Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Helping HS Graduates Transition From Youth Group

David just graduated from high school and will be heading off to a Christian university in a few weeks. He has been a faithful part of our church’s student ministry since he was in middle school. But, soon he will be leaving his parents, his siblings, his church, his youth group, his youth pastor & youth workers, his friends, his small group and almost every other stable, spiritual influence in his life.

The transitions in his life will be incredible, and it has me wondering – is he ready?

Youth workers and parents of teenagers understand that adolescence is time of transition from childhood into adult life. However, I’m wondering if churches, and Christian parents alike are being intentional about helping our teenagers transition into adult life. Because, as my simple fictional illustration above points out, the changes in the lives of our church’s high school graduates will be quite significant.

According to current research, changes in relationships and environment are some of the most potent causes of stress that people face. Graduating high school students will soon experience a disruption in almost every aspect of their lives – and they often go through these changes without much preparation. Plus, major transitions are likely to happen if they move away to college, take college classes nearby, stay at home to find a job, or join the military. In our Western culture, new high school graduates will certainly face a plethora of cultural changes very quickly.

This brief article cannot hope to present full solutions to these serious situations, but below are a few suggestions to help church leaders think through and create an intentional strategy:

1. High school graduates are moving away from their families – help them to see the church as a family.
Students with “helicopter parents” or those from dysfunctional families all need to realize that being a part of the “family of God” is something very special. Local churches that keep in close contact with their high school graduates are likely to see lasting results – if they live in town, or even if they move away. Plus, “care packages” with chocolate-chip cookies can’t hurt!

2. High school graduates may be changing churches – help them find a welcoming, Bible-teaching church in their new neighborhood.
I’ve worked on Christian college campuses for around 20 years; and sadly, very rarely is finding a good church high on the priority list for incoming freshmen. Church leaders can have a continuing impact in these new young adults by helping them fit into a new church in their new community.

3. High school graduates are leaving their peer group – help them connect with a community of other believers somewhere else.
This suggestion follows closely to the idea just presented. Friends are obviously very important to high school students – and their connection to the youth ministry was undoubtedly a key ingredient to their personal involvement in the local church. But, now they will need to find a new circle of friends elsewhere. This will be true even if they stay home, but leave the youth group. Friendships formed during college often last a long time. So, it is imperative for college-age young adults to become connected to a positive Christian community of other peers.

4. High school graduates will not continue to have a close relationship with the church’s youth pastor and other adult youth workers – help them find other Godly adults as mentors.
A major characteristic of today’s youth ministry is usually the strong personality of a youth pastor or lay youth leader. Churches often hire youth pastors based upon their “pied piper” personalities that give them the ability to attract and minister to young people. When a high school graduate transitions out of our youth group, the influence of that strong personality is often gone. After all, youth pastors have an incoming group of new junior high-ers to make connections with. Older Godly adults (see Titus 2) can have a continuing influence in the lives of these maturing young adults.

5. High school graduates are entering an adult world – help them become confident, functioning adults.
An effective student ministry should prepare maturing teenagers to be servant-leaders, not consumers. Perhaps it’s time for them to quit attending youth group anyway – and instead, be functioning,
serving adults. Honestly readers, it would be a terrible shame if our church youth ministries produced generation after generation of “takers” instead of givers. Let’s pray that our churches are full of maturing believers who are serving and giving and participating in God’s program.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Impacting Today's Increasingly Secular Culture

God has put a growing burden on my heart about the idea of Christians impacting contemporary culture.

I’ve been reading the “horror stories” about our post-Christian and post-church culture. I get it that young adults are dropping out of church in droves - and that the “nones” (the “religiously unaffiliated”) are the fastest growing people group in this country.

Reading about these trends can lead one to believe that the church, and even Christianity itself, is in deep trouble in today’s culture. It would be easy to come to the conclusion that the church is failing, and that Christians or Christ-followers have lost our influence. However, I would like to take this opportunity to state that I unequivocally disagree!

Christ Himself made it abundantly clear that believers ARE “light” and ARE “salt” (see Matthew 5:13-16) and that we ARE radically different from the world around us. Just as salt thwarts decay, and light shines in darkness, Christ-followers will impact culture. This has been true since Jesus declared it in the Gospels. It was true in Jerusalem with the early church (the book of Acts). It was true in the cross-cultural city of Ephesus. It was true in Metropolitan Rome – and it was also true in the immorality-infected city of Corinth. God’s people, God’s Word, and God’s work (via the church) WILL impact culture.

So, what is going on today? Why are present-day authors and speakers seemingly saying that today’s culture is influencing Christians more than we are impacting culture? Christ Himself has already assured us that His work will last (see Matthew 16:18, “…I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”) His church does “work” – and we must realize that it is the Lord’s plan, and His only plan for accomplishing His mission (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Ephesians 4:11-16.)

Genuine Christ-followers certainly have the ability to significantly impact today’s culture; perhaps just not with the methods or techniques we used before. The days of sharing a memorized evangelistic outline are probably long gone. My guess is that approach went the way of the two-week evangelistic crusade.

So, how can believers today reach out in an increasingly post-modern, pluralistic and often hostile society?

I am convinced that effective outreach in today’s culture will usually center around 4 basic priorities:

1. The clear, complete, and creative presentation of the Gospel. 

We must never forget that it is still the Word of God that changes people’s lives, (Romans 10:17), and that the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) is still the “good news”! It is becoming quite apparent that today’s churches must stick to a strategy of the consistent exposition of Scripture . Taking principles or thoughts out of their full Biblical context may lead to confusion and even criticism from nonbelievers. It is imperative today for us to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:1-5). The “clear, complete, and creative” exposition of Scripture has maybe never been as important as it is in today’s culture. 

