there are a lot of armed forces personnel here and I want to remind us to thank them for defending our freedoms and bringing peace.”  Then, finally, he read the psalm 149, which has to do with making music to God with various instruments.  It also include a bit about God taking out some enemies, which he also mentioned with the note that this is about God making peace through war.   His main point with this scripture, however, was that we were justified in being at the concert because God commanded us to worship this way.

If I hadn’t been with 30 youth group kids I would have walked out then and there.

The rest of the concert had a quasi-generic Christian, but distinctly conservative feel.  It was a mix of patriotism, evangelism and commercialism.  Perhaps the point at which I was most offended was when the pastor, at several different points, appealed to people to either sponsor a child from an overseas orphanage or to give money in the freewill offering.  What was offensive was not that he appealed for these things in the first place.  What was offensive was when he said, “now some of you are hearing this and thinking, ‘oh I don’t have the money or I don’t think I can or I’d rather not’.  That’s the devil talking in your ear because the devil would like nothing more than for you to walk out of here without giving.”  I don’t think I even have to explain how theologically manipulative that is.

What I will give the pastor credit for was his pro-life rant.  To promote the orphanage project he asked the crowd if they were pro-life.  The place went wild with cheers.  Then he quoted James 1:27 which talks about pure and faultless religion is one that takes care of widow and orphans.  He flat out said that you’re really pro-life then you need to be there to care for a baby when a mother chooses to have the child instead of abort the child.  He even said that you’re not really a Christian if you don’t care for widows and orphans, and called out many Christians for only saying that they’re pro-life and not backing it up.  Needless to say, the crowd was considerably more quiet in their response to this part of his speech.  I was a little shocked, because this was the first time that I’ve heard someone at a very conservative event basically say that being pro-life means more than being pro-birth.  Now, that would have held more water for me if he hadn’t started the concert by elevating the military.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the event.  On one hand, the kids loved it and had a great time.  It’s not often that they get a chance to go to that big of an event.  I have no doubt that it hit a number of the kids very well and strengthened many of them in their faith.  Personally I enjoyed most of the music and even found a couple of bands I need to (re)discover.  On the other hand, there were key elements of this event that were the total embodiment of everything that I hate about American pop-Christianity.  Would I condone my youth group going in the future?  Probably.  Would I ever intentionally go again if it was just me?  Depends on who was playing and what my tolerance for bad theology was at that moment.  Will I wind up going again as a leader of a youth group? Probably.  But that’s the nature of the beast.

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“Did Sarah Palin have breast augmentation surgery,  more commonly known as a boob job?”

That question came across my news radar last week sometime but I simply dismissed the ‘news story’ as political provocativeness and general nonsense.  But then I stumbled across this article by David Gibson called “Sarah Palin’s Breasts Are Real; Not So With Growing Number of Faithful”. Of course I was intrigued.

The main essence of the article is that our society has become increasingly comfortable with cosmetic surgery.  This trend also includes many Christians, particularly Conservative Christians.  He gives numerous examples, even citing Joyce Meyer as having work done on her face.  Probably the most disturbing was lament from J. Lee Grady in 2004 saying that he knew of a large Pentecostal church where, “all the women on staff — and the wives of all the pastors — have had breast-enhancement surgery.”

Since this blog posting should have something original rather than merely re-posting from some other blog, I do have a significant thought to point out that Gibson did not.  Gibson essentially makes the case that Christians do not look on cosmetic surgery with disdain anymore.  Cosmetic surgery has become mainstream.  After reading his article, and specifically the justifications by Christians that he quotes, I don’t think he’s gone far enough.

It’s not just that Christians are OK with it, it’s that Christians see it as a sign of being a good Christian.

Here are the two main theological values that I hear in their statements and in his article.

1) God wants me to be happy.  Even in Joyce Meyer’s quote, a personality who I usually am OK with, she essentially comes to the conclusion that God wants us to be happy and that if making a little adjustment makes you happy, it’s your face so go for it.  While I think God wants us to experience Joy, this idea is against two traditional Christian views.  One, Jesus tells us not to get tied up in vanity and not to invest in the things of this world because they will all rot and decay (store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, etc….).  Cosmetic surgery seems to be the ultimate definition of fleeting.  Second, there is a traditional value that this world, and specifically our bodies, do not belong to us but rather belong to God.  i.e the whole ‘treat your body as a temple of the Lord’ thing.

2) Material wealth is a sign of God’s blessing.   One of the subtle but very present theological values is the idea that God blesses Christians with more stuff.  Again, Joyce Meyer’s quote says a lot, “I want to look my best for God. So many people have the attitude that if you’re a Christian you’ve got to dress bad, wear an old color, not do anything to your hair, have nothing. It’s no wonder that Christianity is not very attractive.”  The logic is essentially that if I’m a better Christian then I will have more stuff and, in this case, look better.  Therefore, if I can make myself look better then I must be a better Christian.

