Faithful or Fickle?

•October 13, 2008 • Leave a Comment

In his classic work on Spiritual Depression, Martin Lloyd-Jones writes, “Do not think in terms of bargains and rights in the Kingdom of God.  That is absolutely fatal.  There is nothing so wrong as the spirit which argues that because I do this, or because I have done that, I have the right to expect something else in return”.  (129) 

 

In this context Lloyd-Jones is addressing those that believe, “if we pray for certain things, we are bound to have them, for instance if we pray all night for revival we must have revival”.  In our day the church is inundated with such philosophy.  Peruse the shelves of your local Christian bookstore and you will find countless titles that promise and “If-then” fix-all in your relationship with God.  And yes, those of us that are Reformed-minded are not immune to this.  Who of us has not been tempted to think that if we have good doctrine and solid Bible teaching then God will honor His Word and souls will get saved? 

 

If my previous post is read through the lens of “bargains and rights” then it will be grossly misunderstood.  Reading through such a lens one would come to the conclusion that if we have biblical student ministry then we will inevitably produce solid twenty-somethings.  If you read through such a lens you might get fired up by the statistics and go on a quest to make the student ministry at your church more biblical.  And that would certainly be a good thing.  However, this is what could happen:

 

  • Rather than going up because you are doing things biblically, your attendance actually begins to drastically dwindle.  If you are still looking through the lens of “bargains and rights” then you will quickly assume “well, that didn’t work” and will abandon the biblical approach for something else that “gets results”. 
  • God blesses your ministry exponentially.  You observe marked spiritual growth in your teenagers.  Your attendance increases.  Teens are coming to know Christ.  Your student ministry has become biblical.  Looking through the lens of “bargains and rights” you will inevitably conclude—in a spiritual sounding way of course—that God blessed you because you followed these steps.  Pride will begin creeping in as you start getting book deals and have people asking “how do you do ministry”.

How then should you read the last post and everything else that is forthcoming?  Read it with a goal of faithfulness.  Rather than having a “bargains and rights” mentality have an “even if you don’t” mentality.  In Daniel 3 we read the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  They are faced with the option of being faithful to God alone in worship and risk their lives or preserve their lives and become guilty of idolatry; they chose faithfulness.  Their words in verses 16-18 is a reflection of an “even if you don’t” mentality.  This is their response to King Nebuchadnezzar’s threat of throwing them in the fiery furnace: 

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our God whom serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Did you notice that?  We expect that God will deliver us.  We have faith that God will reward our faithfulness by a miraculous display of his power.  God will protect us.  And then you see the “even if not” mentality shine through.  If I can be allowed to paraphrase, “King, even if God, for His good pleasure, decides not to preserve us we are still going to be faithful to Him and not you.”  Regardless of results we must be faithful.  What does an “even if you don’t” mentality look like?  This is what could happen: 

  • Rather than going up because you are doing things biblically, your attendance actually begins to dwindle.  However, because you have an “even if you don’t” mentality you press on in faithfulness to God.  You may never have high attendance or have any of the typical marks of successful ministry.  Your ministry may have the fruit of Isaiah (see chapter 6) instead of the fruit of Jonah.  Yet, you will also get the reward of Isaiah instead of Jonah—“well done good and faithful servant”. 
  • God blesses your ministry exponentially.  You observe marked spiritual growth in your teenagers.  Your attendance increases.  Teens are coming to know Christ.  Your student ministry has become biblical.  Because you have an “even if you don’t” mentality your “success” results not in pride but in humble awe that God would shine His mercy upon you.  Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego people start asking about your God instead of about your opinion (3:28). 

 What will it be?  Will you have an “even if you don’t” mentality or will you view ministry through the lens of “rights and bargains”? 

Why Reform? Part 2

•September 10, 2008 • 1 Comment

 

Your churches twentysomethings????

Your churches twentysomethings????

Yesterday I discussed my “breaking point”, that is when my eyes opened to the need for deep reform.  Today I want to share with you a few statistics and explain why a change in philosophy may be needed.