2. Building genuine relationships within your community.

Perhaps more than ever before, today’s believers will need to build caring, authentic, and lasting relationships with others in order to effectively share our faith. Of course, the Lord can still bring people across our paths in airplanes or in other opportunities for brief conversations – and yes, Christians must be “ready always” (1 Peter 3:15) to share the Gospel. However, this so-called post-Christian generation wants to see our “genuine faith” (2 Timothy 1:5) lived out day-to-day. Living and demonstrating an “unfeigned”, or “un-faked” faith is likely to be a growing necessity for effective evangelism. I understand that the concept of “lifestyle evangelism” has been around for a long time, but it has become fairly imperative for believers to develop authentic relationships out of which Gospel-conversations will naturally happen. 

3. Serving others with genuine humility.

Social justice has become a defining mantra for Millennials (today’s young adults). This is a generation that is deeply committed to causes, action steps, and making a difference in the world. From Steph Curry’s donations to “Nothing But Nets” for every 3-point basket he makes, to Toms Shoes’ support of needy children; today’s culture is driven by a desire to do something that is important – something that matters. This push for action must be more than a wish to do something good – it needs to be galvanized by a motivation to share the Gospel. More and more churches are developing outreach strategies that include meeting the needs of the communities in which they are located. Serving others out of genuine humility is becoming more and more important as a catalyst for real evangelism. 

4. Looking for opportunities to have a voice within the “public sphere”.

I also believe that Christians will need to look for creative ways to have a voice today’s secular culture. Let’s face it, our world is certainly becoming increasingly secular and anti-Christian. However, there may be growing opportunities for Christians today to impact culture by taking an active role in arenas within the “public sphere.” I’m talking here about Christians becoming intentionally involved in their communities through sports, the arts, media, schools, and other public venues. I think there are very tangible opportunities here for Christ followers to make a significant or profound impact. This approach is much like what the Apostle Paul did in Acts 17:17, “…he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the Gentile worshippers, and in the marketplace daily…” He took opportunities to publically share his faith in key places where people gathered. 

We may be living in a culture that views today’s Christians as “irrelevant” and “extreme” – or even dangerous. However, it is still within our grasp to make a difference and to boldly share our faith. I’ll state it again, God’s people, God’s Word, and God’s work (via the church) WILL impact culture!


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

CHRISTMAS: When the Lord Shatters Our Daily Routine

Imagine the boredom of watching sheep - at night. Luke 2:8 puts it this way, “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” It must have been mind-numbingly monotonous; “keeping watch over their flocks by night.” The shepherds’ daily routine of watching sheep had to be something like watching corn grow.
Certainly there are Biblical accounts of a lost sheep from time-to-time, and a random bear or lion stealing a lamb or two. But, on most nights the utter monotony of their regular routine must have been quite agonizing. What do sheep “do” anyway – especially at night? It’s no wonder that shepherd boys in Biblical times had the time on their hands to practice playing the harp and to develop their skills with a slingshot.

Then one cold, still night the excruciatingly boring routine of watching sheep on the Palestine hillside was shattered by the voice of an angel joined by a “multitude of the heavenly host.” The shepherds’ lives would never be the same. They abandoned their flocks, their staffs, and their routine to go with “haste” to see the baby Jesus. That opportunity to meet the Lord Jesus Christ changed their lives forever. Suddenly their daily routine was over. They walked away from their lives to see Jesus. The entire universe had changed and these lowly shepherds would never be the same.
The human birth of Christ changed the world – and our new birth in Christ has totally changed our lives as well. It must not be the same old routine of life. Our lives are different – and our lifestyles must reflect that.
The Christmas holiday in our culture changes things as well. The daily routine is over. We have time off of ministry, work, or school. We travel to see relatives or the family travels to see us. We shop for presents for others and open gifts from family members and friends. We consume a volume of things we never eat all year and, of course, we have to dutifully watch the obligatory “The Christmas Story” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We all know that Christmas should never be life as usual.
So, it makes sense that Christmas and especially the birth of Christ should totally change things. It’s not routine and it’s not the normal fare. Christ changes things. May our lives never be the “same old thing” ever again!

There are several significant observations one can make in the familiar Christmas story in Luke 2. However, for our purposes here, notice especially the response of the shepherds in verse 17, “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.” They couldn’t help it. Jesus changed their lives and they had to tell others. Shouldn’t that be our natural response as well? They saw Christ and then couldn’t help but share that marvel and wonder with others.
Also notice the shepherd’s response in Luke 2:20, “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen…” It’s important to notice that the shepherds “returned”. At some point they went back home – back to the fields, back to the sheep, and back to the routine. We’re not sure exactly what happened to those particular shepherds over the long haul. The text is silent in regards to that particular detail, but they did go back. The shepherds returned – “glorifying and praising God.”
We’ll have to go back to our own routines when Christmas is over, too. After the wrapping paper is picked up, after the gifts are returned, after the leftovers are eaten, and after the relatives go home – life will kick back in. At some point the daily routine of life will begin all over again. But, if Christmas teaches us anything, it must be that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has totally shattered the routine of life. At some point, we must “return” to our lives as well, but it must be with an attitude of “glorifying and praising God” as well – and it must be with a desire to share our marvel and wonder with others.

When all is said and done; life, like Christmas, must be all about Christ! Let’s make that commitment in our lives and ministries.