Ultimately, Joyce Meyer and this whole line of thinking is missing what actually makes Christianity attractive.  The assumption is that the reason people are and should be attracted to Christianity is because of what it can offer in terms of measure of wealth, power and prestige by the worlds standards.  That is a fundamental heresy to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Christianity becomes truly attractive and meaningful when it rejects the worlds definitions of power, wealth and prestige.  That is the Upsideown Kingdom that Jesus taught and lived.

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One year ago today (march 21) we pulled into the parsonage driveway in Harper, Kansas, driving a great big moving van.  This marks my 5th year in ministry but my first as a full time, solo pastor.

When I initially came to Harper, I was attracted to the church because I thought I wanted to be a youth pastor.  In fact, I initially told them that I wasn’t interested simply because it was a solo position and not an associate position.  However, the church had (and still does have) a very large youth group which peaked my interest.  It’s what got me in the door.  The youth program is also what consumed the first 6 months of my time and energy as I worked diligently to paint a picture of relational youth ministry for the church.  But in the last several months, I’ve begun to be consumed with other things.  Namely, I’ve spent a large amount of time and pastoral energy on leading the church through a study on Spiritual Gifts.

This has partly led to a shift in how I view myself.

Coming out of Seminary I was pretty focused on being a youth pastor.  For Pete’s sake my degree is MDiv with a youth ministry concentration.  As I considered the possibility of taking a solo position at Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church I had to undergo something of an existential transformation.

Was I a youth pastor, or was I lead pastor?

I spent many an hour talking with trusted friends, teachers and colleagues who knew me well enough to be a mirror into my soul.  After going through seminary, sure I probably had the skills to pull it off, but who was I?  Was my identity that of a youth pastor or of something different.

I have spent the past year asking myself what it means for me to be a solo pastor.

This question has given me pause in some ultimately very helpful ways.  I came to this position a year ago not really knowing what it meant for me to be a solo pastor.  I have often explicitly said that I am still figuring this thing out and that I didn’t want to over extend myself with too many tasks or obligations that I wasn’t sure that I could handle.  Guided by the question “what are the right things for me to be doing” I have worked at figuring out what my routine should look like and where I need to give my time and attention.  It has also meant that I have been conscious to find people to take on tasks that I know that I cannot handle or do not have the time and energy for.

When I began last year I definitely had a focus on youth ministry.  While I haven’t necessarily lost that focus, I have grown into a more well rounded understanding of my job.  This shift has mainly been spurred on by two things; preaching and visiting.

I have now been preaching for an entire year.  On a regular basis.  Every week.  Honestly, I was terrified about what I was going to fill those sermons with.  As it has turned out, I’ve occasionally had some thin sermons, but more often than not, I have to cut myself off so I don’t go too long.  I have come to enjoy preaching, and the process of regularly preparing sermons, much more than I expected to.

I also didn’t expect to enjoy visiting people as much as I do.  Yes I’m extroverted and can be high strung, which means that I’ve usually directed that energy towards the youth.  The idea of visiting people dying in a hospital and home bound nonagenarians didn’t exactly give me goosebumps.  However, after regularly visiting a select group of PVMC’s finest members I have grown to have a deep appreciation for the wisdom and perspective on life that they have.  I have been blessed in a way that I was sincerely not expecting.  All of this adds up to something of a surprising conclusion.

I think I like being a solo pastor.

I still don’t have the administrative skills to be the lead pastor on a large pastoral team, but I have certainly come to enjoy much of the work that the lead/solo pastor position entails.  For someone that thought he was called to work directly with youth, the realization that I actually enjoy all of the other stuff as much or (dare I say it) even more than working with youth is definitely an odd feeling.

Once again, I have been reminded that even though I think I’m being faithful to the calling of God, that God’s plans are usually different, but always better, than my plans.  Ask me again in a year, but one year out I can say that coming to PVMC was still the right decision and that it looks to be that way for quite a while.

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I was only gone for two years but something in the world changed during that time.  After returning from to Kansas after a two year stint in Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, I heard Led Zeppelin on the Oldies Station.

To understand the significance of this event, you need to know that when I was growing up in small town Kansas there were a limited number of radio stations to listen to.  While I mainly settled between the modern rock station, T-95, and the classic rock station 96.3 KRZZ, I did pass through some of the various other genre’s every now and then.  I’m not sure why but every now and then I got in the mood to listen to the Oldies station.

Now, let me define what I mean by each of these Genres.  When I last remembered, Modern Rock has tended to include things like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the White Stripes and basically anything back to the early 90’s.  Classic rock was based mainly in the 70’s and 80’s, Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Ozbourne, and a collection of glam rockers like Scorpion and Quiet Riot.   Oldies, in my recollection was made up of people like Elvis, the Pretenders, anything from Motown, and maybe, on a good day the Beatles.

Then one hot and sunny day as I drove through flat Kansas landscape on my way back to Harper I casually flipped through the radio stations and settled on an old Led Zeppelin tune.  And then it happened.  I looked down at the dial and realized that the station that I was listening to was, in fact, Oldies 103.7.