 

Before we discuss these statistics let me tell you a little about my “journey” to where I am today in regards to student ministry. Needless to say, my views on youth ministry have changed since I first began doing youth ministry. My philosophy in the beginning was more of a youth focused—program driven ministry. Certainly, Jesus was to be honored, the word was to be proclaimed, parents were to be considered, and all of this was to take place within the context of the local church. Now, I no longer believe that youth ministry should be “youth-focused” nor should any aspect of the local church be program driven. In fact doing such a thing, I have found, will undermine such things as “honoring Jesus”, “proclaiming the Word”, “considering parents”, and it will not fittingly take place within the context of the local church.

Now, how did this change come about in my philosophy of ministry and why do I feel that it would be wise for not only your church but any church to adopt this philosophy of student ministry?

First of all, even though I am going to start by giving you some statistics let me say that this has been driven by a theological/doctrinal change instead of a statistical change. What I mean is that the catalyst for such a change in my philosophy of ministry has not been because I have seen problems, or read books, or read statistics. The locomotive for this change has been the Word of God. Today I want to show you why such a change is needed–then we will look at 5 foundational elements of a biblical philosophy of student ministry.

If you are the typical church my guess is that there is only a handful of people in their 20’s. Unless of course you are in a college town and have a “vibrant” college ministry that runs like a glorified student ministry. I would also guess that statistically speaking you have more than a handful of twenty-somethings. There are plenty of twentysomethings in your area–the Church simply is not reaching them. I would almost guess that many of those twentysomethings that you now see in the community were at one point “reached” by your student ministry. But something happened and they stopped coming shortly after their graduation. If this is the case your church is not alone.

Across the board, between 70-88% of Christian teens leave church by their second year of college. If you are in a small community, like myself, I can hear one of your excuses right now. “We do not have enough jobs in our small community and our kids go away to college and get a job elsewhere.” And that could very well be why some of the kids that were active in your youth ministry in years past are no longer active. Allow me to reword that previous statistic: 70-88% of Christian teens leave church altogether by their second year of college. It is not just that they move to another town and join another church or hook up with another denomination. No, these teens will leave church altogether and probably not be back.

Now let’s do a little math. Our birth rate is currently around 2 children per family (and decreasing), our biblical worldview rate is below 10%, and roughly 75% of our teens leave church by the end of their freshman year in college. (Most will never come back). That means that it currently takes 2 Christian families in one generation to get a single Christian into the next generation. If we started with 4 million believers then using these statistics we see that in the world that your great grandchildren live in there will only be 62, 500 Christians. Perhaps our evangelistic strategies can over compensate. If we continue following this departure rate and hope to offset it by evangelistic efforts that means that to break even each Christian must reach 3 people. That sounds feasible until you realize that in the SBC we reach 1 lost person per 40 Christians. This is not a new trend or something that will be fixed by new strategies, new methods, new programs, big evangelistic crusades, etc. This will require a complete shift in the philosophy of student ministry in many churches.

Let me share a few very sad statistics about our church; and also say that we are not an anomaly. Churches all across America are experiencing this very thing. In our church we presently have about 450 inactive members. This means that 450 people that at one time professed Christ, we baptized, we agreed with them that they were indeed saved, stood up with them and said that we would support them—are now gone. We do not even know some of their names. Again this is across the board and not just a “youth ministry” issue. The SBC boasts 16 million strong—the truth is we are closer to 6 million. On an average Sunday only 33% of the SBC population will be in church attendance. One of the most foundational elements to the Christian walk is fellowship with other believers. If I can be blunt; more than likely we have 450 people that are convinced that they are right with Jesus but are headed to hell with our baptismal waters on their head. Now where did these 450 members come from?

Let me submit to you that one, again I stress one, of the problems is in the area of children’s and student ministry. Of our 450 inactive members 112 joined the church before the age of 18. That sounds like a pretty fair statistic, until I tell you that 150 of those 450, I have no clue of their age when they joined. So a more accurate sampling would be that 112 of 300 (nearly half) of our inactive members professed Christ and were baptized before the age of 18 and currently have nothing to do with our church.

We have a significant problem. And let me humbly submit to you what I believe the problem to be. Youth ministry in its present form is unbiblical. In its present form youth ministry caters to the perceived immaturity of youth. It focuses on students. It attempts to reach them by what attracts them. It often is a separate entity within the local church body, fragmented and separated from parents and other mature believers.

What happens within the current paradigm is that students are fragmented from the overall life of the church and do not make an appropriate assimilation into church. Also, the teaching in many student ministries is so shallow and youth focused that they never catch the big vision of who God is and what He calls all peoples to do. What happens then is that students get a minimum exposure to God and the life of the church. These are only a few of the problems or fruits of the fragmented, youth focused, program driven student ministries.

Why then am I suggesting a change in the typical philosophy of student ministry? One reason is that it is not working. Next time we will see an even more important reason to reshape our philosophy of student ministry. Comments and questions are welcome.

I am indebted to Voddie Baucham in his work Family-Driven Faith for the statistics cited above.

Why Reform? Part 1 (My Personal “Breaking-Point”)

•September 9, 2008 • Leave a Comment

No! Not More Confused Teenagers!

My “breaking point” came shortly after returning from another big youth rally. It was one of the “must attend” events that many churches in our area had been promoting. I had watched as the pyrotechnics went off; the music was loud, the message was soothing. I had noticed many of the kids talking during the message (not to mention totally unengaged during the worship time). But then something happened. We are told it is “the Spirit moving”. The speaker gave the invitation, and scores of people came down the aisles. Needless, to say I was becoming increasingly skeptical. I had seen this before, and knew what to anticipate as we began counseling these kids.

All of the “counselors” were stationed along the bleachers, and each kid that came forward was to speak to a counselor. I had been trained by a very wise man in how to “lead someone to Christ”. He always taught us to never lead the conversation, but instead allow the inquirer to do most of the talking. He also taught us not to use simple yes or no questions (especially if the answer is an obvious yes or no). As the first student approached me, I gently said, “why have you gone forward tonight”? My first response was an honest “Because my friend went forward”. So I spoke for awhile with the student, realizing that he had no idea what the gospel is, or what it meant to “be saved”. I was very careful not to assure him that he “just got saved”. After ending the discussion with the first student I moved to the next student. (There were more students who “got saved” than we had prepared for, so we had many kids “waiting to get saved”). As he came, I again asked, “why have you come”? His response was something to the effect of, “I thought everything was really cool, and I liked the speaker”. When we began discussing salvation, and why he had come he said he had already gotten saved at another event. But when I asked him very basic questions about salvation he was totally clueless. By this time, most all of the students had been through “counseling” and our bus was warming up. I learned later, that 13 of our kids had gotten saved (13 out of the 46 that we took). You would think that with 13 souls “saved” that I would be excited, but I had a sneaking suspicion of what had happened.

Shortly after the event I talked with some of the students that had “made decisions” one on one, and asked them questions pertaining to salvation. Just basic things, about Jesus dying for their sins, what that meant, why they needed it, etc. Basic things. No questions about transubstantiation. I did not ask if they knew what anthropomorphism means, merely basic things pertaining to the Christian faith. Nothing even too deeply doctrinal, just basic Scripture. These youth were clueless as to what it meant to be saved, and what they were even being saved from, or who they were being saved to. Yet I looked at the paper the counselor had filled out and it was marked as clear as day, “salvation”. How had this happened? How is it that these people had gotten these kids to pray a prayer, then one week later nothing had changed in their life, they did not even know the most basic truths of coming to Christ?

I wish I could say that this is an isolated incident.  But this is a typical experience in youth ministry.  Before this meeting I was beating my head against a wall; wavering between entertaining kids to reach them and attempting to actually reach them with the Word.  After this meeting I came to a decision…the way we do student ministry must change!

To be continued…