In that moment it became official, our culture was in the process of a musical shift.  Before my eyes the generations were moving.   What’s more, I’ve  listened to the Oldies station quite a bit more since that day and I’ve noticed that the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and the Doors are now the standard for the Oldies station.

On some level, this is concerning to me because it means that the music that I grew up on is now in severe danger of quickly moving from the Modern Rock category into the Classic Rock category, and thus, is a sign of my own mortality quickly slipping away at the obscene ole’ age of 28.  (Yeah, I know, poor me, right?)  But, being a good grad of Bethel and AMBS, I quickly began to reflect on the implications of this shift as well as the looking back to the music that is now fading off of the radio.

There was once a day when Elvis was considered the spawn of Satan and was the most sexually provocative obscenity to ever corrupt the souls of young people.  Now……..we regularly see advertisements marketed at grandparents using Elvis’s  tune “Viva Las Vegas”  with the words “Viva Viagra”.  My favorite of these commercials took the saying from the 60’s “never trust anyone over 30” and reworded it saying “never trust anyone over 90”.  News Flash to the boomers: you’re not edgy anymore, quit pretending like you haven’t turned into everything that you protested when you were my age.

But it does raise the question about what the definition of “edgy” is.  Elvis made a certain generations blood boil.  Today, rappers and rockers with half naked women in music videos barely raise an eyebrow.  Is it possible that in another 30 years, Nirvana’s song “Smells like Teen Spirit” will be quaint and used to sell my aging generation the next family sedan?

From a youth ministry perspective the trend might actually be of some comfort.  “Don’t worry about the current shocking thing because there will be something even worse later!”  Maybe that’s not comforting….but it’s true.  Growing up the Simpsons were off limits because of their “vulgarity”.  Now there are Bible Studies for high schoolers based around the Simpsons partly because they pale in comparison to South Park and the Family Guy.  There’s a time and a place for shock value.  It’s a necessary tool, especially when it’s used well to open people’s eyes.  Shock value for it’s own sake, however, is rather unimpressive.

I’m well aware that time marches on.  In fact, I’m kind of glad it does.  I don’t really need to repeat certain points in my life and I actually do enjoy where I’m at now.  Every now and then, however, I find myself stumbling across cultural reminders that I have thoroughly moved out of the “young and hip” demographic, even if I haven’t fully moved into the “adult” demographic.

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Being a man, there are many things in this world that I don’t fully understand.  But the obsession with augmenting our bodies, specifically women’s bodies, has got to stop.

Granted, there have always been some rather twisted things that women have done to make themselves more physically attractive, most of which have been based in particular cultural images of beauty.  There have been times where heavy set women were the ideal of beauty because it meant that they were rich enough to have an excess of food.  Women paint their lips red to mimic high levels of blood flow to the lips that is associated with arousal.  The shaving of body hair is based in our culture’s obsession with youth and the image of a perpetually young woman.  More recently people have had fat sucked out of certain parts of their body only to have it injected in others.  There have been all kinds of foreign substances that we have filled ourselves with for a variety of reasons.  Most disturbing to me is BoTox, which stands for Botulism Toxin and is the same thing that will kill you if you don’t can your vegetables in the right way, but people now inject it into their foreheads to paralyze their muscles to reduce wrinkles.  There’s even a children’s book out now called “My Beautiful Mommy” to help kids cope with a parent who has had plastic surgery and is now unrecognizable.

This week I’ve seen two more things that have really put me over the top.  The first was print advertisement for a plastic surgery center with a very thin woman in a Bikini.  The tag line was “You (only better)”  Really?!  Never mind the theological implications of trying to improve what God created, is this the self image that you really want to impress upon young women, or any women for that matter?

As if that wasn’t bad enough I then saw an advertisement for a new drug treatment for the purpose of lengthening your eyelashes.  It is a glaucoma treatment that they figured out would also cause your eyelashes to grow.  The advertisement is below, but notice the side effects.  One of which is the possibility that it will change your eye color permanently.

Now, it’s not like Men don’t have their share of crazy things marketed to them.  Between Viagra and Enzyte, it seems like every man in America should question their ability to preform in bed.  Or maybe there’s a different problem.  What does it mean to be beautiful or to preform well.  We’ve been sold this unattainable image of beauty for so long that we’re now actually trying to turn ourselves into the Monsters that we so idolize.  Maybe the thing that we should be questioning is our definition of beauty.  There have always been ugly people and beautiful people, but what criteria society has judged them on has varied widely depending on you place in time and what location you find yourself in.

For those who say that the Bible is ancient and irrelevant, let this be a testimony to it’s relevance to modern day life.  In a point in history that surpasses all others in both the message of self loathing and the pressure and ability to augment our physical bodies, the message that every person is created in the image of God and is loved is as profound and earth shaking as it has ever been.

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